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India’s ‘bulldozer justice’ flattens Muslim dissent

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After two nights in police custody, Indian teenager Somaiya Fatima was released in time to watch live footage of an excavator claw smashing into the walls of her childhood home.

The residence is among scores of dwellings and businesses flattened by wrecking crews this year, in a campaign authorities have promoted by turns as a battle against illegal construction and a firm response to criminal activity.

But rights groups have condemned “bulldozer justice” as an unlawful exercise in collective punishment by India’s Hindu nationalist government, and many of the campaign’s victims have one thing in common. “We are Muslims and that’s why we are being targeted,” Fatima told AFP.

The 19-year-old was arrested along with her family after her father was accused of masterminding a large public protest in the northern city of Allahabad last month.

It was one of several rallies across India last month condemning a ruling party spokeswoman whose provocative comments about the Prophet Mohammed during a televised debate sparked anger across the Muslim world.

The day Fatima was released, she was sitting in a relative’s living room when she came across footage of her home’s destruction on her phone. She said the demolition was a lesson for Muslims tempted to “speak up” against the government.

“They’ve instilled fear in an entire community,” she said. “Everyone now looks at their home and thinks that if it happened to us, it can happen to them also.”

‘No empathy’

Indian teenager Somaiya Fatima was released in time from jail to watch live footage of an excavator claw smashing into the walls of her childhood home

Fatima’s home state of Uttar Pradesh is governed by Yogi Adityanath, a saffron-robed Hindu monk seen as a potential successor to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In office he has championed the bulldozer as a symbol of his commitment to law and order and as a potential tool to use against “trouble-makers”.

Adityanath’s acolytes celebrated his successful campaign for re-election as chief minister earlier this year by riding on top of excavators, while bulldozer tattoos became a minor craze among supporters of the ruling

Bharatiya Janata Party. Since then “bulldozer politics” have spread elsewhere in the country and demolition campaigns have begun quickly following on the heels of outbreaks of religious unrest.

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