“Bulldozer Policy”: Modi’s Demolition Campaign Stirs Concerns of Muslims in Kashmir

Suhail Ahmad Shah stood despondently before the wreckage that had been his livelihood for two decades. Just hours earlier, he was busy in the workshop when he heard an ominous crackling sound above him and the tin roof began to collapse. He barely managed to escape before the bulldozer flattened the entire place.

Shah, 38, said, “We were not given any notice. The officials suddenly came and demolished our workshop. Nobody listens to us. We were paying the rent. Isn’t this an atrocity? They took away our livelihood.”

His workshop selling used auto parts in Srinagar, the summer capital of the embattled Indian state of Kashmir, was just one of dozens of buildings in the area to suffer widespread demolition in February. Many of these events were carried out without warning, even to those who had occupied Earth for decades. The goal, according to the government, was to “reclaim” illegally encroached state lands. More than 50,000 acres of land were seized before the campaign was paused.

In Kashmir, however, this impulse was condemned as an even more sinister aim. It has been decried by many as part of a broader agenda of the Hindu nationalist government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to displace and drive Kashmiris from their land and transform the demographics of India’s only Muslim majority. States.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a rally in Mumbai on January 19, 2023. Photo: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

Since the Modi government came to power in 2014, bulldozers have been a popular tool for BJP leaders to target minority Muslims in pursuit of a religious nationalist agenda to establish India as a Hindu rather than a secular state. In states such as Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, bulldozers have been used to break into the homes of sections of Muslim activists accused of participating in protests and communities allegedly of illegal immigrants.

Panic spread in Kashmir as the so-called ‘bulldozer policy’ of the Bharatiya Janata Party was used against its Muslims. Mehbooba Mufti, the former Chief Minister of Kashmir, called the demolition campaign “a ploy to push people to the economic margins by demolishing their homes and livelihoods”.

Faiz Ahmed, 52, whose 30-year scrapyard was demolished without warning, agrees. “All this is being done to suppress the Kashmiris,” he said.

Since independence in 1947, the Kashmir region has been the focal issue between India and Pakistan. They have gone to war several times for control of the disputed region, which is divided between the two countries. On the Indian side was the state of Jammu and Kashmir where, since the early 1990s, a violent separatist insurgency with allegiance to and funded by Pakistan had emerged.

Successive governments have struggled to control the violence. But in August 2019, Modi’s government, fulfilling a long-standing promise to its right-wing base, took unilateral action against the state, stripping it of its longstanding autonomy. Divide it into two regions under the control of the central government. Thousands of troops were flown into the state, the state government was dissolved, local politicians were jailed, and the world’s longest internet shutdown was imposed, lasting 18 months.

Since then, the BJP has opened the gates of the state, allowing foreigners to buy property and register to vote in Kashmir for the first time. More than two million new voters have registered, a major concern for many who believe the government is trying to change the state’s demographics away from the current Muslim majority.

The redrawing of the electoral map has led to accusations of gerrymandering after it became clear that the redrawing of constituencies would split the Muslim vote in Kashmir, to the potential electoral advantage of the BJP.


The BJP says its actions since 2019 have brought an era of peace to Kashmir. “The investment is coming and the tourists are flocking,” Home Minister Amit Shah said in a speech. “Kashmir is slowly returning to normal to stand in unity with the country.”

But those in the country tell a very different story – one of systemic repression under increasingly authoritarian laws and as democratic freedoms, including freedom of speech, political representation and the right to protest, have been trampled. Kashmir is now one of the most militarized regions in the world, with over half a million soldiers protecting just over 7 million citizens, with army checkpoints every few miles on the roads.

Those who live in the country say censorship, whether of private citizens or the media, is standard practice by the government, police and military, and anyone who expresses criticism through activism or on social media is promptly taken over by the police.

While the people of Kashmir would be privately critical of the Modi government and speak fearfully about the future, most of them are afraid to speak out. “There is fear. If anyone speaks out, even on social media, they will face police action. No one wants to end up in jail,” said a student who asked not to be named. His friend was recently imprisoned under draconian security laws simply for writing a Facebook post. This angered the police.

Journalists have become a special target. New laws were passed to strictly censor their reporting, and the few journalists still providing critical coverage of the region were harassed, questioned, and had their phones and laptops confiscated.

Journalists have been publicly attacked by police while some have been placed on no-fly lists, preventing them from leaving the country. In local papers, editors and owners deleted years of coverage critical of the government due to mounting pressure, and once-independent papers were turned into pamphlets for government press releases. At least three Kashmiri journalists, Asif Sultan, Fahad Shah and Sajid Gul, have been imprisoned under terrorism laws.

“My brother is in a very difficult situation,” said Javed Ahmed, Sajjad Gul’s brother. He added, “He was put in a maximum security cell and treated like a dangerous criminal. He is not allowed to make phone calls home. They didn’t even allow him a pen and a diary.”

A bulldozer demolishes a shed allegedly built by the owners of the Nadus Hotel on state land, on January 31 in Srinagar, India.

A bulldozer demolishes a shed allegedly built by the owners of the Nadus Hotel on state land, on January 31 in Srinagar, India. Photo: Hindustan Times/Getty Images

Democracy is still a long way off. The state government was never restored after 2019 and provincial elections have not been held in over five years, leaving Kashmiris without political representation or an outlet to vent their discontent.

Political leaders who have spent their careers promoting pro-India policies in Kashmir but were among those imprisoned after 2019 have accused the BJP government of authoritarianism. Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister of the region and former Indian foreign minister, said that government-appointed administrators in Kashmir wield “absolute power without accountability”.

Former Prime Minister Mufti said she and members of her party “were subjected to endless harassment”. “He is often placed under house arrest and I am not allowed to carry out political activities or communicate with people in distress,” she said. “Nobody here, be it a political leader, an activist or even a journalist, has the freedom of expression to state the facts on the ground.”

The BJP has proudly declared that the record number of tourists now visiting the state’s famous tulip gardens, lakes and snowy slopes is evidence of peace and prosperity. However, the boom in business investment in the state – one of the justifications for the measures taken in 2019 – has not yet arrived, and private investment in Kashmir remains less than half the level it was in 2018. Meanwhile, economic problems, including So high unemployment, continues to devastate the region.

The militants changed their strategy and carried out more targeted killings of non-locals and the Kashmiri Hindu minority. This has created fear among the Kashmiri Hindus, commonly referred to as Pandits, 65,000 of whom fled the valley in the 1990s when they were targeted during a violent pro-Pakistan insurgency. In recent months, another exodus of Pandits has begun.

“We don’t feel safe in Kashmir,” said Renko Butt, who is among those who fled his home after the killings. He added, “Our people are being killed in broad daylight by armed men inside their offices and homes. We demand that they send us to safer locations, but the government has not helped us so far.”

Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former deputy chief minister of the region, Cavinder Gupta, denied the allegations. He said militancy had been brought under control, while giving assurances that state elections would be held soon at an unspecified date.

“There is peace in Kashmir. This is evident from the fact that people are not protesting on the roads and throwing stones unlike in the past.” “The people who were promoting Pakistan’s agenda and raising its flag have been released by the previous governments. The measures taken in Kashmir were necessary and the results are before us.”

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