Indian authorities bulldoze homes of 11 people after finding beef in fridges

Photos shared by Madhya Pradesh police show the homes being razed (SP Mandla/ X)
Photos shared by Madhya Pradesh police show the homes being razed (SP Mandla/ X)

Indian authorities have bulldozed the homes of 11 people in the central Madhya Pradesh state after police found beef in their refrigerators and cows in their backyards.

Slaughter of cows, which some Hindu people worship as a deity, and their progeny is banned in most of India, as is the consumption of their meat.

In Madhya Pradesh, cow slaughter is punished by seven years in jail, and the burden of proof is on the accused.

There is no legal provision to destroy the property of a person accused of cow slaughter, let alone before they have been tried.

Yet, states run by Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in particular routinely raze homes as punishment for suspected crimes such as cow slaughter and incitement to sectarian violence.

The victims are overwhelmingly Muslims. The minority religious community has long been at the receiving end of a campaign of violence by Hindu nationalist groups that accuse them of hurting religious feelings by slaughtering cows. Many Muslims have been lynched by Hindu mobs over suspicion of transporting cows for slaughter.

It is not yet clear if those whose homes have been destroyed in Madhya Pradesh are Muslim, though some reporters have identified them as such.

“We found 150 cows tied in the backyards of the accused. Cow meat was recovered from the refrigerators in the homes of all the 11 accused. We also found animal fat, cattle skin and bones which were stuffed in a room,” Rajat Saklecha, superintendent of police in Mandla, told news agency PTI.

A local vet confirmed that the meat in the refrigerators was beef, Mr Saklecha said, and samples were sent to the southern city of Hyderabad for DNA analysis.

Police claimed – as they generally do in such cases – that the houses were demolished not because their owners were suspected of cow slaughter, but because they were illegally built on public land in Mandla town. They did not provide any evidence.

Mr Saklecha posted photos of the homes being bulldozed on social media.

Although states have the authority to demolish illegal structures, Madhya Pradesh’s high court ruled earlier this year that they cannot do so without following due procedure.

“As observed repeatedly by this court, it has become fashionable now for local administration and local bodies to demolish any house by drawing up proceedings without complying with the principle of natural justice and publish it in the newspaper,” the court said after it was petitioned by a person whose house had been bulldozed.

Demolishing property should be the last resort even though the law prohibits building a house without proper permission, the court added.

While Indian authorities claim their “demolition drives” do not discriminate on the basis of religion, critics point out that the victims are overwhelmingly Muslims, who make up 14 per cent of the country’s 1.4 billion population, and such wanton destruction of their property is emblematic of the community’s marginalisation.