By Shafiq Ahmed
Since its independence in 1947, the Constitution of India has enshrined Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy to ensure an equitable governance mechanism for dealing with the citizens. Moreover, the framers of the constitution included the provision of constitutional amendment (article 368) to enable this system of governance to cater to the needs and aspirations of people with the changing time. Besides, we as a nation are signatory members of various international conventions, organisations, and international laws which promise a fair, just, and equitable society. Since independence, many policies, norms, regulations, and procedures have been formulated and implemented to ensure a citizen-friendly governance system, based on the constitution of India and international laws. However, such a process has been disrupted often because of tension arising from religion, caste, creed and region. Among these, communal tension has periodically created havoc in different states of India. According to Ministry of Home affairs, Government of India, there were 10,399 incidences of communal violence between 2005 and 2020, with 1,605 persons dead and 30,723 injured. In 2008, one of the highest numbers – 943 – of such instances were reported, in which 167 people died and 2,35 were injured. The least number of cases (580) were reported in 2011, with 91 people killed and 1,899 injured. In 2014, 644 cases of community unrest were reported, with 95 people murdered and 1,921 injured, while 751 cases were reported in 2015, with 97 people dead and 2,264 injured. According to National Crime Records Bureau, 512 communal riot cases were registered: 438 in 2019 and 857 in 2020. Besides this, the nation has also witnessed the Nellie Massacre in 1983, Sikh Riots in 1984, Kashmiri pandit exodus in 1989, Gujarat Riots in 2002, and the Muzaffarpur killings in 2013, among many others. These incidents have stained India’s image and derailed the system of governance based on Rule of Law.
Governance and Apathy of the Political System
Different countries around the world are trying to develop artificial intelligence in order to strengthen the governance mechanism in the twenty-first century. In addition, the developed countries across the world are striving to double the income of farmers, provide free education and health facilities, increase literacy rate, develop health and education infrastructure, create employment opportunity for youth and housing for all, etc. Further, political parties in these countries include all these important areas of governance in their election manifestos.
But in developing countries like India, we contest elections on the basis of religions and caste. A recent example from Uttar Pradesh 2022 assembly election will help us understand this issue. While addressing the election rally, a high-profile politician said, “This election is between 80% and 20%”, implying that the election was a battle between the majority and the minority. This is not the only case where such derogatory remarks were used in an election for political benefit. The larger issues of governance get pushed to the background in such a situation and, after the election, political parties bother the least about the governance and ease of life. Because of these prevailing circumstances, the notion of good governance and citizen-centric administration has been gradually disappearing.
Under the seventh schedule of constitution of India (State list entry 1), the maintenance of law and order in the state is the responsibility of the state government. In case of failure to do so, the state government should accept their failure on moral grounds or the union government must take appropriate action under the established law. But the governments in some states of India have failed to maintain law and order, leading to communal clashes in which people from both the communities suffered.
The state governments have tried to hide their failure in curbing communal violence and have punished and harassed members of the minority community without the due process of law. On April 10, 2022, Communal clashes erupted during Ram Navami Procession in Khargone in Madhya Pradesh in which almost 20 people were injured. On the very next day, the district administration in the same area carried out demolition drives, decimating 16 houses and 29 shops. The majority of the property belonged to the Muslim community. Similar cases were reported from Jahangirpuri area of New Delhi on April 17, 2022, in which 34 people from both sides were injured. Subsequently, the authorities bulldozed the houses of those who were allegedly involved in rioting. In such incidents, the due process of law has not been followed, as people residing in the area were not given any prior notice for supposed encroachment. These arbitrary demolitions are being carried out against the alleged rioters of one particular community. The purpose of such drives seems to be the imposition of collective punishment on the weaker section of the society. The bulldozers were stopped with the intervention of the Supreme Court of India. A case of contempt of court was also reported, because after the verdict of highest court for maintaining status quo, the demolition drive continued for another thirty minutes.
Whenever public places, roads, and streets are encroached illegally in any part of the country, anti-encroachment drives are undertaken regularly. However, the question arises: why are selective decisions being taken to harass a particular community? If these demolitions were against the illegal encroachment, why did the authorities wait till the riots to demolish such constructions? And why are the eviction orders limited to one community? Jurists, researchers, academicians, politicians have raised questions at the timing of the demolition derives. Even the apex court of the country has found something suspicious in such drives.
During the protests against the C.A.A. and the N.R.C., the U.P. state government imposed fines and penalty on the protestors for destroying public and private property. In the aftermath, the Supreme Court of India intervened and the state government was ordered to refund recoveries made from the C.A.A. protestors. Eventually, the state government had to return Rs. 22,37,851 that it had collected from people who had allegedly damaged public and private property in the state. The reason for such an order was that the organ of the government should work in a conducive environment. And before taking a final decision on any matter pertaining to the general public, every organ must think about checks and balances mentioned in the doctrine of law. Otherwise, the discriminating attitude of higher authorities may ruin governance and block the lifeline for social justice, equal protection of law, and equality before the law. During a communally vicious atmosphere, the judiciary must intervene whenever the state acts in an arbitrary manner.
The bulldozers – the new symbol of brute state power – are not just demolishing houses but also demolishing rule of law and constitutional order. Further, the demolition drives breach India’s international law obligations. Right to housing is not only a fundamental right recognised under the constitution of India, it is also a well-documented right under International human rights law framework, which is binding on India. For instance, Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that one has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care. Likewise, Article 11.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESR) talks about the same, and it is binding on the government of India. Hence, these sudden uninformed drives across the country are ruining the image of this nation at a global level.
Despite the frightening extent and magnitude of the problem, forced evictions are not raised in legislatures or bureaucracies, rarely discussed in policy circles and documented. In India, there is no government data on evicted or displaced people. How can we expect proper policy responses, let alone justice, for the thousands of people who have been affected and the millions who are facing eviction, if such a significant human rights emergency is not recognised in the country? It is high time to end India’s culture of silence about evictions. Forced evictions must be recognised as grave human rights breaches and criminal offences that ought to be investigated according to the law. India needs to put an immediate halt to forced evictions.
Shafiq Ahmed, Research Scholar, Department of Public Administration, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad, Telangana, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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