Residents in BJP-ruled state’s only Muslim-majority district say more than 300 properties have been demolished in four days.
Nuh, India – Abdul Rasheed says police locked him in a bus as a bulldozer demolished his shops in India’s northern Haryana state where a Muslim-majority district saw communal clashes last week.
“I was heartbroken. My family and children depended on the rent we received from the shops. We had rented shops to both Hindus and Muslims,” he told Al Jazeera on Sunday, adding that the authorities “gave no notice or showed any order, and bulldozed everything”.
“This is vengeance. They are destroying hotels, shops and homes. There is no appeal and hearing,” the 51-year-old said. “We have been handed a begging bowl.”
Rasheed’s is among more than 300 Muslim homes and businesses bulldozed by Haryana’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government since Thursday in yet another instance of collective – and selective – punishment of a community over religious violence.
The clashes began after a procession organised by a far-right Hindu group, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, reached Haryana’s Nuh district, about 85km (52 miles) from New Delhi.
The two organisations, affiliated with the ruling BJP, often make headlines for their violent rallies targeting India’s religious minorities, mainly Muslims and Christians.
The Hindu groups blamed Muslims – who form nearly 77 percent of Nuh’s 280,000 residents, according to the last census conducted in 2011 – for starting the violence. They said their procession was pelted with stones and their vehicles torched, leading to clashes between the two communities.
Muslims say the trigger for the violence was a Facebook video released by Monu Manesar, a notorious Hindu vigilante accused of killing two Muslim men earlier this year for allegedly transporting cow meat.
Many Hindus belonging to the privileged castes consider cows holy. Sale and consumption of beef is banned in many Indian states, while dozens of lynchings of Muslim butchers and transporters have happened since India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014.
In the video, Manesar, who according to the Haryana police is absconding, purportedly urged Hindus to join him in Nuh for the VHP-Bajrang Dal procession – a call that angered the district’s Muslims.
‘Tyranny of the government’
As the news of clashes in Nuh spread, anti-Muslim violence erupted in different parts of Haryana.
In Gurugram, a bustling city on New Delhi’s outskirts whose glitzy highrises host several Fortune 500 companies, a young imam was beaten and stabbed to death by a mob and the mosque set ablaze.
Another mosque was attacked in Sohna, about 25km (15 miles) from Gurugram. Six people were killed in the violence last week – including a Muslim and Sikh police guard and two suspected Bajrang Dal members.
However, almost all the homes, shops – both concrete and moveable – and shanties bulldozed in the aftermath of the violence belong to Muslims.
“They are torturing Mewat. This is being done to make the Bajrang Dal happy,” Rasheed told Al Jazeera, using the historical name of Nuh.
In recent years, several states governed by the BJP have seen bulldozers being deployed to destroy the properties of Muslims accused of participating in religious clashes, or other such charges.
BJP spokesperson Raman Malik told Al Jazeera the demolitions were being carried out to stop “illegal encroachments” on public lands and had no connection with the riots.
When asked about the timing of the demolitions coinciding with the aftermath of the violence, he said, “Do you want this illegal work to be supported? Look at these two things separately.”
Several rights groups have condemned the Indian authorities for carrying out the demolitions, some of which were carried out miles away from the site of last week’s violence.
A high court on Monday stayed the demolition drive in Nuh and sought an explanation from the BJP government in Haryana.
“Those who had nothing to do with the violence are bearing its brunt,” said Rafiq Ahmed, who ran a medical store in Nuh. “I had a licence for this shop. This is tyranny of the government.”
Beside Rafiq stood two Muslim women who were collecting remains from their demolished shops. They told Al Jazeera the men from their families had fled the town over fears of being arrested.
‘Almost all those arrested are Muslims’
The arbitrary arrest of more than 150 Muslims for the violence, as confirmed by the police to Al Jazeera on Monday, is another aspect of the BJP government’s crackdown in Nuh, resulting in hundreds of men fleeing their homes in fear.
Tahir Husain, a lawyer defending most of the arrested, alleged the police are indiscriminately arresting people without any rigorous investigation.
“There may be one or two people from the ‘other side’ but almost all of those arrested from Nuh are Muslim,” he said, calling the arrests “unlawful and reckless”.
“It’s a scary spectacle. Following the violence, even advocates were not ready to come forward. In fact, an advocate was picked up by the police. Later, he was released but what about the common man? The poor and vulnerable with no support are at the receiving end,” he said.
“The streets have been abandoned and the atmosphere is worse than the COVID-19 lockdown. At least there was no terror in the hearts of people at that time.”
On the streets of Nuh’s Mewli village, there was an eerie silence on Sunday.
Village head Choudhary Safahat told Al Jazeera nine members of his family were picked up last week, including his grandson and nephews, after nearly 150 police officers stormed the village at about 5am.
Safahat’s 21-year-old grandson Aahir Khan is a student of law at a private university in Alwar in neighbouring Rajasthan state, about 100km (62 miles) away. The village head said Khan was appearing for his semester examinations at the time of the violence, showing his grandson’s admit card and travel tickets.
“Aahir returned in the evening and the next morning he was arrested,” said Safahat, 51.
Many others had similar stories, mainly in the worst-hit Mewli and Moradbas villages where Muslims said they were forced to flee their homes, fearing vindictive action by the police.
Shahrukh Khan, a security guard at a government medical college in Nalhar, was also picked up by the police in connection with the riots. His family claims he returned from work at about 12pm on July 30 and left for duty the next day when the clashes broke out.
“They nabbed him while he was sleeping. They did not even let him wear his clothes. All of this is so unjust,” his wife told Al Jazeera.
Safahat said one of the arrested men from his village was physically disabled. He was released the next day, he added.
Some people took refuge in nearby hills, a group of villagers from Mewli told Al Jazeera. “When the police come, men in the villages go into hiding leaving behind only women and children,” said one.
“Nobody is going to the police to get our boys out. There’s fear among the villagers that they will get arrested too if they approach the police,” another local added.
When asked why men from only one community were being arrested, Krishan Kumar, spokesperson for Nuh police, told Al Jazeera: “We can only arrest those who are accused. Whoever, be it a Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh, will come to us, we will treat them equally.”
Prominent Muslim parliamentarian Asaduddin Owaisi said the BJP government in Haryana is protecting Manesar, the person accused of killing two Muslim men in February, and “all Hindutva [Hindu supremacist] organisations”.
“The BJP is indulging in illegal demolitions wherever their governments are. They have usurped the right of the courts of law and are giving collective punishment to the Muslim community without following the due process or the principle of natural justice,” he told Al Jazeera.