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India’s top court halts demolitions in New Delhi’s Muslim neighborhood

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Police officials oversee the demolition of small illegal retail shops by civic authorities in an area in Jahangirpuri, New Delhi, India, April 20, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

India’s Supreme Court has stepped in to stop authorities from demolishing what has been termed illegal shops and walls in a predominantly Muslim area of New Delhi.

A three-judge panel ordered a halt on tearing down structures in Jahangirpuri, a residential area home to scores of low-income Muslim families. The stay order, which followed a petition stating that municipal authorities did not alert local shopkeepers ahead of time, will remain effective until a hearing scheduled for Thursday.

The court says the status quo should be maintained in Jahangirpuri, which was the scene of clashes between Hindus and Muslims last weekend.

“My entire shop has been ruined. Equipment, bikes that were standing for repair are all destroyed in the demolition drive,” media outlets quoted a Muslim man in the area as saying.

The recent demolitions were led by a civic authority affiliated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and carried out under the protection of security forces.

Recent communal clashes in several parts of India have been followed by demolition drives, which critics say are an attempt by the BJP to intimidate India's 200 million Muslims.

India has witnessed a rise in small-scale religious clashes between Hindus and Muslims in the recent past.

Earlier this month, several homes and shops were torn down in the central state of Madhya Pradesh and the western state of Gujarat in the aftermath of communal violence. Both states are ruled by the BJP.

Nine people were arrested in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh on Friday on charges of torching the home of a Muslim man who married a Hindu woman.

BJP leaders and hardline Hindu groups have defended the demolitions, saying they are enforcing the law.

Violence against Muslims and other minorities has prevailed since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, but the last decade has seen a dramatic rise of right-wing Hindu domination.

Based on reports by human rights groups, the BJP has adopted policies that legitimize prejudice against religious minorities, Muslims in particular.

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