Hindu nationalists’ demolition drive in Haryana amounts to ‘ethnic cleansing’: Indian scholar

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New York: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has weaponized religion that allows Hindu nationalists to target Muslims and other minorities in India, according to a US-based Indian academic and an author.

The BJP-led government has “amplified the ascent of political majoritarianizm, weaponizing religion, law and politics to incite Hindu nationalists to unparalleled, illiberal dominance,” Dr Angana Chatterji, a research scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a media interview.

Ms. Chatterji was quoted as saying that the “consequences are calamitous” for India. She was commenting on the demolition of hundreds of homes, shops and shanties in the Haryana state’s only Muslim-majority district recently, which prompted the Punjab and Haryana High Court to ask whether it was a case of “ethnic cleansing.” “The issue also arises whether the buildings belonging to a particular community are being brought down under the guise of law and order problem and an exercise of ethnic cleansing is being conducted by the state,” the court said.

Ms Chatterji said Hindu nationalists use bulldozers “to raze the property and dispossess Muslims as a form of collective targeting while the police stand by… setting in motion ethnic cleansing”, and adding that in the northeastern state of Manipur, “mass atrocities and land-grab targeted the indigenous Kuki Christian community.” The ruling BJP government has been accused of discriminating against minority groups, including Muslims, and allowing Hindu vigilantes to target members of minority communities.

Ms Chatterji, the author of ‘Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India’ (2019), said the BJP government “incorporates populism, nationalism and authoritarianism, and the grassroots avalanche of Hindu nationalists incite unparalleled havoc into the lives of minority Muslims, Christian, Adivasi, Dalit, and other vulnerable communities.”

She referred to the chief minister of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, describing him as a “radical Hindu nationalist” who has “supported various campaigns to override the rights of Muslims.” Uttar Pradesh has seen many cases of anti-Muslim hate crimes and killings in recent years.

Hitting out at the incumbent government, Chatterji said it has failed on many fronts. “Demonetization wiped out 1 percent of India’s GDP and in 2023, India’s Press Freedom ranked at 161 out of 180 countries. Since 2019, with the BJP’s re-election, the violence escalated,” she said.

Chatterji, who in 2008 co-found the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir. “The BJP’s furtherance of forms of coloniality in Kashmir while violently seizing citizenship away from Bangla Muslims and other vulnerable communities in Assam sought to actualize long-standing promises to “unify” India,” she said.

Chatterji also pointed to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which “enables special procedures to identify a person as a “terrorist” while denying them due judicial process and trial.” “The law is harshest on Muslim Kashmiris and persons of minority descent and those caste-oppressed in India. Renowned (Kashmiri) human rights defender Khurram Parvez was arrested on November 22, 2021, and remains in arbitrary detention,” she noted.

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