Criminal Justice

Bulldozer justice and the Indian state's lawlessness

01 January 2024
The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Adityanath, accompanied by bulldozers, during the assembly election campaign in Rajasthan’s Jaipur, on 23 November 2023. Adityanath may be credited as the inventor of the bulldozer as a weapon for Hindutva politics.
Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto/Getty Images
The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Adityanath, accompanied by bulldozers, during the assembly election campaign in Rajasthan’s Jaipur, on 23 November 2023. Adityanath may be credited as the inventor of the bulldozer as a weapon for Hindutva politics.
Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto/Getty Images

THE INDIAN STATE has become defiantly lawless in pursuit of its open hostility against a section of its citizens. Since 2019, bulldozers have evolved into a marker of this celebratory state lawlessness. These now feverishly popular icons symbolise the muscular and unapologetically partisan exercise of state power, in both the discourse and practice of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Their rampant use signals to the citizenry, the opposition and the courts the rejection of both constitutional governance and secular democracy. 

Successive state governments in several BJP-ruled states have targeted mostly Muslim citizens with bulldozers, razing their properties, with rarely even a pretence to due legal process let alone constitutional fairness. The atmosphere is typically festive, as buildings are brought down by bulldozers, often cheered on by onlookers and television media, and hailed by elected leaders as acts of righteous retribution.

In sending out bulldozers, authorities seem to be cynically unimpeded by the imperatives of constitutional rights and the rule of law. There is, after all, no law in any Indian statute book that empowers the state to destroy the properties of a person simply on the suspicion of committing a crime. As AP Shah, a retired chief justice of the Delhi High Court affirmed to the news portal Coda, “Mere alleged involvement in criminal activity cannot ever be grounds for demolition of property.” Moreover, in order to conclude that a person has committed a crime, the constitution and law established an elaborate procedure protecting the rights of the accused. This, too, has been casually set aside. 

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    Harsh Mander is a writer, human-rights worker and columnist.

    Keywords: Bulldozer Adityanath Hindutva
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