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Jun 18, 2022

UN Special Rapporteurs Condemn Home Demolitions in India, See Collective Punishment of Muslims

Three special rapporteurs have written a joint letter to the Modi government on June 9 questioning the recent use of bulldozers by the authorities across India.
Security forces at the Prayagraj demolition drive at Javed Mohammad's house. Photo: Reuters

New Delhi: Three United Nations Special Rapporteurs – for Housing, Minority Issues and Freedom of Religion – have written a joint letter to the Indian government strongly criticising and protesting arbitrary housing and property demolitions ordered by local governments to punish Muslims minorities for the intercommunal clashes which occurred between Hindus and Muslims in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, Anand in Gujarat and Jehangirpuri in Delhi during and after religious processions in April and May 2022.

The letter is dated June 9 and thus does not include references to demolitions carried out last week by the Uttar Pradesh government in Allahabad, Saharanpur and elsewhere. However, one of the signatories – Balakrishnan Rajagopal, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing – told The Wire the latest actions appear to be part of the same disturbing pattern.

The Wire understands that the special rapporteurs’ letter claims the Indian government has carried out “collective punishment” against the minority Muslim community. It is said to cite quotations from the Madhya Pradesh home minister and senior state officials as proof of vindictive intention.

Apparently the letter says demolitions have been carried out without due process and without establishing proof of guilt.

The three rapporteurs have asked the Indian government to share with them the basis on which it has acted, the investigations it has carried out and whether any prior consultation was held with the affected community. The government has 60 days to respond.

On Friday, June 17, 2022, Rajagopal spoke to The Wire about the issue. Appended below is the complete transcript of the interview

Karan Thapar: I’ve been very reliably told that three United Nations Special Rapporteurs have written a letter on the 9th of June to the Indian government strongly protesting and criticising the demolition of Muslim houses – which they allege happened shortly after the people were alleged to have been involved in inter-communal clashes with Hindus. I’m also told that the letter claims that this looks and sounds very much like collective punishment of the country’s Muslim minority community and this issue raises critical questions which I shall put today one by one to my guest, one of the authors of that letter, one of the three rapporteurs who wrote to the government – the special rapporteur on the right to housing and a professor of law and development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Balakrishnan Rajagopal.  I believe that as a special rapporteur on the right to housing, you have written a lengthy letter to the government of India dated the 9th of June which is also signed by the special rapporteur on minority issues as well as the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and that the letter condemns, criticises and I believe protests the manner in which the houses of Muslims  are being demolished on the orders of local governments, allegedly on the belief that these people were involved in inter-communal clashes with Hindus. I want to start with a very simple question, has such a letter been sent by you and your two colleagues on the 9th of June?

Balakrishnan Rajagopal: Yes, I can say that a letter signed by the three of us was sent on the 9th of June to the government of India and following UN processes, the the government of India gets 60 days to process and then respond to.

Thapar: So just to be clear, you’re confirming the letter was sent you’re confirming the date of the letter is the 9th of June and you’re also adding that under UN processes, the government of India gets 60 days to reply, in other words they can reply anytime up till and perhaps including the 9th of august.

Rajagopal: Yes, that’s correct.

Thapar: Let me then raise with you what I imagine are issues that you perhaps have raised in your letter. I should admit to the audience I haven’t seen your letter, I know of it but I don’t know of its contents but can imagine what your letter says, so let me put to you several questions. Whether we take the incidents that happened at Khargone or Jahangirpuri or more recently in Prayagraj, do you believe that these home demolitions have been carried out as collective punishment against the minority Muslim community for alleged responsibility for violence? Do you believe this is collective punishment?

Rajagopal: Yes,  unfortunately I believe that – and the statements by public officials and others make it clear that – the measures were in retaliation for, or in response to, alleged acts of communal violence. So it does appear to have a a collective punishment angle to it, which is different from simply random acts of incidents against particular families. We have raised many concerns and we have made our concerns very clear to the government of India that this seems to really go beyond simply random acts of violence – that there is a pattern for it and, yes, there might be a concern on our part that they can amount to collective punishment.

Thapar: So tell me in your opinion, and in the opinion of your two colleagues, do you get the feeling this has been done deliberately and consciously by the government or by state governments ,or could this conceivably be either an accident or an inexplicable series of coincidences?

Rajagopal: Demolitions by nature cannot be accidental. Demolitions are intentional, they’re conscious, they follow decisions taken by those in power, and therefore it is not an accidental thing to say that someone’s home was demolished, especially when we are not talking about the demolition of one person’s home. We are talking about the demolition of multiple homes across multiple states. And therefore, I would say that, you know, I don’t want to say that there is any intention behind it but clearly it is not a coincidence that it is happening across different states, and affecting, disproportionately, families of Muslim communities.

Thapar: I want to put to you what The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, has said as well as what the home minister of Madhya Pradesh, another BJP ruled state, has said. To begin with, the chief minister of UP Yogi Adityanath has told officials – and I’m quoting him – to take action against those guilty so that it sets an example so that no one commits a crime and takes law into their hands in future. Almost at the same time, the home minister of Madhya Pradesh, Narottam Mishra, has said – and again i’m quoting him – the houses from where the stones were pelted, we will turn those houses into piles of stone. How do you as the UN special reporter on the right to housing view these comments by the chief minister of a BJP state and the home minister of a BJP state?

Rajagopal: I cannot say what might have prompted such comments or what their intentions might be but legally speaking, but I can say that home demolitions are against the law generally in any country and certainly in India, unless they are for non-political reasons – such as for example a technical violation of building codes – and after following a fair procedure, followed by law or and after affording for example an opportunity for people concerned to be able to contest the decisions.Therefore, the statements, unfortunately, give the appearance that those requirements under the law are not very important.

Thapar: Just to be absolutely clear, you’re saying that the statements I quoted from the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and the home minister of Madhya Pradesh give the impression and appearance of being defiant of the law, that they are asking people to do things or they are claiming that they will do things that break the law that are therefore illegal?

Rajagopal: Statements by public officials of course affirm or uphold the rule of law in so many different ways and that includes India, where many public officials do that, but when public officials make comments that actually go in the other direction, it raises concerns about what it might mean.

Thapar: Let me now come to what the district collector of Khargone district, Anugraha P., said in a statement that clearly looks and sounds as if the intention is to punish rioters. She said and I’m quoting, “finding out culprits one by one is a time taking process so we looked at all the areas where writing took place and demolished all the illegal constructions to teach rioters a lesson. Doesn’t that clearly suggest that rather than follow the law, rather than follow due process which as a civil servant she is constitutionally bound to do, she is instead siding with her political masters? She’s not doing her job, she’s leaning on the side of what her political masters would want her to do.

Rajagopal: Yes of course, that is what rule of law is, and the rule of law as it applies to civil servants certainly requires that they pay attention to the law and not to the instructions of any particular person, including those in power. Their primary role must be to carry out the responsibilities entrusted to them when laws are passed and they’re given responsibilities to carry them out, so I do agree with you about that.

Thapar: So in a nutshell Anugraha P. is not doing her job?

Rajagopal: I cannot comment on particular individuals but civil servants in most countries, particularly in a country like India with the long history of civil service, has the  ability to uphold rule of law and have done so over so many decades through the actions of so many, and there is no reason why the current situation should be any different.

Thapar: Let me go one step further. I’m going to now quote to you what the Prayagraj Development Authority has said to the Indian Express – and incidentally it was said just three days ago on the 14th of June, I’m quoting – we are conducting a survey of properties including houses and shops of 37 accused if any building is found to be built without approval ,action will be taken as per law. Doesn’t that sort of suggest a vindictive attitude to deliberately punish people who are simply accused – in fact even in that quotation they are simply called accused, they are not called guilty their guilt has yet to be established and therefore doesn’t this sound as if punishment is being handed out before guilt is established and conviction has been proved?

Rajagopal: Yes of course, they are not convicted of anything at this point, and they are simply accused, and in the case of many, it’s not clear that they have been even formally accused under the law. But I want to go one step beyond that and just point out that even if someone is accused or even convicted – in fact, legally speaking, the idea that you could demolish the homes of someone as a penalty is not something that is sanctioned by the law. Sanctions include other penalties but not home demolition.

Thapar: You’re making very important points there and I’ll come to them one by one because there are a series of issues that arise after that critical last point you made. First of all, let me put this to you none of these people the so-called 37 accused that the Prayagraj Development Authority is talking about are guilty, not one of them. At best they are accused. There’s been no process of law whatsoever to establish any case against them, so if in these circumstances they are punished, doesn’t it mean that the police are playing prosecutor, jury, judge and executioner all in one?

Rajagopal: Yes of course. Denial of the right to remedy – I mean people have rights and many you know, there are many rights declared under international law and also under the Indian constitution, but ultimately people have to be able to claim respect for those rights and so when the kind of behaviour that you’re outlining is what is happening, unfortunately we begin to see that there is an erosion of that.

Thapar: Let me give you a couple of examples because I think they help illustrate to the audience precisely how serious this matter is, it’s not an abstract issue about people’s rights being offended, it actually affects real human beings – their homes, their lives, their children, their parents. In Khargone, the home of three men who have been in jail for a month and could not possibly have been rioters because they were in jail were demolished. Also in the same place, Khargone, the home of a widow, Haseena Fakhru, built under the prime minister’s yojana and therefore it could not be illegal or an encroachment, was demolished on the grounds that it was illegal. Now isn’t this in all these cases a clear miscarriage of justice and in your eyes aren’t these people owed both an apology and compensation?

Rajagopal: In the ideal world, yes an apology and compensation, but at the very least they are legally speaking under international law owed compensation and not only compensation for the losses that they have sustained but also restitution of any other losses and most importantly they need guarantees of non-repetition because the same thing could happen again, so it’s very important that these fundamental principles – that there is compensation, there is restitution and there is guarantee of non-repetition – are actually followed in these cases because these are well established international law standards for victims.

Thapar:  These are, as you said ,the principles and requirements of international law. Are you absolutely sure that India has signed up to the relevant international covenants?

Rajagopal:  India has been generally speaking a law-abiding member and a supporter of international standards at the global level and therefore there is no reason to doubt [this].

Thapar:  So if India fails to compensate, restitute and ensure that this doesn’t happen again, not only will India be falling foul of its own legal requirements and constitution but it will also be falling foul of international covenants that it has willingly and voluntarily signed, both would apply wouldn’t they?

Rajagopal: Yes, absolutely.

Thapar: Now the second explanation that is given for the demolitions is that these are encroachments on public land. Now, even if they are, isn’t it peculiar that encroachments are only discovered  24 hours after the person concerned has been accused of violence or stone pelting? Secondly, no advance notice is given of demolition. And thirdly, no attempt is made to rehabilitate the person whose home is being demolished, so once again even on these grounds isn’t this a miscarriage of justice?

Rajagopal: There are many requirements as you refer to, yes adequate notice is an incredibly important requirement procedurally before any demolition is carried out and in this case we are very concerned that inadequate notice has been given before demolitions. A chance to appeal of course is  an incredibly important part of the procedural requirements and we’re not sure that such a right exists as of now, although we hope that such a right becomes more realistic in the coming weeks. Also there must be resettlement and compensation as I said, so those are all requirements.

Thapar: So once again even on the grounds that demolition has happened because these are encroachments on public land, process and due procedure have not been followed and therefore this again amounts to a miscarriage of justice, am I right?

Rajagopal: There are two issues here – one issue is about the grounds for the demolition, about which you know there are of course always disagreements between those who contest the demolitions and the government that wants to carry out the demolitions, whether it’s for public order public morality or for other grounds. There are always disagreements about whether the threat was serious enough. But whatever  the nature of the threat, what is not doubted is clearly that fair procedure must be followed and that has not been followed.

Thapar: Let me, with that last bit of your answer in mind, talk to you about the most recent example of demolition from Prayagaraj. You mentioned the importance of fair procedure being followed. In Prayagaraj, a home the authorities believe belongs to Muhammad Javid was demolished as the Indian Express says after literally serving just one single day’s notice, and it was demolished on the grounds that it was an illegal construction. It turns out that the property in fact belonged not to Muhammad but to his wife Parveen Fatima, and that the house tax and water bills had been regularly paid and the electricity connection was in the wife’s name and their daughter said the following to the Indian Express: ‘All taxes have been paid on time before Sunday. Sunday is the day when the demolition happened no official told us that our house was built wrongly.’ How do you view this demolition?

Rajagopal: Well, this appears to be prima facie illegal, both in terms of the inadequacy of the notice given but also the way in which it has been carried out. From reports that I’ve seen, it appears that many of the personal possessions of the families – they might not have been allowed to remove them before the demolitions, and this is not only in this case but in other cases as well. There are requirements of international law that when demolitions are carried out, notice is given one of the reasons we’re giving notice is that people who are in those homes have a chance to remove whatever valuables that they have before bulldozers show up. And also there are requirements that you don’t conduct the demolitions during, for example, rainy season or during very hot days or during a time when it would actually impose unnecessary distress –  particularly if it is going to impose distress on vulnerable groups. And in this case, I’m also concerned that there is evidence that there might have been a disproportionate impact on older people, on young people, and also on women across the board. The gender-based impacts I think are very important in this case. It’s very important to point out that under international law it’s very important for states to ensure that the rights of those kinds of vulnerable groups are adequately protected when they do have to engage in demolitions which are authorised for legally acceptable purposes.

Thapar: All I’ll say is absolutely none of that happened in this case but let me instead quote a fourth and last example to you. I’m told in Mansarovar park in Delhi, there are at least three settlements where people from different communities and religious groups reside together. However ,and this is the critical point I’m making, only the settlement which inhabits predominantly Muslim populations was targeted during the demolition drive on the 2nd of May 2022, just a day before Eid. At the time, I believe at least 25 houses and their water connections were destroyed and as you said, water connections were destroyed during the blistering summer heat of May when temperatures touch 45 degrees in Delhi. How do you view this?

Rajagopal: It’s part of unfortunately a very concerning pattern which is what led us to write the formal communication to the government of India in the first place. Because these are not random acts, these are not acts that actually had a mild impact on some people but had a devastating impact on individuals, on their communities, it has disrupted their lives it has caused immense privation and suffering and it has disproportionately affected many vulnerable communities and that is the reason why we communicated with the government.

Thapar: At this point Professor Rajagopal let’s pull back from the examples and the details that we’ve discussed and try and see if we can assess the big picture. Are these public demolitions in your eyes a signal to Muslims that they don’t count and that they need to know their place? In a sense is an example being made of these Muslims to teach a lesson to 200 million others so that they don’t behave – in the eyes of the government – improperly or wrongly and I’m deliberately using euphemisms there.

Rajagopal: The issue I think is that there are institutions in states, including of course in India, that have specific responsibilities for protecting the rights of minorities. In India, there are of course general institutions like the courts but also specific institutions such as the National Commission for Minorities and so on. The issue is whether those institutions are adequately discharging their responsibilities. And this I’m saying as a way to respond to your question because the issue is not whether Muslims are particularly under threat but that when threats to rights arise, do institutions step into the breach, do they adequately respond to threats.

Thapar: You’re talking about the requirement and need of constitutional institutions to respond to breaches of rights. The Supreme Court yesterday, in an obiter dicta, told the UP government that demolitions cannot happen as retaliatory action but it didn’t stop demolitions from happening. And even judges on television afterwards, retired judges ,said this amounted to very little. I believe that was the comment made by the former chief justice of the Bombay high court. This means very little, it’s just a form of words something more substantial should have been done to stop demolitions happening rather than simply give sage advice. In your eyes, at a time when it’s needed to be firm and strong and stand up for the rights of the Indian people is the Supreme Court being weak?

Rajagopal: I hope that this is of course not the final decision of the Supreme Court – it maywell be a preliminary decision. But the views expressed by former members of the Indian judiciary seem to reflect to me an accurate concern – that the Supreme Court among other courts actually have a great responsibility to ensure remedies of rights when there is allegation of violations of rights and of course there is a concern that in this case when immediate remedies are not forthcoming – that such a responsibility is not being discharged.

Thapar: Now in an earlier answer you’ve already told me that there are reasons to believe that this could amount to collective punishment of the Muslim community, that thought has occurred to you. You’re not making an accusation but it’s occurred to you and it’s also part of the June 9th letter you sent the Indian government. But I want to go one step further. Is this proof that the Modi government is deliberately discriminating against Muslims? Not just in terms of housing and demolition but the multiple other things that they are faced with – whether it’s hijab, azan, beef eating, love jihad – there are multiple issues too long for me to repeat but I’m sure you’re aware of them, so let me repeat the question – Is all of this, in your eyes, proof that the Modi government is deliberately discriminating against Muslims?

Rajagopal: The question of discrimination is of great concern to me. It is in the very title of rapporteur mandate when it was created by the UN Human Rights Council in the ’90s and recently I’ve issued two reports – one to the UN General Assembly, another to the UN Human Rights Council – on the question of discrimination and spatial segregation. I must point out that discrimination includes not only just overt or direct acts but also includes indirect and unintentional acts that result in or lead to disproportionately negative impacts on particular minorities.

I’ll give you an example from the US, where, if  nine out of ten people who are stopped by the police and frisked turn out to be African-American, then even if there are no explicit policies  to  permit discrimination, it will be hard to claim that there is no structural discrimination in the system. It’s very important for us not to pay too much attention only to the formal statements and what is there in the laws and policies but to look at what actually happens to people.

Thapar:  Absolutely, if the vast majority of people whose houses are being demolished are Muslim, that itself speaks volumes and it clearly suggests a prejudice and bias and also a deliberate intention. But let me ask you a slightly different question. I’m told that one of the subjects that you have studied and covered is the treatment in Israel of Palestinians, where the bulldozer is often used also against Palestinian properties. Is what’s happening in India in your eyes in some way reminiscent of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians?

Rajagopal: The demolition of homes as a punitive measure – as in this case by any government – is actually a violation of international law and of course, depending on the context involved, the demolition of homes may or may not seek to be justified by states as for example as an excuse to engage in counterterrorism or warfare or whatever but nevertheless, you know, engaging in widespread home demolitions of this kind does raise from concerns that it begins to resemble the practices of other countries which have been justly under more scrutiny and under criticism.

Thapar: Let me put this to you, for the last two days there have been widespread protests in India, mainly in UP, Bihar but they’ve also spread to south India, Telangana today, against the government’s new recruitment policy for the army. We’ve seen buses smashed, we’ve seen trains being burnt, that is a level of violence that is much greater than stone pelting, of which Muslim protesters were accused. Yet, up till now, not a single person who burnt a train or demolished a bus or broke the window panes of a bus has had their home demolished. It seems to be one standard when Muslims are protesting and quite another standard when young people who are disappointed because their recruitment hopes into the army are being dashed are burning buses and pelting stones on trains and burning trains. What do you make of that discriminatory treatment?

Rajagopal: Well there are two concerns with regard to the demolition of homes of Muslims. One is of course the disproportionate targeting of Muslims that makes it look like it’s a collective punishment, but the other is simply that the charges with which they are associated often involve quite a lot of acts of hate speech, including by public officials or others who are in power, and there is no evidence that any of them are prosecuted for that. Instead, whatever legal actions are taken seem to be against the Muslim families but never against those who instigate violence that then lead to the communal flare-ups in the first place.

Thapar: Let me at this point once again pull back a step further and ask you about your letter of the 9th of June. We’ve discussed examples of demolition, we’ve talked in a roundabout way about your suspicion of why they’re happening about your suspicion that it amounts to collective punishment of the Muslim community. The question I want to ask is a simple one, how seriously and strongly have you expressed your concern and your criticism to the Indian government?

Rajagopal: We have expressed our grave concern to the Indian government in the letter and we have raised specific allegations that we have been able to confirm and asked for a response from the government. We also have begun to have an initial process of consultation and dialogue with the Indian government to ensure that we get a full response to this communication. After I started my mandate in May 2020, I’ve sent six letters to the government of India on various matters – many of them, by the way, bearing on the rights of vulnerable communities such as these – and I must say that I’ve received a response only to one of them, only one of the six. So I do hope that I receive responses to all the communications, including particularly starting with the most current one.

Thapar:  I’ll come in a moment’s time to that critical question – have you or do you expect to receive a response to your letter of June the 9th – but before I come to that, forgive me being a journalist! Have you simply strongly criticised what’s happening or have you also in your letter of June the ninth condemned what’s happening?

Rajagopal: We have certainly stated our view that what appears to be happening is prima facie against international law and appears to be against even the requirements of Indian law for example, the procedural requirements for evictions under Supreme Court case, under Delhi high court cases such as the Ajay Maken case or example or the Sudama Singh case, so it’s very important that we get a response to that.

Thapar: Tell me again, I’ll come to whether you’ve got a response or expected response in another minutes time, but first let me ask you have you in your letter of June the ninth told the government what steps you advise them to take? Have you identified measures you’d like to see taken and taken expeditiously?

Rajagopal: Yes of course we have asked for several measures to be taken. We’ve asked for first of all confirmation and additional information and any comments on the allegations that have been made and secondly we have asked them to indicate if any formal investigations have been carried out into the acts of the inter-communal violence that are alleged to have been the reason why actions were taken against Muslims in the first place. Were any actions taken and if so for example was any one prosecuted for hate speech? And thirdly, before any actions were taken for demolitions, was there any process of consultation with the minority communities or with the family members concerned and crucially, since in these cases they’ve ended up losing their homes, what alternative arrangements has India made for offering land and housing rights to these communities.

Thapar: All of this was in your letter of June the 9th, is that right?

Rajagopal: Yes that’s correct

Thapar: One more question, your letter was written on June the 9th but precisely what you are protesting against and criticising happened two days later in Prayagraj on the 11th.  I discussed with you the Muhammad Javid case. Does it disconcert you, does it disturb you that even two days after you wrote to the government to say this should stop, it’s carried on happening and we have no guarantee it may not happen again and again?

Rajagopal: Yes of course I understand that when communications are sent governments need time to formulate their response, and of course in India’s case, such a response I’m told is being formulated and hopefully we will receive that soon. And when we receive it, it will become public. But in the meanwhile it is indeed very disconcerting to see that the demolitions are continuing, that there is no cessation to these threats.

Thapar: It’s eight days since the 9th of June when you wrote that letter to the Indian government. Have you had any response?  Maybe I should first ask, have you had an acknowledgement that the letter is received?

Rajagopal: Yes we have received an acknowledgement that it has been received.

Thapar: What about a fuller response, have you got a fuller response?

Rajagopal: I’m told that they are working on a fuller response and that we will receive it as expeditiously as possible.

Thapar: Can I ask you who told you this? Was it officially told or was it a quiet back channel word of mouth?

Rajagopal: It’s communicated by the diplomatic representatives of the government of India.

Thapar: How long are you prepared to give the government for a full proper official response?

Rajagopal: Under the UN processes, when a communication is sent, a government gets 60 days to respond but of course the 60 days is the maximum time so nothing prevents the government from responding sooner and we hope in this case, given the urgency of the matter,  that there is a response very soon to our communication.

Thapar: 60 days ends on the 9th of August. What will you and your two colleagues do if you have not got a full proper response by the 9th of August?

Rajagopal: First of all, the letter itself will no longer be confidential, it will become public, so it will be posted on the website of the UN. Of course, the response received from the government of India also will be posted.You know when you raise a mandate like this and the issue is not resolved to the satisfaction of the special rapporteurs concerned, then the issue will continue to live on in subsequent attempts by the rapporteurs to raise it either through the Human Rights Council or the issues that they raised might be picked up by others, for example in the UN system for example, India is a party to many human rights treaties so under those treaties there are other experts who will then ask India – well for example the Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a committee under that has been looking at India’s performance when it comes to the treatment of minorities including religious minorities, and might well pose questions that emerge from communications like these.

Thapar:  But as far as you and your two colleagues who are the three authors of this letter if you don’t get a proper full response by the 9th of August, you will publish the letter in full?

Rajagopal: Yes the whole letter will be published.

Thapar: And after that, if the Indian government chooses to, forgive my colloquial language, brazen it out, what then?

Rajagopal: Well, as I said, the process is that in the Human Rights Council this issue will continue to live on in many different ways. India’s human rights record will be for example reviewed as part of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. The last time India was reviewed was in 2017 when, by the way, India accepted many of the recommendations made by states including for extending housing for all without discrimination against religious minorities. India accepted that recommendation back in 2017. So, the next time India is up for review, the issues will come up. The issue will also come up as I said when India goes before treaty bodies. Two key treaty bodies are important here – the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, which is the body that actually monitors implementation of the legal treaty that guarantees rights such as housing, and then there is a committee that monitors the implementation of the racial discrimination convention. Both have actually paid attention in the past to India’s record on treatment of minorities and therefore I think that it is very, very likely that this would continue to live on under those processes as well

Thapar: Two quick questions before I end. First, you’re saying that if you do not get an adequate and proper response, this matter, could affect India’s review  at the Human Rights Council and  I imagine that it would adversely affect it. You’re also saying that several other UN organisations and bodies could raise issues and concerns that arise out of your letter, that is the first serious consequence that India would face if they don’t respond adequately to your letter.

Rajagopal: Yes, that’s correct, but obviously for a country like India which has a long standing history of being a champion of human rights, of being the – if you want to call it – the good guy in international politics, these acts and increasing charges like these tend to tarnish India’s reputation and drag it in the other direction and that’s not the direction that I’m sure most people in India want to go.

Thapar: I don’t want to make a meal out of it but an awful lot has happened in the last eight years that has tarnished India’s reputation particularly with regard to treatment of Muslims, particularly with regard to human rights, particularly with regard to the media so let’s leave all of that aside. Whether the Indian government cares about one further act of tarnishing is something only time will tell, but, and this is my last question – Depending upon the nature of the response you get between now and the 8th of August, could this matter be escalated all the way to the United Nations Security Council?

Rajagopal: The UN processes have reasons that often cannot be predicted but there is no formal sort of process that leads to the Security Council from the actions of the special rapporteurs. The special rapporteur’s actions – in this case my action – are connected to the actions of the Human Rights Council and its actions in turn can lead to actions at other institutional levels.

Thapar: I understand your point but you’re leaving open the possibility that if any country that’s a member of the UNSC and has, how shall I put it, an axe to grind against India – and i’m deliberately using a colloquialism – they could choose to raise this if they want. Though there’s no formal process or procedure for raising matters from the Human Rights Council to the United Nations Security Council, an individual member country might choose to do so if they want. That route is not closed, is that correct?

Rajagopal: It’s very hard for me to say what might or might not happen at the international level but yes that cannot be ruled out.

Thapar: Professor Rajagopal, I want to thank you for this interview. I want to thank you in particular for going public for the first time and confirming that you and your two colleagues did write a letter strongly protesting – and I’m using the word condemning–  the way in which Muslim homes are being demolished. You’ve suggested that it looks to you as if it’s a form of collective punishment against the Muslim community. You’ve expressed your deep concern and you’ve confirmed that the letter was written on the 9th of June and you’ve also confirmed that you’ve got acknowledgement of its receipt and you’re prepared to wait till the 8th of August, ie 60 days for the formal response. If that response does not come or it’s an inadequate one, the letter with all its annexes – all five pages and the annexures – will be published on the Human Rights Council’s website. I thank you for this interview, take care stay safe.

Rajagopal: Thank you.

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