A day after communal clashes erupted in Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone, the district administration demolished 16 houses and 29 shops, mostly owned by members of the Muslim community, citing their involvement in the communal clashes.
Mohammad Salman, who used to run a medical shop in front of the Jama Masjid, Talab Chowk, Khargone, the place where the first scuffle took place resulting in an all-out clash between the two communities told The Quint that he was not even informed about the demolition.
"They broke down the entire shop and we were neither informed about the demolition nor were we allowed to remove our belongings. There were medicines, which could have cured so many patients. All is gone to dust now," he said.
While another shopkeeper, Narendra Gupta, who had leased one of the shops owned by Jama Masjid and was running a kirana store for the last 20 years, claimed he, too, was not informed.
However, he was able to empty out his shop before authorities crushed down the building. Gupta told The Quint:
"I rushed to the shop when I saw bulldozers gathering near Masjid as I live close to my shop. With the help of my wife, two daughters, and also a few friends I was able to get most of my things while the administration was preparing to break down the shops. Though I was able to get the things out which amounted to Rs 2 lakh, I don't know if I will be able to sell it or even earn anything now."
The Demolition Drive: State Claims Strict Action Taken, VHP Alleges Exaggeration
The morning after the clashes, MP Home Minister Narottam Mishra addressing a press conference had said, "jis ghar se patthar aaye hain us ghar ko pattharon ka hi dher banayenge (Whichever houses were involved in stone pelting, we'll ensure they are turned into piles of stones themselves)".
Hours after Mishra's statement, Khargone district administration started a demolition drive razing 16 houses and 29 shops of those allegedly involved in the clashes.
However, Atishay Joshi, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader from Khargone accused the administration of 'lacking intent'. He also alleged that the administration only bulldozed establishments already listed in the illegal encroachment list.
Joshi told The Quint, "Muslims started the fight by pelting stones on a peaceful procession and the police lathi-charged Hindus in the rally. There were 17 houses burnt, some Hindu boys got severely injured, some even got bullet injuries."
He added, "Even though the home minister said they will crush down those who pelted stones, the police are acting cowardly and only doing surface-level work and nothing substantial. Most of the houses and shops they have tore down were already set to meet the same fate because they were illegally made and notified for the same."
Meanwhile, Indore Range Commissioner Pawan Kumar Sharma has justified the demolition drive and said:
“Stone pelting took place on the Ram Navami rally. After that, police and administration took control and curfew was announced. We have identified the culprits and 84 people have been arrested. Keeping them in jail is one thing, but moreover, their properties, illegal encroachments are being demolished. The damage caused by these people will also be recovered. The government’s policy on violence and rioting is clear – no tolerance.”Pawan Kumar Sharma, Indore Range Commissioner
Demolishing Houses as Punishment – Is It Legal?
Speaking to The Quint, Shadaan Farasat, a Supreme Court advocate, said, “The destruction of dwelling house or shops is not an option available to the authorities for even the most egregious crimes, leave alone stone pelting."
"If these are unauthorised constructions, then appropriate prior notices under municipal laws must be issued. Selective targeting of only a few houses, when entire colonies belonging to all communities are allegedly unauthorised is prima-facie arbitrary,” he said.
The Violence on Ram Navami
Violence, stone pelting, and arson were reported from several states in India on the occasion of Ram Navami on Sunday, 10 April.
Reports of unrest and violence emerged from Khargone and Barwani in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Goa, Mumbai, and even Jawahar Lal Nehru University in Delhi, where several students were injured.
Ram Navami is celebrated every year to mark the birthday of Lord Ram.
We take a detailed look at the reports of violence: