Haldwani violence result of a steady rise in communal tensions in Uttarakhand: Fact-finding Report


  • February 15, 2024
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A citizen fact-finding team, comprising members of the Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), Karawan-e-Mohabbat, and civil rights activist Zahid Qadri, visited Haldwani on February 14, 2024, to investigate the recent violence that erupted in the region. The fact-finding team’s interim report titled Bulldozing Peace: State Violence and Apathy in Muslim Settlements of Haldwani asserted that the violence on February 8, 2024, in Banbhulpura, Haldwani, did not occur suddenly; it was the result of a steady rise in communal tensions in Uttarakhand over recent years.

 

Groundxero | 15th February, 2024

 

The Haldwani Municipal Corporation running an anti-encroachment drive on February 8 demolished Maryam Masjid and Abdul Razzaq Zakariya Madrasa in Banbhoolpura locality of Haldwani. Clashes broke between police officials and locals following the demolition which led to curfew and shoot-at-sight orders by the government.

 

As of 14 February, at least seven people were confirmed dead in the violence, 60 were severely injured, and over 300 families had reportedly left their homes and migrated to safer areas. 31 people so far have been arrested and over 90 detained for questioning. An unnamed FIR has been registered against 5000 individuals. The locals claim that the death toll is much higher. All deaths, except one, happened due to police bullets.

 

A citizen fact-finding team, comprising members of the Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) and Karawan-e-Mohabbat visited Haldwani in Uttarakhand on February 14, 2024, to investigate the recent violence that erupted in the region. The team members were:

 

1) Nadeem Khan and Mohd Mobashir from Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR)

2) Navsharan Singh, Ashok Sharma, Zahid Qadri, Kumar Nikhil, Harsh Mander from Karawan-e-Mohabbat

 

The fact-finding team’s report was released at an event at the Press Club here on Thursday. Because the area directly affected by violence on February 8 continued to be under curfew, it was not possible for the team members to directly meet and talk to the affected people. The team reached out to members of the district administration; however, they either did not respond or informed that they were very busy and therefore unable to meet the team members. Therefore, it is an interim report based on the conversations with a large number of members of civil society, journalists, writers and lawyers; and telephone conversations with a few affected persons who spoke to the fact finding team members on the condition of anonymity.

 

The team’s preliminary findings reveal alarming details about the events leading to the violence. The report asserted that the violent incidents on February 8 in Banbhulpura, Haldwani, did not occur suddenly; they were the result of a steady rise in communal tensions in Uttarakhand over the recent years. The state government led by the Chief Minister Pushkar Dhami along with many radical right-wing citizen groups in the state, have together contributed to the spread of a highly polarizing narrative with many disturbing elements, observed the interim report.

 

The report blames official apathy and undue haste in the operation to carry out the demolition of a mosque and madrassa for the recent large-scale violence in Uttarakhand’s Haldwani city.

 

Based on extensive discussions, the following are the principal preliminary findings of the team –

 

1) The violent incident that occurred on 8.02.2024 in Banbhulpura, Haldwani was not a sudden incident. It was the outcome of a steady rise in communal tempers in the state of Uttarakhand over recent years. The state government led by Chief Minster Pushkar Dhami and radical right-wing citizen groups have together contributed to the spread of a highly polarizing narrative with many disturbing elements.

 

One strand of this discourse is about recreating Uttarakhand as the Holy Land of Hindus which would have no place for other religious minorities. Other strand of this divisive discourse include unsupported extravagant claims of a series of Jihads allegedly waged by the Muslim population of the state, including Love Jihad, Land Jihad, Vyapar Jihad and Mazaar Jihad.

 

One consequence of this discourse has been calls for economic and social boycott of Muslims, eviction of Muslim tenants from houses and shops and demands and threats to them to leave the state.

 

Along with this the Chief Minister has made repeated declarations that his government would take the strongest action against “Love jihad” and all the other alleged forms of Jihad.

 

The Chief Minister also has proudly declared as a significant accomplishment of his government the destruction of 3000 Mazaars, while choosing by contrast mostly silence about unauthorised Hindu religious structures in the forest and Nazul lands.

 

2) Prior to the incident of 08.02.2024, Haldwani, which has a significant Muslim population, has witnessed in recent months a series of small communal clashes and disputes. There has also been a prolonged dispute around claims by the Indian Railways that the large settlements substantially of Muslim residents are located on Railway land. The proposed eviction has been stayed by the order of the Supreme Court.

 

More recently, disputes arose about the legal ownership of tracts of urban land in Haldwani, again in Muslim majority areas. The people in occupation of these lands claim to be the rightful lessees of the land, whereas, the state government has taken the position that these are Nazul (government) lands.

 

3) The immediate dispute relates to around six acres of land claimed to be rightfully leased by one Sophiya Malik. The state government, on the other hand, claims that this is Nazul land. In one portion of this land is located a 20 year old Mosque and a Madarassa.

 

In recent weeks eviction notices were peacefully served on other residential buildings and demolitions were undertaken without resistance. However, when on 30.01.2024 eviction notices were served to vacate the Mosque and Madarassa, within a short period of two days, community members gathered and peacefully protested.

 

This was followed by a delegation of Ulemas of the city who met the Municipal Commissioner of Haldwani and pleaded against the proposed eviction and demolition. However when no agreement was reached, on 4.02.2024 the Municipal office sealed the Masjid and the Madarasa.

 

On 6.02.2024, Sophiya Malik, who claims to be the righful lessee of the disputed land on which the Mosque and Madarasa are located, moved the High Court in Nainital. The matter was heard on 8.02.2024 by a single judge vacation bench, and was admitted with no order being passed, fixing for substantive hearing at an early date of 14.02.2024.

 

4) Matters continued to be peaceful with the local community satisfied with the intervention of the High Court to resolve the question of ownership, and until then securing the Mosque and Madrassa even though these were sealed.

 

However, without warning, on the evening of 08.02.2024, officers of the Municipal office with significant police protection arrived with bulldozers and a large contingent of Municipal workers, to demolish the sealed Mosque and Madrassa, despite the matter being sub-judice.

 

There was immediate anguish expressed by the residents, and a group of women residents stood before the bulldozers in a bid to prevent the demolitions. However both female and male police persons reportedly not just forcefully removed them but also beat and dragged them. This further inflamed the sentiments of the local community.

 

Their anguish was still further aggravated when their plea that at least the Quran and other sacred properties in the Mosque be respectfully handed over to the Imam before the demolition was also brushed aside.

 

5) Once the demolitions began some members of the community threw stones at the police. Some Municipal workers and press persons reporting live the incident were also reportedly injured. There is also video evidence that the police persons also resorted to extensive stone throwing on the crowd.

 

6) Violence continued to escalate rapidly. Enraged groups of men set alight vehicles parked near the police station and parts of the police station was also set ablaze.

 

7) The police resorted to firing. It may be noted that prior to firing, standard crowd control protocols require the police persons to resort first to less lethal modes of crowd dispersal such as lathi-charge, tear gas and water canons. It is further disputed when the police actually began firing and when formal orders of “shoot at sight” were issued. As a consequence of the police firing several people were both injured and reportedly six people were killed. According to eye witnesses, several hundreds of rounds were fired and local people believe that the number of people injured and killed may be significantly higher that the official claims. However we are unable to verify this because we could not enter the affected areas and meet the officials concerned.

 

8) At 9 p.m. on 8.02.2024, curfew was imposed and this continued without any let up even six days later when our team visited Haldwani. A curfew of this length of time particularly in a settlement with a large number of low income daily wage earners is causing enormous avoidable hardship and suffering to over one lakh residents under this punishing curfew. Our team believes that much more extensive relief should have been extended by the district administration and arrangements made for periodic relaxations, particularly for women and children.

 

9) Both senior members of the civil society including the local journalists, and the people from the affected areas that we were able to make telephonic contact with, reported that the police entered an estimated 300 homes ostensibly for searches but they reportedly brutally beat up the residents including women and children and extensively damaged properties both within the homes and the vehicles parked outside. Large numbers of young men, some women and juveniles are also reportedly beaten and detained and taken to unreported locations for interrogation. As a result the entire area is engulfed in fear and dread. This is further aggravated because of the internet shutdown which again continued right till the day of our visit. This, along with the unmitigated curfew, has not allowed the local residents to communicate their fears, concerns and grievances and also report the alleged incidents of vandalisations and beatings.

 

The pdf of the full interim report:

 

[pdf-embedder url=”https://www.groundxero.in/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Haldwani-Violance-Report.pdf” title=”Haldwani Violance Report”]

 

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