Several women’s bodies and trade union groups have together written to Delhi lieutenant governor Anil Baijal, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and the capital’s three mayors to stop “unlawful demolitions” and reassure Muslims that “they belong” and are protected by “the law and the Constitution”.
Their memorandum follows several anti-encroachment drives by the BJP-led municipal corporations in Delhi that have affected residents and street vendors.
One of the demolition drives came in a part of the Jahangirpuri locality that has sizeable Muslim residents and had witnessed a communal clash that the BJP and the AAP blamed without evidence on “Bangladeshis” and “Rohingyas”.
“Massive presence of paramilitary forces in some of these areas (where anti-encroachment drives are scheduled) as well as frequent processions of slogan-shouting crowds led by BJP leaders are contributing to an overall climate of intimidation and terror,” the memorandum says.
“It is appalling that the bulldozers hired by civic authorities are targeting temporary structures essential for livelihood such as handcarts and cycle carts, fruit stalls, gumtis (retail kiosks), and wooden ‘shop’ tables.
“These structures are used all over the country by some of the poorest communities in the city – rickshaw pullers, fruit vendors, women running marginal and subsistence businesses, rag-pickers, garbage sorters, vendors and hawkers.”
The memorandum adds: “In Jahangirpuri, we have seen how long-time residents have been painted in this poisonous communal atmosphere as illegal immigrants, ‘Rohingyas’, ‘Bangladeshis’ and ‘rioters’ without a shred of evidence. Further, an ill-informed, unsustainable and poisonous link has been implied between communal violence and the residents of these colonies.”
The signatories include leaders of the CPI-backed National Federation of Indian Women; CPM-backed All India Democratic Women’s Association; CPIML Liberation’s All India Progressive Women’s Association, All India Central Council of Trade Unions and All India Students’ Association; CPIML New Democracy-backed Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan, Indian Federation of Trade Unions and the Janhastakshep civil rights group.
Among the other signatories are representatives of the Saheli Women’s Resource Centre, Hawkers Joint Action Committee, National Hawker Federation, and several academics and activists including Greenpeace India founder Lalita Ramdas.
The signatories have demanded an end to demolitions, “compensation, rehabilitation and restoration of lost livelihoods”, and asked the authorities to “reassure the Muslim residents of Delhi that they belong as much as any other community does to the city, and will be offered the full protection of the law and the Constitution”.
“Are Jahangirpuri residents not subject to the same laws as all other colonies and residents of Delhi-NCT? Why are they now being targeted to the exclusion of thousands if not lakhs of such structures around the city and the country?” the memorandum says.
“The use of bulldozers point to discriminatory and arbitrary use of power by the MCD authority, the legality of which is under question….”
The CPM and the CPIML Liberation had blocked the bulldozers in Jahangirpuri after they had continued the drive despite the apex court ordering status quo.