Humanist activist calls for a moratorium on forced evictions in India

  • Date / 22 July 2020

Vidya Bhushan Rawat, founder of the Social Development Foundation, calls on India to impose a moratorium on forced evictions and displacement taking place under cover of COVID-19.

Forced evictions are a violation of international human rights law. In April, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing urged all States to declare “an end to all evictions of anyone, anywhere for any reason until the end of the pandemic and for a reasonable period of time thereafter”. 

Forced evictions are discriminatory against individuals seen as belonging to a lower-caste 

Despite this clear message, India has continued its policy of forcefully evicting families in marginalised and low-income communities with impunity. As Vidya explains, forced evictions and demolitions in India are fuelled by deep rooted caste prejudices against Dalit and Adivasi people, and often take place without any notice or compensation, with no regard given to the land rights of the evicted. 

Vidya Bhushan Rawat and Director of Advocacy Elizabeth O’Casey

A few days ago, a video emerged showing police officers violently beating a Dalit couple in central Madhya Pradesh state during a forced eviction. After the assault, Ram Kumar Ahirwar and Savitri Devi attempted suicide by consuming pesticide. While they recovered in the hospital, the police force then registered a case against them for the crime of obstructing public servants from discharging their duty.

The case exemplifies some of the atrocious forms of violence and harassment that characterise forced evictions,  as well as the prejudice and the lack of compassion from State officials that evictees face when they attempt to defend their property and land rights.

Many forced evictions are carried out to deny the existence of those living in poverty 

Human rights violations resulting from acts of eviction and demolition have become increasingly normalised as India has bulldozed forward on its path of modernisation and urbanisation. ‘Slum clearance’ or ‘city beautification’ drives account for around half of all forced evictions. Families living on contested land may find themselves forcefully evicted without warning. When President Trump held a rally at a stadium in Gujarat in February, around 200 individuals living in slums around the stadium were served with eviction notices which accused them of “encroaching on government land”, despite many families having lived on the land for over two decades. 

Humanists International commends the excellent work that Vidya is doing in campaigning to end forced evictions and protecting the right to housing in India. Demolishing buildings, illegally reclaiming land and systematically disenfranchising those living on it is only likely to deepen existing poverty and housing shortages. 

Humanists International reiterates the urgent call for States to implement a complete moratorium on forced evictions during this pandemic, when being evicted from your home is in many ways equivalent to a death sentence.

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