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A Tale of Two Bulldozers

Twitter feeds in India and around the world were recently inundated with heartbreaking scenes of citizens in North Delhi’s Muslim-majority Jahangirpuri neighborhood weeping over the remains of their destroyed homes. Aerial images of the scene showed piles of wood and scrap metal that had once been houses and businesses reduced to rubble and surrounded by hundreds of heavily-armed soldiers and police officers.

Looking at these images, it is not difficult to believe that they depict the aftermath of some sort of violent attack. In fact, however, the destruction in Jahangirpuri was not the result of a terrorist bombing or a riotous mob, but rather was the work of government-owned bulldozers, sent in to demolish homes and shops that were “illegally encroaching” on public land. The demolitions took place in the wake of communal clashes over the previous weekend, sparked when a procession of Hindus celebrating the festival of Hanuman Jayanti marched through the predominantly Muslim area, brandishing weapons and shouting the slogan “Jai Shri Ram” (“Glory to Lord Ram”)—a rallying cry of Hindu extremists—as they neared a mosque. The procession was met by thrown stones, and violence soon broke out, resulting in several injuries and dozens of arrests.

In response to the violence, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation—the local governing body, controlled by India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—moved in with bulldozers and hundreds of police officers; the destruction continued for hours even after the Supreme Court issued a stay order. The demolitions in Jahangirpuri came just days after the BJP government in the state of Madhya Pradesh similarly bulldozed the homes of suspected “rioters” in the city of Khargone, and echo the tactic of demolishing homes belonging to accused criminals that has been championed by Yogi Adityanath, the far-right chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

If the scenes from Jahangirpuri, Khargone, and Uttar Pradesh seem familiar, that’s because they are. We’ve seen these same images 2,500 miles away in Palestine, where the demolition of Palestinian homes and businesses by Israeli authorities—using, in many cases, the same make of bulldozers that tore down Muslim homes in Jahangirpuri—is an ever-present reality. It is estimated that in 2021 alone, Israeli forces demolished 937 structures, displacing nearly 1,200 people. These demolitions are so prevalent that for many Palestinians, the bulldozer has become a symbol of the Israeli occupation. As in Jahangirpuri and Khargone, where BJP leaders justified the demolitions on the grounds that the structures being torn down were “illegal encroachments,” Israeli officials fall back on the paper-thin justification that the homes in question were built “illegally,” without proper permits—never mind the fact that Israeli authorities approve just 1.5 percent of building permit applications made by Palestinians.

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