Theatre of Destruction

How bulldozers became part of the Hindu nationalist lexicon in India

15 May 2023
A bulldozer razes buildings at Shyam Nagar in New Delhi on 13 May 2022.
Sanchit Khanna / Hindustan Times
A bulldozer razes buildings at Shyam Nagar in New Delhi on 13 May 2022.
Sanchit Khanna / Hindustan Times

On the morning of 12 June 2022, Afreen Fatima, a social activist from Prayagraj, witnessed bulldozers raze the home she had lived in for over twenty years. “I watched it live on YouTube,” she told me. Her mother prayed on a mat nearby.

The demolition was broadcast across the country by local and national media. The Uttar Pradesh administration claimed the house was illegally constructed, but Fatima said the demolition was politically motivated. “It was an act of vendetta,” she said. Both Fatima and her father, Javed Mohammad, had been vocal critics of the Narendra Modi government.

Two days earlier, Mohammad, a well-known civil rights activist, had been arrested by the state police. For the past few weeks, Prayagraj had been gripped by protests following derogatory remarks about the prophet Muhammad by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, including a national spokesperson. Some protests had turned violent. The police claimed that Javed participated in rioting and was the “mastermind” of the agitation. A day after his arrest, around 10 pm on the night of 11 June, Fatima said the police stuck a back-dated notice on the family’s door, stating that their house was illegal and would be demolished. The bulldozers arrived the next morning.

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    Tusha Mittal is the Coda-Caravan fellow. She has written on politics, development, gender and social justice. Her work has appeared in Tehelka, Al Jazeera and the Washington Post among other publications.

    Keywords: Adityanath Narendre Modi
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