Opinion Columnists 08 May 2022 Manish Tewari | The ...
Manish Tewari is a lawyer and a former Union minister. The views expressed are personal. Twitter handle @manishtewari

Manish Tewari | The bulldozer

Published May 8, 2022, 12:22 am IST
Updated May 8, 2022, 12:22 am IST
The use of the bulldozer as a weapon is not new
NewsOn May 1, Labour Day, the administration of the Union Territory of Chandigarh deployed the ubiquitous bulldozer to flatten the homes and hearth of 4,000 working class families in the name of making the City Beautiful slum-free. (Representational Image/PTI)
 NewsOn May 1, Labour Day, the administration of the Union Territory of Chandigarh deployed the ubiquitous bulldozer to flatten the homes and hearth of 4,000 working class families in the name of making the City Beautiful slum-free. (Representational Image/PTI)

The bulldozer has been very much in the news recently as the “bludgeon of choice” to destroy the homes and livelihoods of people in areas hit by communal strife in New Delhi and various parts other parts of the country. In fact, the Supreme Court had to intervene to stay the use of “the bulldozer” that was being vigorously deployed to remove what was being described as a routine drive to remove “illegal encroachments”.

On May 1, Labour Day, the administration of the Union Territory of Chandigarh deployed the ubiquitous bulldozer to flatten the homes and hearth of 4,000 working class families in the name of making the City Beautiful slum-free. The dictum seems to be, rather than remove poverty just annihilate the poor.  

The use of the bulldozer as a weapon is not new. Invented in 1904 by grain harvester manufacturer Benjamin Holt as a diesel-powered traction machine that could traverse terrain too mushy to support horse-drawn or wheeled tractors, it soon brought about a transformation not only in the agribusiness business and construction industry but in military affairs as well. Holt’s track-drive contraption became the impetus that led to the origination of the first prototype of the military tank called Little Willie.

When Adolf Hitler seized power in Germany in 1933 and gave his personal architect Albert Speer a “carte blanche” to virtually demolish Berlin and build a new capital called Germania for his one thousand-year Reich, the omnipotent bulldozer got deployed to flatten Jewish neighbourhoods that were soon levelled in record time.

Thousands of average Berliners also felt the bite of the bulldozer. From 1936 onwards, they were forcibly rehoused to make way for the new city. Jewish citizens were moved to poky places. Then they were ghettoised before being transported to concentration camps. Project Germania, therefore, had a critical role to play in enabling Nazi authorities to carry out the Holocaust with Jewish homes being pulverised much before the pogroms against them formally commenced in the November of 1938. When the deportation of Jews from Berlin began in August 1941, Speer’s department was a prime beneficiary, seizing and plundering 23,765 apartments occupied by Jews by the end of October 1942.

Throughout Second World War, as the Final Solution against Jewry unfolded, the bulldozer repeatedly came into play against their home and hearth except where the real estate was so expensive and in chic neighborhoods that it made more sense for the Nazi warlords to simply expropriate them for personal use.

After the assassination of the Nazi Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia (present-day Czech Land) on June 4, 1942, in Prague by Czech partisans, the village of Lidice was first flattened using artillery and then bulldozed to try and wipe it of the face of the earth. The villagers’ crime, they harboured the partisans.

Ironically, history inevitably comes a full circle. The ominous bulldozer has also become the weapon of choice for the Israelis to flatten Palestinian homes. The Palestinians have been fighting since 1948 to try and have a homeland of their own promised to them by the United Nations Partition Plan of Palestine in 1947 before the British made haste in 1948.

As far back as November 2004, Human Rights Watch documented and aggressively campaigned to stop the sale of American-made bulldozers to Israel as they were being used to obliterate Palestinian homes. An American company called Caterpillar manufactures a bulldozer, referred to as the D9 and tailored to military specifications. It would sell its product to the Israelis pretty much as a weapon under the aegis of the US Foreign Military Sales Program. After the bulldozers would arrive in Israel, they were further armoured by the state-owned Israel Military Industries Ltd. The armoured D-9 would then weigh more than 64 tons, stand 13 feet tall and measure 26 feet long with front and rear blades.

A Human Rights Watch report, entitled “Razing Rafah”, documented the methodical use by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of the D9 bulldozer to perpetrate illegal demolitions throughout the Palestinian-occupied territories. The IDF annihilated over 2,500 Palestinian homes in 2000-04 in the Gaza Strip alone, most of them in complete violation of even military preconditions mandated by global humanitarian law. Nearly two-thirds of those homes bulldozed were located in Rafah, a town and refugee camp on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt. The Israeli military employed the Caterpillar bulldozer to raze the homes of more than 10 per cent of the population in Rafah. The IDF wrecked above 50 per cent of Rafah’s roads and ripped open in excess of 40 miles of water and sewage pipes with a rapier attached to the bulldozer’s back known as “the ripper”.

In 2018 again, human rights groups again denounced transnational building companies for their role in the destruction of Palestinian villages including Khan al-Ahmar. Caterpillar, JCB and LiuGong heavy equipment not limited to bulldozers were deployed to pulverise Palestinian homes. Israeli courts declined to proscribe this perversity. Amnesty International characterised the court’s decision as sanctioning a “war crime”.

Given that between 1992 when we established normal diplomatic relations with Israel and now, hundreds of our law enforcement officers have gone to Israel on training visits and exchange programmes, it is evident that the “bulldozer syndrome” has got hardwired into the institutional hard drive of our system.  

In 2003, the United Nations had commenced developing standards for conglomerates dubbed UN Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights. The text stipulates that companies must abjure from engaging in or benefiting from defilement of international human rights or humanitarian law. It further caveats that companies “shall further seek to ensure that goods and services they provide will not be used to abuse human rights”.

The time has come to build a countrywide movement against those Indian and foreign companies whose bulldozers and other heavy equipment like JCBs are used in utter contempt and violation of the law of the land for the perverse and malafide objectives of promoting hate and bigotry by “pointedly targeting   certain sections of our people”. Also, hold those officers to account who carry out illegal orders of their political masters.

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