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India top court halts demolition drive

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Indian authorities riding bulldozers have razed a number of properties in a New Delhi neighbourhood before the Supreme Court halted the demolitions days after religious violence shook the area and saw dozens arrested.

On Wednesday morning, bulldozers demolished a string of shops on the roadside in Jahangirpuri while the owners peered out from windows in their homes, watching helplessly as their stalls were destroyed or taken away on trucks.

A couple of hours after the drive began under the protection of police and security forces, the Supreme Court stayed the demolition of properties in the residential area, about 25 kilometres (14 miles) from the Indian parliament.

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A three-judge bench of the top court, headed by chief justice of India NV Ramana, ordered that the status quo should be maintained in the case until the next hearing, slated for today.

The petitioner to the court said the municipal authorities had not alerted the local shopkeepers before the razing operation.

But for nearly an hour after the top court order, officials continued to demolish structures, including the outer entrance and stairs leading into a mosque.

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They stopped the bulldozers just outside the entrance of a Hindu temple, about 50 metres from the mosque, and began to retreat, spurring outrage from mainly Muslim residents who said they were being targeted.

“They don’t want Muslims to live in this country. Why? Are Muslims terrorists?” said Sabiran Bibi, 31, who has lived in the area all her life.

The petitioner to the court said the municipal authorities had not alerted the local shopkeepers before the razing operation.

But for nearly an hour after the top court order, officials continued to demolish structures, including the outer entrance and stairs leading into a mosque.

They stopped the bulldozers just outside the entrance of a Hindu temple, about 50 metres from the mosque, and began to retreat, spurring outrage from mainly Muslim residents who said they were being targeted.

“They don’t want Muslims to live in this country. Why? Are Muslims terrorists?” said Sabiran Bibi, 31, who has lived in the area all her life.

Several Muslim residents in the area said shopkeepers were not given advance warning about the operation.

“My entire shop has been ruined. Equipments, bikes that were standing for repair, are all destroyed in the demolition drive,” said a Muslim man who gave his name only as Ashu.

Officials said their demolition drive targets illegal buildings and not any particular community.

But critics argue that this is the latest attempt to harass and marginalise Muslims, who are 14 percent of India’s 1.4 billion population. They point to a pattern of rising religious polarisation under prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. — Al Jazeera

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