INDIA: Authorities must immediately stop unjust targeted demolition of Muslim properties

JCB brand machinery weaponized as a tool in hate campaign against minorities in India

Amnesty International (07.02.2024) – India’s widespread unlawful demolitions of Muslims’ homes, businesses and places of worship through the use of JCB bulldozers and other machines must stop immediately, Amnesty International said in two companion reports released today.


The two reports — ‘If you speak up, your house will be demolished’: Bulldozer Injustice in India’ and ‘Unearthing Accountability: JCB’s Role and Responsibility in Bulldozer Injustice in India’ — document the punitive demolition of Muslim properties in atleast five states with a widespread use of JCB-branded bulldozers or diggers as brand of choice in a hate campaign against the minority community. These demolitions are carried out with widespread impunity as was evident from the Mira Road demolitions after a Ram Temple Rally turned violent earlier last month in Mumbai, India.


Amnesty International calls on the Government of India and state governments to immediately halt the de facto policy of demolishing people’s homes as a form of extra-judicial punishment and ensure nobody is made homeless as a result of forced evictions. They must also offer adequate compensation to all those affected by the demolitions and ensure those responsible for these violations are held to account.


“The unlawful demolition of Muslim properties by the Indian authorities, peddled as ‘bulldozer justice’ by political leaders and media, is cruel and appalling. Such displacement and dispossession is deeply unjust, unlawful and discriminatory. They are destroying families— and must stop immediately,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.


“The authorities have repeatedly undermined the rule of law, destroying homes, businesses or places of worship, through targeted campaigns of hate, harassment, violence and the weaponization of JCB bulldozers. These human rights abuses must be urgently addressed.”


Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab and Digital Verification Corps have verified that JCB’s machines, while not the only vehicles used, were the most widely deployed equipment in these demolitions. Their repeated use have given rise to the use of monikers for the company like ‘Jihadi Control Board’ by celebratory right-wing media and politicians.


In response to a letter from Amnesty International, a JCB spokesperson said that once products have been sold to customers, the company has no control over or responsibility for their products’ use or abuse.


However, according to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, JCB has a responsibility to respect human rights including by conducting due diligence to identify, prevent and mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to its operations, products or services across its value chain. This requirement is especially important when a company’s products are used in regions where there is a heightened risk or evidence of their link to human rights abuses publicly available, such as in Assam, Delhi, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.


“Under international standards, JCB is responsible for what third-party buyers do with its equipment. The company must stop looking away as JCB machines are used to target and punish the Muslim community, while people sloganeer anti-Muslim vitriol mounted from atop these bulldozers. JCB cannot continue to evade responsibility while its machines are repeatedly used to inflict human rights abuses,” said Agnès Callamard.


“The company must publicly condemn the use of its machinery to commit human rights violations, including punitive demolitions of Muslim properties in India, use its leverage to mitigate adverse impact and create robust human rights due diligence policies for the use of its equipment across the globe.”


‘Punishment’ for religious minorities 


Between April and June 2022, Amnesty International researchers found that authorities in five states – Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states of Assam, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) governed state of Delhi – carried out demolitions as a ‘punishment’ following episodes of communal violence or protests against discrimination by those in authority against Muslims.


Amnesty International investigated 63 of 128 documented demolitions in detail by interviewing more than a hundred survivors, legal experts, journalists and community leaders. At least 33 instances of the repeated use of JCB’s equipment were verified. The investigation also established that at least 617 people, including men, women, children and older persons, were rendered homeless or deprived of their livelihoods. These individuals were subjected to forced evictions, intimidation and unlawful force by the police and collective and arbitrary punishment, which undermined their rights to non-discrimination, adequate housing, and a fair trial.


A total failure to follow due process


“The (bulldozers) directly attacked our house. We weren’t given any notice. Nothing,” said Hasina Bi, a 56-year-old widow who was at her home in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh when it was targeted and demolished in April 2022 by the municipal authorities.


In all five states, Amnesty International found that the demolitions — often carried out under the guise of remedying illegal construction and encroachment — were enacted without following any of the due process safeguards outlined in domestic law or international human rights law. State authorities enforced the demolitions and evictions without offering any prior consultation, adequate notice, or alternative resettlement opportunities. The destruction of buildings sometimes took place at night, with occupants given little or no time to leave their homes and shops, salvage their belongings, or appeal the demolition orders and seek legal redress.


Such demolitions constitute forced evictions, which are prohibited under international human rights law and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) to which India is a state party.


‘They beat up my husband’


A 60-year-old woman whose house was demolished in Sendhwa, Madhya Pradesh, said: “When we asked what our fault was, they beat up my husband with lathis (batons). I was yelling that my disabled son is inside, but they did not stop… I could have lost them both.”


Amnesty International documented at least 39 cases of the police resorting to unlawful force while carrying out demolitions or preventing victims from collecting their belongings. At least 14 residents said they were beaten by the police for presenting their official documents and asking why their homes were being demolished. The police hurled abuses at residents, kicked open doors, and dragged people out of their homes before beating them with lathis [batons]. Both men and women were restrained and held in police vehicles.


The use of force by the police was neither necessary nor proportionate. This unlawful use of force constitutes a human rights violation and has also resulted in a range of other violations including the residents’ right to adequate housing as well as their rights to bodily integrity, freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and effective remedy, which are enshrined in both the Indian constitution and international human rights law.


Discrimination and complicity of politicians and media


“If they (say it is) justice, it should be done equally, whether the property belongs to a Hindu or Muslim,” said Zahid Ali Sayyed, who owned a now-demolished tent-house in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh.


Amnesty International found that Muslim-concentrated localities were chosen for demolitions, while Muslim-owned properties were selectively targeted in diverse areas. Nearby Hindu-owned properties, particularly in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, were left untouched.


The demolitions were often instigated at the highest levels of government, with many state officials directly or indirectly calling for the use of bulldozers against Muslims. Punitive demolitions have been aggressively pursued as a form of extrajudicial punishment over many years and in several states, including Uttar Pradesh whose chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, has been labelled by the media as “Bulldozer Baba” (grandfather).


The Indian media has also referred to the demolitions as “bulldozer justice”; describing the punitive destruction of homes and businesses as “(good) models of governance” by state authorities, while failing to consider whether the demolitions were carried out in accordance with the law or constitute unlawful discrimination against the Muslim community.


“In a year that India heads to the polls, the ongoing hate campaign against minorities – especially Muslims – and the widespread impunity enjoyed by those responsible for the demolition of their homes and properties is unacceptable. Amnesty International calls on the Indian authorities to ensure immediate protection of the rights of Muslims and those who are most marginalized before, during and after elections,” said Agnès Callamard.




A year-and-a-half since the demolitions, in spite of the financial hardships created by the loss of their homes and businesses, victims continue to wait for justice with legal cases pending in courts.


The Indian government has also failed to provide access to justice and effective remedies for victims as accountability for human rights violations committed by the police, municipal corporations, development authorities and revenue departments in the five states remains elusive.


Instead, the state governments and federal government have continued to demolish other Muslim properties, as evidenced by the destruction of homes and shops in Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Gujarat, and Uttarakhand in 2023.

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website