Madhya Pradesh: Why an Indian state is demolishing Muslim homes

The people who would destroy his home came early in the morning, remembers 72-year-old Shaikh Mohammad Rafiq.

A soft-drink seller in India’s Madhya Pradesh state, Mr Rafiq and his sons had had a long night. “It’s Ramadan, so our business usually picks up later in the evening,” he said.

So when the police first arrived at their doorstep on Monday morning, they were all asleep. “But when we heard a loud bang, we realised that someone was breaking the shutters of the gate,” he said.

Outside, hundreds of officers backed with bulldozers had surrounded his house – located in a small Muslim neighbourhood in Khargone city – fending off anyone who tried to stop them. By the time they were finished, all that was left was rubble, he said.

“We were so frightened that we did not utter a word – just watched in silence as they took apart everything.”

Several Muslim homes and shops are being torn down in Madhya Pradesh in the aftermath of communal violence which broke out on 10 April, the day of the Hindu festival of Ram Navami. Social media is flooded with distressing images of big yellow bulldozers ploughing into neighbourhoods, as weeping families stare helplessly.

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This has sparked outrage, with critics calling it a thinly veiled attempt to marginalise India’s 200 million Muslims by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP party, which is also in power in Madhya Pradesh. The state government has openly put the blame on them: “If Muslims carry out such attacks, then they should not expect justice,” Home Minister Narottam Mishra told NDTV news channel.

It has also raised grave concerns about the “flagrant manner” in which these demolitions have been carried out, with experts saying there is no legal justification for doing this. Some have called it an instance of collective punishment against Muslims.

“You are disproportionately punishing people of one community without following any due process. This is not just illegal, but it also sets a dangerous precedent,” said Ashhar Warsi, a senior lawyer based in the state’s Indore city.

“The message is: If you question or challenge us in any way, we will come for you, we will take your homes, your livelihoods and take you down.”

The violence first began when large processions of Hindu devotees marched past Muslim neighbourhoods and mosques, playing incendiary music that called for violence against the minority community. At a few places, some Muslims and Hindu marchers are reported to have thrown stones at each other.

Many Muslims have accused the police of then allowing Hindu mobs to attack them. Videos showing frenzied men brandishing swords and desecrating mosques have shocked the country since Sunday.

Shahbaz Khan, 28, alleged that Hindu devotees broke minarets of a local mosque in Sendhwa city – about 85 miles (137km) from Khargone – and chased Muslims with stones.

But the “real horror” came the next day, when authorities “came out of nowhere” and bulldozed his house, he said.

“My wife and sister wept and begged the police to let us take our things – at least let them take the Koran out of the house – but they didn’t listen,” he said, speaking from the mosque where he’s now taking shelter.

“We are left with nothing, but no-one seems to care. Every time we go to the police station, they shoo us away.”

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