Tikender Singh Panwar
Muslims in Delhi were ghettoized by the state apparatus in the last century forcing them to live in shanties.
In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt, the famous political philosopher, author and Holocaust survivor, wrote: “Only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism. The masses have to be won by propaganda,” referring to how the Nazi gangs unleashed fascism with ferocity in Germany in the early decades of the 20th century.
A parallel example in India is the ‘Mob, Elite and the Big Media Houses’, who don’t only ensure attacks on minorities but also justify them with perverted logic. The dangerous trend was witnessed at the recent Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti processions that symbolized the high-pitch propaganda of the Hindutva gangs.
The modus operandi was similar: gangs playing high-decibel music entered Muslim neighborhoods, used provocative slogans, abused the residents, tried to hoist saffron flags on mosques, and vandalized their properties.
When the residents protested, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled state governments used the police and bulldozers to raze buildings or shops belonging mostly to Muslims mainly on the pretext of demolishing illegal structures.
After Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shiv Raj Chouhan said in a press briefing that “rioters won’t be spared” following the Ram Navami clashes, several structures and houses belonging to the minority community in Khargone were demolished and 121 people, mostly Muslims, were arrested. According to media reports, some of the houses were constructed under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana scheme in Khargone. Another media report revealed that one of the ‘arsonists’ whose name figures in the list of the accused is in jail for the last many months and had nothing to do with the riot.
Accusing Wasim Shaikh of pelting the Ram Navami procession with stones and subsequently razing his house, the Khargone administration didn’t realize that his hands were amputated after electrocution in 2005. The father of two has a family of five to feed.
At the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, alleged members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad entered a hostel and beat up students asking them not to consume non-vegetarian food on Ram Navmi. When the incident was widely reported by the media, the gang accused the Jawaharlal Nehru Students Union of attacking them during a havan. No arrests have been made so far.
The latest addition to the frightening trend was the Jahangirpuri riot on Hanuman Jayanti and the subsequent demolition of shops and structures mostly belonging to Muslims by the BJP-run North Delhi Municipal Corporation. The ‘anti-encroachment’ drive continued for two hours despite the Supreme Court staying it. Chief Justice of India NV Ramana had to personally intervene to stop the drive and CPI(M) Rajya Sabha member Brinda Karat had to block a bulldozer waving the court order.
Such attacks on minorities are well planned at the highest levels under official patronage. This is the BJP’s new way to strike fear among minorities and force them to accept its version of a Hindu Rashtra.
A Netflix series called Leila is a great example of what a Hindu Rashtra could mean if Hindutva succeeds. The series shows a combination of technology and communalism and as they say, “the current period of the BJP is a wedlock between communalism and technology”.
According to the BJP regime, the question of legal and illegal is relative—all that minorities have constructed is illegal. A study conducted by students of the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, (of which I was a guide) on the ghettoization of Muslims in Delhi revealed how Muslims were ghettoized by the state apparatus in the last century forcing them to live in shanties.
It is not just Muslims but large sections of the urban working class that was/is pushed into slums because of the highly exclusive form of city development. The problem has increased after the BJP came to power in 2014.
The most revealing statement showing how the migrant poor were being “pathologized” is in a 1977 DDA pamphlet on the Delhi Squatters Resettlement Project: “The urban poor live in dilapidated settlements that cling precariously to hillsides, line smelly canals, block roadsides or crowd inner-city alleys. In their tattered misery, they mock the aspiration of all those who yearn to make their cities sophisticated and modern. Furthermore, these human beings are unwelcome because they build shacks on urban land to which they have no legal right and for which there is little or no infrastructure of public services. It is only in the context of this magnitude and complexity of the problem that the Delhi Squatters Resettlement Project can be understood.”
The archives of the Slum Development Department of Delhi Municipal Corporation reveal another important thing: “The massacre in Turkman Gate, a Muslim stronghold, is one of the infamous tragedies committed in the state of Emergency (1977). The sterilization campaign started at the Dujana House initiated by social worker Ruksana Sultana had led to unrest among the residents. As fear spread, a delegation of local residents approached Jagmohan, then vice-chairman of the DDA asking if the Turkman Gate people might be resettled together in a single colony? Jagmohan, angered by the idea of displaced Muslims building up their strength by huddling together is said to have replied, ‘Do you think we are mad to destroy one Pakistan to create another Pakistan?’”
This present dispensation has the same outlook—but more blatant towards the poor and Muslims in particular.
This graph clearly shows how the poor and the marginalized have been pushed to the fringes of the city during the race for development.
Gazala Jamil in Accumulation by Segregation: Muslim Localities in Delhi rightly points out that the reasons for Muslim ghettoization range from the neoliberal onslaught of developmental strategies to the persecution of Muslims. Hence, anything that a Muslim creates as an asset is deliberately being termed illegal and justifies its demolition by the State. The BJP not only wants to demolish such structures but also the very idea of creating and owning such assets.
In the process, several Muslims families have been forced to take cover in ghettos, alienating them further from the city—this is exactly what the Hindutva gang wants.
First published in the NewsClick ‘BJP wants to demolish idea of Muslim owning properties’ on 22,April,2022.
About the author
Tikender Singh Panwar, former Deputy Mayor of Shimla and Visiting Senior Fellow at IMPRI