Amzad Khan still recalls the sights, sounds and smells of his bakery, where he started working at the age of 10. “I worked all day, and stayed up nights, and built this business with my bare hands after my father left it to me,” the 45-year-old from the Indian city of Khargone told VICE World News. As a Muslim, Khan is a minority in Hindu-majority India.
On April 10, Khan witnessed deadly violence not too far from his shop, triggered by a Hindu “procession”, where some brandished guns and swords and blasted Islamophobic pop songs. The procession quickly turned into a mob, and left one dead and 27 injured. Fifty houses were burnt down and over 80 arrested in its aftermath. The majority of those jailed and arrested were Muslims.
By some miracle, Khan and his bakery were left unscathed, but not for too long.
Two days later, Khan stood helplessly as two bulldozers, led by local administration officials and cops, reduced his bakery to rubble. “I was given no notice. I didn’t sign anything to allow this,” said Khan.
At least 35 Muslim-owned buildings in the violence-hit area were similarly razed, Khan added. “We were still reeling from the riots two days before. Some were still sleeping inside their homes when they were woken up by the bulldozers,” he said. City authorities say they’re cracking down on encroachments and rioters. Khan calls it an excuse to target Muslims, first by an Islamophobic mob and then by their own civic bodies. “Why were only Muslim homes demolished?” he asked. “This isn’t about what’s legal or not. This is an abuse of power.”
Amzad Khan stands in front of his demolished bakery in Khargone, India. He said he is among the ones targeted, first, by a mob and then the local administration because he's a Muslim. Photo: Amzad Khan
The last two weeks saw what is being called a “communal frenzy” in at least nine states, in a rising trend of violence and hate against minorities, particularly Muslims. India has the world’s third-largest Muslim population – one in seven Indians is Muslim. They make up 200 million of the massive country’s total population of 1.4 billion. But experts have warned of an impending genocide of Muslims in the world’s largest democracy under Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
Mahmood Madani, who heads the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind (JUH), a national organisation that safeguards the interests of Indian Muslims, told VICE World News that the attacks were “organised” and the police reaction to it was “clearly biased.”
“This is the first time I’m seeing such open targeting of Muslims, first by the mob, then the law enforcement agencies, then by the civic bodies,” he said.
The latest spate of violence across different corners of India had a pattern: Swarms of Hindu groups, carrying guns and swords supposedly to celebrate Hindu festivals, passed through Muslim neighbourhoods observing the holy month of Ramadan, and blasted provocative Islamophobic music and slogans. Violence would then follow.
Hindu extremist groups were linked to the Hindu processions, which left two Muslim men dead and hundreds injured.The ones arrested were primarily Muslims. In Delhi, the arrested were charged under the controversial National Security Act. Historical data shows that Muslims have been more likely to end up in jail for various offences than members of other communities in India.
In three cities that saw these provocative Hindu “processions”, riots were followed up with official orders to demolish houses. In Khan’s hometown in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, 16 houses and 29 shops were razed. Madhya Pradesh’s home minister, who is from the BJP, has implied that Muslims started the riots and told the media,. “If anyone triggers rioting in Madhya Pradesh they will be crushed.”
The same happened in the western Indian state of Gujarat, where four incidents were reported on April 10.
A common thread in those demolitions is that the civic authorities come under Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which espouses a Hindu nationalist ideology. Several BJP leaders are known for using “bulldozer politics” supposedly for development, but are criticised for harassing minority communities.
India’s Minority Affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, one of the handful of Muslims in the BJP, downplayed the communal divide and justified the demolitions saying they’re based on “crime and conspiracy.” In an interview, he added, “There is no fear among the minorities in India.”
Early this week, JUH filed a petition at the Supreme Court against authorities in different states who carried out the demolitions. The petition has so far resulted in the court halting demolitions in Delhi on Wednesday. Maulana Niyaz Ali Farooqi, JUH secretary, said they would also seek compensation and question the legitimacy of the demolitions before the court.
An image shared by Amzad Khan with VICE World News shows bulldozers razing his neighbourhood shops and homes. Photo: Amzad Khan
But those affected by, first, the riots and then the bulldozers, are now fighting back for justice. On Thursday, Delhi resident Ganesh Gupta, who lost his juice shop in Delhi’s demolition, became the first individual to approach the Supreme Court to seek compensation for damages of his shop that he has owned since 1977. Gupta’s petition called the demolitions “communally motivated.”
Besides compensation, Gupta demands accountability from the parties that carried out the demolitions.
Back in Khargone, Amzad Khan has filed a police complaint against the local officials and cops who demolished his bakery. He said a handful of other people in his city have filed similar complaints.
“I am most hurt that the people who are supposed to protect us are hurting us,” he added.
Khan doesn’t want compensation but justice and accountability from those in power. “If they keep attacking us, or oppressing us, wouldn’t we fight back?” he said, claiming that local officials tried to intimidate him into withdrawing his complaint.
“I can still earn back what I lost. But those who committed crimes – be it the rioting or illegal bulldozing – shouldn't get away. I will see my police case through.”
Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.