The Demolition Drive At Shaheen Bagh That Never Happened, But Did It Give A Message?

The demolition, which was slated to be held just metres away from the CAA/NRC protest site at Shaheen Bagh, is being seen by many as a way to silence the voices of protest that had grown out of the Muslim dominated neighbourhood.

A bulldozer in the main market of Shaheen Bagh.

As the bulldozer arrived on Monday morning in Shaheen Bagh, along with it came a crowd of police and security forces to support the anti-encroachment drive, creating a hue and cry in the Kalindi Kunj-Jamia Nagar area. News had floated earlier that the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) will carry out a demolition drive in the main market. The busy streets of Shaheen Bagh were soon buzzing with locals, activists and media, creating traffic in the noon. The bulldozer stood there, gheraoed by a swell of residents who came out to protest the demolition drive.

Following the massive protest, it was soon halted and the JCB retreated from the site. And it is unsure whether the SDMC plans to resume the anti-encroachment drive. A construction in front of a shop was removed by the locals on request by the officials. However, no other property was demolished.

“There are over 1,600 illegal encroachments across Delhi. More than half the population in the city stay in unauthorised colonies. Why are they only making Muslim-dominated areas their target?” says Aslan, a student activist, who was present at the anti-encroachment drive, that never quite happened in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh.


Locals remove a structure infront of the shop. Suresh Pandey/Outlook

The targetted demolition drive in Shaheen Bagh, which became the epicentre of anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests in 2019-20, comes less than a month after bulldozers razed houses and shops in North Delhi’s Jahangirpur, once more raising questions on the illegal encroachment across the national capital.

The sight of protesters flooding the roads, however, brought back memories of the days and nights of protest at Shaheen Bagh which became the centre of resistance during the nationwide anti-CAA/NRC protests that started in December 2019 and lasted till the Covid-19 lockdown on March 24. Critics have claimed that the CAA-NRC unfairly target Indian minorities. 

Following the SDMC’s agenda to raze illegal properties in Shaheen Bagh, locals have now questioned the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led civic body’s ‘real motive’.

“All these recent bulldozer politics of the Bhajpa government is nothing but to create a narrative that anything illegal is associated with Muslims and it’s becoming an increasingly threatening gimmick. It’s probably a warning message for those who rage against the government,” said Aimmam Rizwi, a social activist.

The bulldozer, that arrived before noon left around 1:30 pm. Locals alleged that the MCD hardly found anything “illegal” there and hence had to leave, rather “ran away” following protests by the locals.

In light of the plans of demolition in the northeast Delhi neighbourhood, many human rights activists have urged authorities to reassure the Muslim residents that they belong to the city as much as any other community does and will be offered full protection of the law.


An activist retained during the protest. Suresh Pandey/Outlook

Speaking to reporters, AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan said, “There was only one structure that was being constructed in front of a shop in the market, and that was also removed on my request. This is 13A Road that connects Delhi to Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and there’s not a single encroachment here. It’s just BJP’s politics to create a divide between communities.”

Khan, who arrived soon after the bulldozer was brought into the area, added, “Now they will show how Amantallah stopped the civic body’s anti-encroachment drive in Shaheen Bagh. And why should I not; where there is no illegal encroachment, how can you bring a bulldozer to destroy people’s properties?”

Later in the day, SDMC lodged a police complaint against Amanatullah Khan and local councillor Wajid Khan for obstructing the drive. The complaint came hours after BJP chief Adesh Gupta had directed SDMC Mayor Mukesh Suryan to do so, following which Suryan wrote a letter to the municipal commissioner demanding action against the AAP leaders.

“We all have official papers to prove none of our shops and properties here is illegal. When we received the news that SDMC will bring their bulldozer on May 9, we all were equally confused that what structures they will remove and raze, as the entire road has no encroachment,” a local shopkeeper of a bag store tells Outlook, adding, “And if at all they came without notice, why did they not find a single structure to raze? Was it yet, again, just a show of triggering fear in the minds of a particular community?”

“The entire country is sinking into narratives limited to Hindu-Muslim, mandir-masjid, Hijab, halaal, gau and what not. That’s all the BJP government wants. Their entire politics is built on the hatred created against Muslims,” says Aimmam Rizwi, a social activist,” adds Aimmam.

Earlier, the civic body was supposed to carry out the anti-encroachment drive in the Kalindi Kunj-Jamia Nagar area on Friday. However, the drive had to be called off due to an inadequate police force to support the drive. The SDMC has reportedly prepared a 10-day action plan to remove encroachment from several areas, including Shaheen Bagh, Tughlakabad, and Sangam Vihar among others.  

Locals in the area have reiterated by and by that no notice was served to them prior to the drive. “Instead of snatching away people’s livelihood and razing the houses of commoners, why don’t the ruling authorities focus on providing them with more sources of livelihood? Why are the poor always the target?” said Satradal, a local tutor of political science in the area.


A resident of Shaheen Bagh for 25 years, Satradal added, “None of the state laws allows any government authorities to demolish buildings or structures without serving an advance notice to the affected parties. And then look at BJP’s divisive politics.”

The demolition, which was slated to be held just metres away from the CAA/NRC protest site at Shaheen Bagh, is being seen by many as a way to silence the voices of protest that had grown out of the Muslim dominated neighbourhood.