Over 4000 homes that have been ordered to be demolished by the Modi-led central government will now get their day in court. As the Supreme Court hearing on 7th February, 2023 draws near, debate continues on the communal nature of this land-razing.
(ANI photo sourced from Indian Express 04/01/2023)
Over the last few weeks, the news cycle has been buzzing about Haldwani – in its usually partisan style pitting homeowners against the agenda of development. For those who are unaware of the situation, Haldwani is a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood (90% of the population is Muslim) in the state of Haryana in India.
Recently over 4000 homes were ordered to be demolished by the Modi-led central government and the matter is currently being decided upon by the Supreme Court. The date of the hearing for the locals of Haldwani draws near (7th February 2023) and so do the eyes of everyone – hoping that the country does not prove its ‘merit’ just this once.
The mainstream news cycle continues to label locals as ‘encroachers’ on railway land – somehow implying that the land belongs to an inanimate system rather than people who have spent decades living there.
If so illegal is their presence on the land how has the government itself built structures within the locality that it now seeks to dissociate from and demolish? Is this yet another national bonfire to taxpayer money in the name of creating homelessness in a particular community?
Questions arise but answers evade when it comes to the government’s stoic and silent response to the situation.
The Supreme Court has currently stayed evictions but a final verdict still looms over the heads of the 50,000 citizens residing in the area. The question of purposeful manipulation also arises when we see that a member of the Opposition from Congress won from Haldwani in the 2022 Uttarakhand Assembly Polls. In the name of elections and communal hatred, a community awaits answers from the law of the land, hoping that justice will prevail.
History Of Displacement
As we witness yet another communal bulldozing, we must reflect on the hand our nation has played in gross displacement. From Partition to clearing of Adivasi lands under ‘development schemes’ to the Sikh genocide – generations have been lost, displaced and traumatised. It has been the keystroke in the rise of Hindutva in this country and has become a central ideology in the way this nation defines itself. The story of our nation itself is the greatest tale of displacement – Haldwani is but one page in a long series of events.
Displacement in our country has also occurred along key policy and developmental changes – for example the Sardar Sarovar dam which too led to displacements, not to mention devastating environmental effects such as decline in wildlife. However, far more sinister is the justification given to a communal clearing of people as is being done in Haldwani.
As the government argues for bullet trains against the price of Muslim lives, can we as a country spot the colonial narratives that enslaved us? Can we see the lives lost under British rule under the name of laying railway tracks and building cushy cantonments?
Pick apart an even larger chunk of history and it will become even more obvious that a nation built on caste chooses displacement and the politics of property ownership as a tool of erasure. Haldwani is no anomaly but an example of the foundational structure of our nationhood.
While the Haldwani case goes on, internal displacements in the country continue to rise – from disasters to climate change to forced political displacements. Globally as well, politically motivated gerrymandering and homelessness is increasing. It seems we are all to be weighed in judgment against the price of soil and water – and there is really only ever one winning faction in power.
In many ways those who are vulnerable are being displaced from hope itself.