Muslim homes in India face 'punitive demolitions' with JCB bulldozers: report

Muslim homes in India face 'punitive demolitions' with JCB bulldozers: report
Amnesty International’s investigation showed that British manufactured JCB bulldozers and diggers have been repeatedly used to demolish Muslim-owned properties.
4 min read
14 February, 2024
In December, a local high court in northern Uttarakhand state declared that over 4,000 houses, mainly with Muslim owners, were “illegal” and had to be demolished [Getty]

Properties owned by Muslims in India have been unlawfully demolished in Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)-run provinces using JCB bulldozers as part of an arbitrary practice targeting Muslim communities, two new reports by Amnesty International have found.

At least 128 Muslim-owned homes, shops, or mosques were destroyed in states across north India, including in the capital Delhi, carried out as "punishments" following incidents of sectarian violence or protests against Islamophobia.

Amnesty International's investigation showed that British-manufactured JCB bulldozers and diggers have been repeatedly used in these demolitions, to the point that some right-wing politicians in the Hindu majority nation have nicknamed the company 'Jihadi Control Board' and referred to the practice as 'bulldozer justice'.

The demolitions were ordered by local governments in five states run by the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), documented by Amnesty from between April to June 2022, though local media has reported demolitions before and after this period.

In December, a local high court in northern Uttarakhand state declared that over 4,000 houses, mainly with Muslim owners, were "illegal" and had to be demolished.

The reports' findings follow the controversial opening of the Ayodhya Ram Temple last month, built on the ruins of the destroyed Babri Masjid mosque. 

The Amnesty report details how the government, acting without court orders, sends in bulldozers to destroy Muslim-owned property and evict families following episodes of violence between locals which on occasion have been triggered by Hindu nationalist ‘mobs’ entering Muslim neighbourhoods.

Aakar Patel, chair of Amnesty International India Board, told The New Arab that Amnesty has also documented incidents when the government sends out bulldozers to neighbourhoods for the arbitrary razing of land with owners given no warning.

"The state gives the reason that these are unauthorised or illegal properties that were due to be demolished in any case, but this is not supported by documentation," Patel said.

Describing it as a form of 'collective punishment' for violence or civil misdemeanour, Patel said that the government uses the bulldozers as a means "to intimidate and brutalise a section of society".

In recent years, rights groups have recorded an uptick in crimes against Muslims, including hate speech and violence, in conjunction with inflammatory rhetoric and derogatory remarks about Muslims from politicians and religious leaders. 

Hindus make up 80 percent of the 1.2 billion population of India while Muslims comprise 14.2 percent, according to the 2011 census data.

Since 2014, Modi’s BJP has led on a Hindu nationalist agenda and introduced new legislation which is penalising those who are not Hindu, rights groups have noted.

In December 2019 the Indian parliament passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act which bases the speed of granting citizenship on the applicant's religion, favouring Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians who face persecution in neighbouring countries.

Muslim communities have staged demonstrations against the law which have escalated into clashes with police and seen participants' property subsequently demolished by bulldozers, according to Amnesty.

Property ownership is even tied up in sectarian red tape in some of India’s 28 states. In Gujarat, on the west coast of India, local law dictates that if Hindus and Muslims wish to buy or rent property from each other they must secure special permission from the government.

These requests can be denied on what the government calls 'improper clustering', Patel explained. "This is clearly aimed at keeping Muslims out of Hindu neighbourhoods," he added.


As a result of the bulldozed properties, Amnesty’s investigation found that 617 men, women, and children have been rendered homeless and lost their livelihoods, and with no state compensation many were forced to turn to friends and family for help.

Amnesty’s report titled 'Unearthing Accountability: JCB’s Role and Responsibility in Bulldozer Injustice in India' calls out British manufacturing company JCB and says it should take responsibility for its machinery's use in these demolitions.

In response, the company's legal firm said that JCB cannot control the use of its products once sold.

Patel wants JCB to publicly condemn the use of its bulldozers in the demolitions in accordance with international law, which states that companies are responsible for addressing what third-party buyers do with their equipment, especially if there are adverse human rights impacts.

Owned by British billionaire Anthony Bamford, JCB’s distinct orange and black branded bulldozers have faced accusations in the past for complicity in human rights violations. 

A 2021 Amnesty report documented the use of JCB machinery by Israeli authorities to demolish Palestinian homes and construct Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.