(New York) – The authorities in India are increasingly using summary and abusive punishments against Muslims deemed to have broken the law, Human Rights Watch said today. In several states ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the authorities have demolished Muslim homes and properties without legal authorization, and most recently, publicly flogged Muslim men accused of disrupting a Hindu festival.
“The authorities in several Indian states are carrying out violence against Muslims as a kind of summary punishment,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Officials blatantly disregarding the rule of law are sending a message to the public that Muslims can be discriminated against and attacked.”
On October 4, 2022, in Kheda district, Gujarat state, police arrested 13 people for allegedly throwing stones at a “garba” ceremonial dance during a Hindu festival. A police officer in civilian clothes wearing a gun holster was filmed publicly flogging several Muslim men with sticks while other officials held the men against an electricity pole. In videos shown and even praised on some pro-government television news networks, several uniformed police officers watch the flogging and strike the accused with sticks, while a crowd of men and women cheer and applaud. The police ordered an inquiry only following social media criticism of the video recordings.
On October 2 in Mandsaur district, Madhya Pradesh state, police filed a case of attempted murder and rioting against 19 Muslim men accused of throwing stones at a garba event and detained seven of them. Two days later, without any legal authorization, the authorities demolished the homes of three of the men, claiming they were constructed illegally.
In April, the authorities in Khargone district in Madhya Pradesh state, Anand and Sabarkantha districts in Gujarat state, and Jahangirpuri neighborhood in Delhi responded to communal clashes by summarily demolishing property, most of it owned by Muslims. The clashes occurred after religious processions of armed Hindu men passed through Muslim localities during Hindu festivals. The men shouted anti-Muslim slogans in front of mosques while the police failed to take any action.
The authorities tried to justify the demolitions by claiming the structures were illegal, but their actions and statements indicated that the destruction was intended as collective punishment for Muslims, holding them responsible for the violence during the communal clashes. “Houses that were involved in stone pelting will be turned into rubble,” the BJP home minister in Madhya Pradesh stated.
The authorities razed at least 16 houses and 29 shops in Khargone in Madhya Pradesh. The district collector, a local administrator, said, “Finding out culprits one by one is a time-taking process, so we looked at all the areas where rioting took place and demolished all the illegal constructions to teach rioters a lesson.”
In Khambhat city in Anand district, the authorities reportedly demolished at least 10 shops and 17 warehouses. The district collector said that he had “launched a drive, using bulldozers, to remove the bushes as well as illegal structures standing on government land,” to punish “miscreants” for stoning a religious procession. The authorities also demolished at least six properties in Himmatnagar city in Sabarkantha district in Gujarat.
In Delhi, the authorities used nine bulldozers and demolished at least 25 shops, vending carts, and houses. Before the demolitions, the Delhi BJP president wrote to the BJP-run municipal authority to identify allegedly unlawfully constructed properties of those accused of communal clashes and “run bulldozers over them.”
In June, a BJP politician’s remarks about the Prophet Mohammed led to widespread protests by Muslims across the country. Police in Jharkhand state allegedly used excessive force against protesters, killing two people while the authorities in Uttar Pradesh unlawfully demolished homes of Muslims suspected of being “key conspirators” behind the violence that erupted during the protests.
The authorities carried out the demolitions without any legal authorization or due process, including proper prior notice or an opportunity to be heard even though affected families had been living there for decades and in many cases, possessed the necessary documents to prove this.
In June, three United Nations special rapporteurs wrote to the Indian government expressing concern that “some of these evictions have been carried out as a form of collective and arbitrary punishment against the Muslim minority and low-income communities for alleged participation in inter-communal violence, while authorities reportedly failed to investigate these incidents, including incitement to violence and acts of intimidation that contributed to the outbreak of the violence.”
The summary demolitions of homes and structures of Muslim communities have compounded the vulnerability of women, children, older persons, and people with disabilities who live there, Human Rights Watch said.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party, prohibits discrimination on any ground and obligates states to ensure that everyone is equal before the law and to ensure equal protection of the law. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights guarantees the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing. In its General Comment No. 7, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, an independent expert body that monitors compliance with the covenant, noted that house demolition as a punitive measure is contrary to the Covenant.
“Indian authorities are increasingly acting as if summary punishment has become a state policy,” Ganguly said. “If the Indian government does not take immediate action to roll back discriminatory laws, policies, and actions targeting minorities, rule of law will be replaced by bulldozers and sticks.”