For many vulnerable communities, like the Bengali-speaking, and particularly Muslim communities of Assam, or those migrants living on the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi, forced evacuation and accusations of ‘encroachment’ has been the hallmark of their liminal, fragile existence.
For many vulnerable communities, like the Bengali-speaking, and particularly Muslim communities of Assam, or those migrants living on the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi, forced evacuation and accusations of ‘encroachment’ has been the hallmark of their liminal, fragile existence. Migrant labourers, often existing at the boundaries of dignified life in order to provide back-breaking services to the elite, have borne the brunt of such frequent displacements of their ‘temporary’ houses and jhuggis in India for decades. But revenge ‘bulldozers’ have taken over the scene in the latest act of the majoritarian political theatre that has driven India to extreme polarisation in no time. Legalized by bureaucratic paperwork and backdates notices stuck silently on houses, processes of civic bodies have fully been co-opted into the framework of criminal punishment, with no due process or right to defence. Otherwise, which act of civic demolition involves police making an (unsupervised) inventory of the house after it has been brought down, claiming to have found guns and suspicious posters? Live telecasts showed the house of Javed Mohammad, a social activist and respected community leader being brought crashing down in Allahabad (suitably renamed Prayagraj) with barely a day’s notice, with the police labelling him a ‘mastermind’ of protests in the city with little evidence of the claim. The police violated multiple provisions by taking away his wife and his youngest daughter late at night without any information and keeping them detained for a whole day. What it also got with it was a sensationalised media discourse around protests linked to mosques and the Friday prayers (juma namaz). Friday prayers are without exception well-attended, mandatory for all Muslim men and also popular with Muslim women and children. It is no alarming fact that mosques are full on Fridays, with the mandatory khutba (sermon) usually given on issues of religious or social importance. The prayer also allows for the community to check in with each other, and enquire about well-being and the prayers often end with duas made for the ailing and those who have recently passed away in the local mohalla. All in all, a basic act of prayer and community for the beleaguered, marginalized Muslim community reeling under many acts of dispossession and exclusion. But Friday prayers are now objects of surveillance and criminalization like never before. The earlier controversy over Gurgaon’s public prayers seems, in hindsight, to only be a curtain opener. Media reports played up ‘crowded’ mosques in the light of the Gyanvapi controversy on the succeeding Friday, summarily ignoring the fact that mosques are always crowded on Fridays, irrespective of political atmosphere or occasion. Now, with the protests that have taken place in the light of the hate speech by Nupur Sharma, there appears to be a consolidation of discourse around how Friday prayers automatically mean disturbance of public order or will invariably lead to protests. This ignores the fact that on the previous Friday, despite immense provocation by way of hate speech, only a handful of protests took place across the country, which too falls within the prism of democratic and fundamental rights. Wherever violence broke out (and the source of which remains to be investigated fairly), it was community leaders like the now-imprisoned Javed Mohammad who sought to cool the flames. Disturbing scenes have emerged from Ghaziabad of a flag march being carried out on Thursday with a bulldozer in tow by the local police. It marked a strange sight, as if the bulldozer had become part of the official weaponry; or a grotesque satire of some tableaux or parade. The latest controversy to have broken out in the nation is that of the proposed Agnipath scheme of army recruitment. While buses and trains are being burnt by the angry youth in protest against the apparent weaknesses of the scheme – lack of pension provisions, early retirement etc. – some other serious concerns have arisen among human rights groups. What does it mean to offer a brief army service to 17-23-year-old youths, who are otherwise deprived of decent public education, adequate healthcare, gainful employment opportunities and a sense of dignity and peaceful social bonds with those whom they have been taught to hate for no good reason? There are shadows harkening back to the now-banned Salwa Judum in Bastar and the Ikhwan, a counter-insurgency force in Kashmir, both of which led to immense bloodshed and human rights abuses. With extra-judicial bulldozers, crushing of dissent, extreme surveillance of minority religious spaces and now this latest attempt to allegedly offer ‘employment’ that seems to have backfired before it even took off, it seriously begs the question – have Muslims been pushed beyond even the bare legal prism of life and rights claims?