MUMBAI: Authorities in India’s financial capital Mumbai have torn down several Muslim-owned makeshift shopfronts after religious clashes sparked by a divisive Hindu temple opened this week by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Minor clashes broke out Sunday in parts of Mumbai, including one incident where Hindus chanting religious slogans passed through a Muslim neighborhood on the megacity’s outskirts.
No serious injuries were reported in the melee but by Tuesday, authorities had called in excavators to knock down more than a dozen shopfronts belonging to Muslims in that locality, according to local media reports.
The following evening another 40 shopfronts were knocked down on Mohammed Ali Road, a major downtown thoroughfare and center of local Muslim commerce that had also seen weekend clashes.
“We were undertaking deep clearing of the road in which some temporary hawkers and so forth were removed,” a local municipal officer, who declined to be named, told AFP on Thursday.
Numerous traders of all faiths often build makeshift shopfronts out of canvas and wood to shield their businesses and patrons from the city’s scorching sun and pounding monsoon rains.
“I cannot fathom why this was done,” Abdul Haseeb Khan, owner of a restaurant hit in the clearance drive, told AFP.
“If they didn’t want these structures here, they should have informed us and we would have removed it. This is no way to take action.”
Municipal officials told local media that the campaign was “routine” and planned before Sunday’s clashes, and that it was aimed at clearing illegal encroachments and easing pedestrian traffic.
So-called “bulldozer justice” has been an increasingly common tool of local officials in India to punish suspected criminals by demolishing their property.
Rights groups have condemned the practice as an unlawful exercise in collective punishment that disproportionately targets the country’s Muslim minority.
Aaker Patel of Amnesty International said in a statement that this week’s drive in Mumbai represented a “policy of arbitrarily and punitively demolishing Muslim properties following episodes of communal violence.”
Demolition drives have been employed in numerous Indian states ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in recent years against the homes of people accused of participating in anti-government protests.
Muslims make up the bulk of those targeted in the campaigns.
Officials elsewhere in India customarily say that the demolitions are lawful as they only target buildings constructed without official approval.
That is disputed by victims, who say they are not given the legally required notice period to dispute demolition orders.
Sunday’s clashes happened on the eve of Modi’s inauguration of a new Hindu temple to the deity Ram in the northern city of Ayodhya.
Processions in Mumbai had been celebrating the opening of the shrine, which was built atop a centuries-old mosque torn down by Hindu zealots in 1992 — an incident that sparked India’s most deadly sectarian riots since independence.
Local media outlets said at least 13 people had been arrested for participating in the weekend clashes.