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Khargone Hindus Back Shivraj 'Bulldozer' Mama While Demolition 'Victims' Suffer

Hindu locals in Khargone support CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan's 'bulldozer justice' meted out after the 2022 riots.

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Ever since a concrete wall was erected about 500 meters from Vandana Bhavsar’s residence in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone, she has become a stronger supporter of CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan and PM Narendra Modi than she had earlier been. The wall, which was constructed after the April 2022 Khargone communal riots, is quite literally meant to serve as a barrier between the Muslims and Hindus on either side of it. Bhavsar is happy because it only means lesser interaction with Muslims, something that she hasn’t ever been too fond of anyway. “I don't know or speak to any Muslims. Why would I? I am a Hindu so I will speak to Hindus. What do I have to do with Muslims? I don't speak to them.”

Behind Bhavsar’s admission is the story of what Khargone has become in the last year and a half, the communal fissures running deeper than ever.

Hindu locals in Khargone support CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan's 'bulldozer justice' meted out after the 2022 riots.

Vandana Bhavsar supports the bulldozer action. 

(Fatima Khan/ The Quint)

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In April 2022, Khargone witnessed communal riots when a Ram Navami procession was passing by the central mosque in the city, the Jama Masjid. The procession, which was taking place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, had reportedly been triggered after it was stopped by the police from entering Talab Chowk, a Muslim-dominated locality. This eventually led to stone pelting, injuries, and shops and houses being burnt. In the aftermath of the violence, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government decided to “punish” the alleged rioters by bulldozing their homes. “The houses of those pelting stones will be turned into a pile of stones,” MP Home Minister Narottam Mishra had said, following which at least 50 properties were bulldozed, and over 150 people arrested.

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The Hindu vs Muslim Wall

While the demolitions, termed as ‘bulldozer justice’, were widely criticised in the country, Chouhan went on to earn the title of ‘bulldozer mama’ among the sections of Hindus in Khargone, who refer to the CM as that endearingly. “He is doing good work. If people built houses on encroached lands then those houses should of course be bulldozed. And those who pelted stones, why shouldn’t their homes be demolished too? It was the right thing to do,” says 67-year-old Bhavsar. “We saw them (Muslims) pelt stones from our own eyes, we aren’t blind,” she adds.

Like Bhavsar, most others in the Hindu-dominated Jameendar colony are happy about the wall, given that it “protects” them from the Muslim-dominated Khaskhaswadi area.

“If it wasn’t for the wall, we wouldn't have been able to live peacefully,” says Basant Bhavsar, another resident.

Hindu locals in Khargone support CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan's 'bulldozer justice' meted out after the 2022 riots.

Badal Bhavsar showing the wall between the Hindu and Muslim area. 

(Fatima Khan/ The Quint)

Another resident, 52-year-old Bondar says that "earlier Muslims used to come here frequently. But not anymore. The path has been blocked with this wall. So there can't really access this area easily."

Besides support for the wall, which was constructed in June 2022, about two months after the riots, there is also general good-will that the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government enjoys in how it “dealt” with the rioters.

“This is exactly how rioters should have been treated. In fact in the future too, this is the treatment that should be meted out,” says 25-year-old Badal.

The Khargone constituency had elected Congress’ Ravi Joshi as its MLA in the 2018 elections, but he seems to have lost favor among the many of the Hindu residents. “At this point of time, given what happened in the riots, BJP is what is needed. No other party can act like they can,” Badal emphasises. In July 2022, three months after the riots, BJP won 19 out of 33 wards of the Khargone municipality, whereas the Congress could only win four wards.

Disabled Man's Shop Was Demolished

Many legal experts have pointed out that there is no basis in law to punish even those guilty of rioting by demolishing their properties. 

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Moreover, many whose properties were demolished have categorically denied being involved in the riots.  
 
One among them is Waseem Sheikh, a 37-year-old man who is disabled: he doesn’t have hands. “They said they are punishing those who pelted stones. You can see my condition. I can’t even drink a glass of water by myself, then how can I pelt stones?” Sheikh asks.

Hindu locals in Khargone support CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan's 'bulldozer justice' meted out after the 2022 riots.

Waseem Sheikh, a disabled man, had his shop bulldozed in 2022.

(Fatima Khan/ The Quint)

Sheikh’s hands were amputated back in 2005 as treatment after he got a current shock from an open wire while doing a painting job. Since then he has been running a small shack in the city. The shack was bulldozed on 11 April 2022, a day after the riots. Sheikh, who has two children, says his only source of livelihood has been taken away, and he is now entirely reliant on his relatives.  

Hasina Fakhroo Has Changed Four Homes Since Demolition

Like Sheikh, many others had their properties demolished, including Hasina Fakhroo, a widow whose house was built under the PM-Awas Yojana. Fakhroo had made her house pucca or concrete under the housing scheme in November 2021, barely six months before it was reduced to rubble.

Hindu locals in Khargone support CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan's 'bulldozer justice' meted out after the 2022 riots.

Hasina Fakhroo holding the Prime Minister's letter she received when her home was built under the PM-Awas Yojana. 

(Fatima Khan/ The Quint)

Since the demolition of her home, Fakhroo and her family has had to change a total of four homes in a span of 1.5 years. “Right after the demolition, someone allowed us to stay in their cow-shed. So we moved there. Then we rented a small room but it was too small for all of us and our goats. So we moved to a third house, but they also asked us to move out. Now we are living in this tin house,” she says.

The tin house, is effectively the size of a room. Not only did Fakhroo lose many of her belongings in the demolition, her family has also fallen apart since then. “I have four sons. All their wives have moved back to their homes with the children. This is because we have constantly had to adjust in small rooms, there just isn’t space for everyone to live in one place,” she says.

The Continued Trauma

There were also some residences which began being demolished by the administration even as there were people still inside. Nadeem Sheikh lives with his joint family in one house, the front portion of which has each of his two brothers running offices, which he runs a shop. On the morning of 11 April, Sheikh and his family woke up to the sound of bulldozers outside their home. “Police personnel entered inside and beat us up as they pushed us out. They tore our clothes too,” he says, showing videos from that time.

Hindu locals in Khargone support CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan's 'bulldozer justice' meted out after the 2022 riots.

Nadeem Sheikh carries a before-and-after collage of how the demolition altered the face of his property.

(Fatima Khan/ The Quint)

In this hullabaloo, Nadeem’s 5-year-old nephew, who had disabilities and can’t speak or listen, got left behind. “When we realised, one of our cousins rushed back in to take him, but he too was beaten up on going inside,” Nadeem recalls.

Nadeem carries a bundle of all the documents showing the ‘legality’ of their home, built back in 2009. He also carries a before-and-after collage of how the demolition altered the face of his property. The family has registered a case against the demolition which is being heard at the Indore high court.

While the family has tried to fight against the state action, the trauma of what transpired that day continues to haunt them. “My 8-year-old daughter, she got so terrified that we had to send her away to our relative’s place for three months. Even after coming back, she refused to go to school for an entire year. “Even now when she hears the police siren, she starts shivering. The incident really traumatised her,” he says.

Government Accused of Disparity in Relief Work

Many also point out to the difference in the support that state authorities have shown towards Hindu victims of riots and the Muslim ones.

For instance, one of the men part of the Ram Navami procession who was injured was Shivam Shukla, a 16-year-old who suffered a head injury due to the stone-pelting. When Shivam was undergoing treatment, Home Minister Mishra visited him in the hospital and tweeted about it as well. Months later, when Shivam’s elder sister was getting married, CM Chouhan arranged for Rs 2 Lakh to be sent for the wedding.

Hindu locals in Khargone support CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan's 'bulldozer justice' meted out after the 2022 riots.

Home Minister Narottam Mishra visited Shivam in the hospital after his injury. 

Hindu locals in Khargone support CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan's 'bulldozer justice' meted out after the 2022 riots.

CM Chouhan arranged for Rs 2 Lakh to be sent for Shivam's sister's wedding. 

Siraj Bi, whose house was one of the first to be set on fire, says she finds it disconcerting that she received no such help for her daughter. “My house was burnt, we lost everything. My daughter was supposed to get married after Ramzan, but because we didn’t have anything left, we couldn’t get her married. Shivam’s sister received generous help directly from CM, but we got no such thing,” says Siraj Bi.

While many in the Jameendar colony, where Shivam’s family lives, appreciate the BJP for this gesture, Shivam’s uncle isn’t too happy.

“Yes they gave us some help at the time. But it’s been 18 months since then. No one from the government has even looked at us again. Rs 2 lakh is very little money for any wedding. It was all superficial help to give at the time,” says Girdhar Joshi, Shivam’s Uncle.

Woman's Face Attacked With Sword, Son and Grandson Jailed Soon After

During the peak of the violence on 10 April, Mehrun Khan’s face was attacked with a sword, after she had to be rushed to the hospital and get stitches on the entire half of her face. Three months after this attack, Mehrun’s son and grandson were arrested by the police. While her son was was let out later, her grandson continues to be in jail.

Shabana, who is Mehrun’s daughter-in-law, says that the “victims have been made into criminals.”

Hindu locals in Khargone support CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan's 'bulldozer justice' meted out after the 2022 riots.

Shabana holding a picture of her mother-in-law after her face was attacked by a sword.  

“We were the ones who suffered and then we are the ones who have been criminalised,” says Shabana.

While several were injured in the Khargone riots, there was only one death recorded, that of 30-year-old Ibraish Khan. Khan’s family says that soon after his death was declared, politicians from various political parties, including the Khargone Congress MLA Ravi Joshi had come to visit them, and made several promises too. “But those promises have still not been fulfilled. The MLA told us that one of us in the family will get a government job, but we are still waiting for that. Moreover, the five men who were arrested for Ibraish’s death have been let out on bail,” says Idris Khan, his brother.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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