India's Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered authorities in New Delhi to stop tearing down Muslim-owned shops and other structures near the site of recent communal clashes.
The order came after paramilitary forces and bulldozers moved into Jahangirpuri — a low-income, predominantly Muslim neighborhood in the capital's northwest — and razed several shops as well as the walls around a mosque.
The demolition followed clashes between Muslims and Hindus in the area over the weekend, leading to at least 20 arrests.
Authorities have responded to recent outbreaks of violence in other parts of the country with similar demolition drives.
'A demolition of constitutional values'
Critics allege these operations are an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to intimidate India's Muslim minority, which makes up around 14% of the population.
Rahul Gandhi, a leader of the opposition Congress party, called the drive "a demolition of India's constitutional values'' and "state-sponsored targeting" of low-income groups and minorities.
BJP leaders and hard-line Hindu groups affiliated with the party, however, say they are not targeting any particular religious group but are only enforcing the law.
Raja Iqbal Singh, mayor of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, which is ruled by the BJP, said there was no connection between the demolitions and the weekend clashes. Authorities were just tearing down "illegal buildings that have encroached onto the roads,'' he said.
The Supreme Court's decision followed a petition accusing municipal authorities of not giving local residents or shopkeepers advance warning.
The stay on the demolition will remain in force until a hearing scheduled for Thursday.
India has seen a spike in small-scale confrontations between Hindus and Muslims at religious processions in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, a number of homes and shops were torn down in the central state of Madhya Pradesh and western Gujarat state in the aftermath of communal violence there. Both states are ruled by the BJP.
nm/fb (Reuters, AP)