Sep 03, 2023

Blog: Bulldozers, Now Most Feared In Jammu And Kashmir

The bulldozer has become the most feared tool in Jammu and Kashmir. More feared than guns and grenades. As thousands face dispossession in anti-encroachment drives, the government's carefully crafted "development" narrative appears to have been replaced by bulldozers.

The Uttar Pradesh shocker - a mother and daughter were burnt alive during a demolition drive at slums in Kanpur - is a chilling example of the unbridled use of "bulldozer justice".

The government insists only the rich and the powerful are being targeted in the eviction drive. But reality doesn't match that claim. It is the common man who is suffering the most.

Bulldozer action across Jammu and Kashmir, to evict people from state-owned land that they had called home and had cultivated for generations, has inflicted deep cuts.

Thousands of families given land ownership in 2007 under the Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of Ownership to the Occupants) Act 2001 are now illegal occupants.

After central rule was imposed in 2018, the decision on ownership rights on state land was reversed by then Governor Satya Pal Malik. In October 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court declared the Act null and void ab initio, or invalid from the beginning.

After sensing trouble, and the impact on hundreds of thousands of families, the J&K administration filed a review petition before the High Court in December 2020. The petition said landless cultivators and those who have built their homes on small patches of land should be spared eviction. The administration also requested that officials involved in the land transfer are not subjected to investigation.

The review petition will come up for hearing on March 9.

But before the court could decide on the petition, the same administration issued an order in January directing district collectors to evict all encroachers. The bulldozers followed.

Officials claim vast stretches of encroached land have been retrieved in the drive.

After a massive outcry, the bulldozers slowed down somewhat but that's little comfort for those who have been dispossessed and declared illegal encroachers.

Land defines everything for people in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Big Landed Estates Abolition Act 1950 (giving ownership rights to the tiller & limiting ownership to 22 acres) played a huge role in shaping the social and economic conditions of people. Known as "land to the tiller" by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the Act created an egalitarian society. Jammu and Kashmir is the only place in the country where every family, including people from marginalised sections - Dalits and tribals - were granted ownership of land. This ended over 400 years of landless peasantry enforced since the Mughal era.

It was because of the historic land reforms that no one in Jammu and Kashmir is homeless. No one goes to bed hungry. The opposition blames the government for creating homelessness and snatching livelihoods using bulldozers.

The anti-encroachment drive is aimed at retrieving 20 lakh kanals (2.5 lakh acres) of government land and also large tracts of common use land and grazing land.

The impact is so widespread that even BJP workers in Kashmir were seen marching with the national flag in Shopian district demanding, "Baba ka bulldozer bandh Karo."

"Bulldozer Baba" is the monicker that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath earned after pioneering "bulldozer justice".

Bulldozers have captured the imagination of people, feeding into hate politics and also propping up Yogi Adityanath's "strongman" credentials.

If the 2014 election spotlighted the Gujarat model of development, the Bulldozer Baba appears to be gaining more traction than the development narrative ahead of 2024.

Jammu and Kashmir's Union Territory administration has used bulldozers on a much larger scale across the region. Today, all that everyone is talking about is bulldozers, while the administration asserts that the poor will not be targeted.

After Kanpur tragedy it appears bulldozers in Kashmir have also been slowed down. But no one is sure what happens next.

(Nazir Masoodi is NDTV's Srinagar Bureau Chief.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.