(CPM Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat who resisted the bid to raze illegal structures in Delhi's Jahangirpuri area the other day writes on the growing trend of deploying bulldozers as a punitive measure and what spurred her to intervene.)
The Supreme Court has extended for another two weeks, its status quo order in relation to the demolitions taking place in Jahangirpuri, a resettlement colony in North Delhi. It will bring some relief to the residents of this colony but equally importantly it brings relief to crores of citizens across India who have been horrified and outraged by the advent of bulldozer politics — framed, created, implemented by various affiliates of the Sangh Parivar and supported and patronised by its Governments.
I saw bulldozer politics in action in Jahangirpuri yesterday (on Wednesday).
But first I would like to share my own connection with Jahangirpuri. During the Emergency, hundreds of “jhuggi” settlements in and around industrial areas in various parts of the capital were removed and their inhabitants “resettled” on large tracts of barren land far away from their places of work. This was the “beautification” campaign led by Sanjay Gandhi and the man who came to be known as “bulldozer Jagmohan” who was then the Chairman of the Delhi Development Authority.
I was then a young woman working with the textile workers union and in industrial areas in the same area of North Delhi. Many of the workers families I knew were forcibly shifted. I remember those days of deprivation of those shifted, with no water, sanitation or even a tree for shade. One of these new ‘colonies” was Jahangirpuri. We had a party unit and hundreds of members of our trade union, later we formed our women and youth organisation in the various blocks of the colony.
I used to go to Jahangirpuri at least once every ten days or so. Our first mahila conference in the area was held in precisely the same Block where I saw bulldozers yesterday — Block C. From those early days this was a Block known for its Bengali Muslim population. Most of the families here were and are from Midnapur district of Bengal and also Howrah. They are mainly self-employed, small shopkeepers, tradesmen, street vendors, some engaged in the fish trade and so on. They form the majority although there are households which are non-Bengali Hindus. In all these decades, there has never been any communal tension or hostility among the residents of Jahangirpuri. I was therefore shocked and dismayed when I heard the BJP and AAP trade charges on national TV as to who was responsible for the “settling” of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis in Block C. They are in fact bonafide citizens. This is nothing but justification for the totally illegal demolitions which were taking place. It also shows such an inhumane approach.
On April 17 a day after the clashes took place, a factfinding team of the left parties in Delhi visited Jahangirpuri which conclusively showed that the entire event was deliberately created by the youth wing of the Bajrang Dal. It was also clear that the police was adopting an entirely biased approach to protect those responsible. Those who read this should know that the so-called Hanuman Shobha Yatra did not have police permission, its particpants were armed with naked swords, at least two carried pistols and brandished them, it stopped deliberately outside a mosque just when the Roza fast was ending and the faithful were congregating for prayer, that there was loud DJ music blaring at the time and provocative slogans were being shouted. I am for strict punishment of those guilty. But the police conducted a one-sided inquiry and most of those arrested are from the minority community. I wrote to the Police Commissioner of Delhi with all the facts.
But the following day came the news that the bulldozer politics, which is being practised nowadays in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, was being planned in Delhi with an open statement of the BJP President in Delhi that the municipal corporation under the BJP control has been asked to “bulldoze” all illegal encroachments of the 'rioters'.
Senior Counsel Shri Surendranath President of the All-India Lawyers Union joined other senior counsel Dushyant Dave and Kapil Sibal to make a special mention to the bench headed by the Chief Justice of India who was pleased to grant a status quo order.
To ground zero
I was to go to Jahangirpuri for a meeting in the afternoon, but hearing of the demolition we started for the colony with the information from our lawyer that an order of status quo had been granted. But when we reached we found that the bulldozers were in full action. Even an hour-and-a-half after the SC order the demolition continued. This was clear contempt of court. We saw weeping women and children. I saw a little girl running from one house to another. I don’t know what the child was searching for —perhaps her school bag torn to shreds by the bulldozer. A widow Haneefa who sold kebabs had covered her face unable to take the shock of the loss of all her belongings including the wooden cart. We rushed to stop the bulldozers. There was not an officer in sight. We stopped two bulldozers and then the officers came. I showed them my lawyers instructions based on the SC order. They feigned ignorance. It was just impossible. While I was with the police officer he got a call from the Commssioner of Police. He informed him that I was there with the information of the order.
He said “Bulldozer has stopped.”
No due process of law
There was no notice given to a single person. There was no due process of law. It is as though poor people have no rights. But along with this, it was totally selective. While any visitor to Jahanagirpuri can see the same sheds and small shops, termed illegal by the BJP all over the colony in every block, the bulldozers came only to Block C – the message is clear: It is not illegal encraochments which is the issue. It is the imposition of an agenda of intimidation, bullying, terrorising a minority community, stripping them of dignity, forcing them into a subordinate position just as was written by the RSS Sarsanghchalak Golwalker ‘minority communities can live in India only as subordinates."
It was not just Haneefa’s wooden cart which was broken to bits — what is sought to be demolished is the secular framework of India. It is that bulldozer which has to be stopped — by our collective action and resolve.