The demolition of Mohammad Javed’s house in Prayagraj vividly illustrates the Bharatiya Janata Party’s shock-and-awe strategy of frightening Muslims into submission. They must not protest regardless of the humiliation and injustices they are made to suffer. This was the message the Prayagraj administration sought to convey after they identified Javed as the alleged organiser of the 10 June protest in Prayagraj against the mocking of Prophet Mohammad—and then swiftly demolished his home.
But the house Javed called his home was registered in the name of his wife Parveen Fatima, as the Indian Express has shown. It was gifted to Fatima by her father. This fact makes the administration’s notice to Javed for removing the encroachment he is alleged to have committed, cited as the reason for the demolition, legally untenable. The couple’s home has become uninhabitable.
It seems India is borrowing from Israel’s playbook to torment and terrorise a community. Compare the fate of Javed to that of Mahmoud and Daoud Shqeirat, the two brothers who lived in separate homes in East Jerusalem until January.
In that month, the Israeli Police gave the brothers a 24-hour notice to demolish their homes. Otherwise the municipality would, the notice said. The brothers chose the first option, for they would have had to bear the cost the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem Municipality would have incurred in tearing down the two houses, including the cost of water consumed by workers at the site.
The notice was issued to the Shqeirats after an Israeli court ruled, following a three-year legal battle, that they did not have requisite building permits from the municipality. But the chances of brothers securing the permits were negligible as these have been deliberately denied to the 93% of Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes on the pretext that their owners do not have permits—which they are denied in the first place—has replaced its earlier policy of knocking down family dwellings of militants. Every such demolition was a message to Palestinian families that they must check their members from engaging in militancy or countenance the prospect of their homes being destroyed.
Described as punitive demolitions, this policy sought to penalise a collectivity for an act of the individual. Not only was there a global outcry against it, the Israelis realised that its demolition strategy was provoking more and more Palestinians to join the resistance against the Israeli occupation of their land.
A rethink was desperately required.
The data of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions show that the demolition of Palestinian homes have continued over the years. Only the reasons cited for doing so changed. Thus, punitive demolitions climbed up from 12 in 1983 to 227 in 2003—and then plummeted to just four in 2005. It remained nil for many years thereafter.
However, demolition for administrative reasons, such as not possessing building permits, climbed up from 405 in 2002 to 1094 in 2016, then dipping to 865 in 2020. Infraction of municipality rules seems a more justifiable reason than imposition of collective punishment for destroying homes. The world opinion was mollified to an extent, as were those Jews who opposed their government’s policy of wanton destruction.
India has adopted Israel’s method of dressing up punitive demolitions as a measure to enforce municipality rules. In April, as clashes erupted over anti-Muslim slogans chanted during the Ram Navami processions, bulldozers were sent to flatten homes and shops in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP rules, and in Delhi, where the party controls the municipality. Significantly, the Modi government also oversees the Delhi Police.
Shahbaz Khan was among those in Sendhwa city, Madhya Pradesh, whose homes were reduced to rubble. He told the BBC, “My wife and sister wept and begged the police to let us take our things—at least the Quran—but they didn’t listen.”
Whether Madhya Pradesh or Delhi or Gujarat, the BJP then claimed the demolition was part of an anti-encroachment drive. But nobody believes the party, not even its supporters, who think the government-ordered destruction was a collective punishment handed out to Muslims for their temerity to respond to the incendiary slogans shouted during the processions.
Domicide or Killing Homes
Such demolitions should be called domicide, a term Canadian academician J Douglas Porteous coined. This term is explained in detail in Domicide: The Global Destruction of Home, which Porteous and another Canadian academician Sandra E. Smith wrote in 2001. They begin by asking why home is not just a house, why it matters immensely to people.
After doing the round of the outside world daily, all of us, Porteous and Smith write, “gladly re-enter our homes—places that are quiet refuges from the outside world; places in which we can truly be ourselves and display and nurture of our being; places in which, above all, we may experience centeredness, identity, and security.” They, therefore, argue that the deliberate destruction of home against the will of the home-dweller ought to be called domicide.
“Briefly domicide is the murder of home… Domicide is the deliberate killing of home,” they write. This form of murder has specified goals and, as in the case of genocide, is carried out by a superior power, often the State.
The State’s goals could include building airports, roads, hydro-power projects, offices and commercial complexes. Domicide as a tactic is deployed in war, in counter-insurgency operations, and as a tool for ethnic cleansing to make a given territory homogeneous and lay claims to it. “Jews flooded into Palestine after 1945 and committed domicide against about one million Palestinians in 1948 and 1967,” the two authors point out, ironic for a religious group which had suffered both domicide and genocide in Hitler’s Germany.
Obviously, domicide is a lesser horror than genocide. “While domicide requires that victims remain alive to suffer the loss of home and perhaps rebuild their lives, genocide requires the deaths of the victim,” Porteous and Smith say. Yet domicide hurts because “home can…be one of the deepest wounds to one’s identity and self-identity, for both of these props to sanity reside in part in objects and structures that we cherish.”
Powerful authorities resort to domicide because they know home is central to each individual, and its destruction will make the home-dweller suffer, evident also from the briefings of Parveen Fatima’s family members.
Porteous and Smith focus on large-scale domicide, but they also cite individual cases of deliberate killing of home. For instance, Albert Dryden built his home with his own hands at Bustfield, north England. In 1988, the local planning department claimed Dryden had done so without securing its permission. After Dryden exhausted all his appeals to save his home, the local department sent a bulldozer to flatten it.
A knot of people gathered to watch the pulling down of Dryden’s home. A frustrated Dryden fired at the crowd. The man who took the bullet was Harry Collinson, the director of the planning department. Porteous and Smith write, “His neighbours are equivocal about the now-jailed Dryden’s extremism, but some regard him as a martyr regarding the rights of private property and the sanctity of the home.”
The authors cite an example from India, albeit a fictional one, even though India has witnessed large-scale domicides through its history. They cite Cavasji, a character from Rohinton Mistry’s celebrated novel Such a Long Journey, berating god thus: “No other place You could find? Here only all the trouble, always? The darkness, the flood, the fire, the fight? Why not Tata Palace? Why not Governor’s mansion.”
Porteous and Smith, tongue-in-cheek, note, “He [Cavasji] is berating the wrong person, for it is just those who do not suffer domicide – namely business and government people—who perpetrate it. Tata Palace and the Governor’s mansion are immune.” To this list, in 2022, add the names of the Adanis and the Ambanis, the Hindutva footsoldiers who lynch, BJP leaders who preach hate, and personalities like Nupur Sharma whose punishment for demeaning the Prophet was suspension from the BJP, not demolition of her home.
Domicide is discriminatory. It is about certain groups being denied their rights; they are India’s unequal citizens, the Adivasis being the foremost among them. The Prime Minister’s slogan of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas must sound as a cruel joke to the victims of India’s policy of domicide, extended from forested and remote areas to its urbane heart, where Muslims largely reside.
The author is an independent journalist. The views are personal