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Haldwani fact finding team found enormous avoidable hardships and sufferings, police repression

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Haldwani fact finding team found enormous avoidable hardships and sufferings, police repression


Dehradun , Feb 15

A fact finding team of human right activists in its’ interim report has reported police repression and enormous avoidable hardships and sufferings caused by the continuous curfew for six days in a settlement with a large number of low-income daily wage earners.

A fact finding team comprising Nadeem Khan and  Mohd. Mobashshir Aneeq of Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), Harsh Mander, Navsharan Singh,  Ashok Sharma,  Kumar Nikhil of “Karawan-e-Mohabbat” and  Zahid Qadri, a civil rights activist which visited Haldwani on February 14 has come out with its interim report on the violent incidents which claimed six lives on February 8, 2024.

In its interim report, the members said that since the affected by violence continued to be under curfew, it was not possible for them to directly meet and talk to the affected people. Therefore, the interim report was 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 them on the condition of anonymity. The team also tried to reach out to members of the district administration, however, they either did not respond or informed them  that they were very busy and therefore unable to meet the team.

Based on these extensive discussions the following are the principal preliminary findings of the team:- The fact finding team found that the violent incident that occurred on 8.02.2024 in Banbhulpura, Haldwani was not sudden. It was  the outcome of a steady rise in communal tempers in the state of Uttarakhand over recent years. “The state government led by the Chief Minster Pushkar Dhami and radical right-wing citizen groups have together contributed to a highly polarizing narrative with many disturbing elements. One strand of this discourse is about creating Uttarakhand as a ‘Devbhoomi’ the holy land for Hindus which would have no place for other religious minorities. Other strands 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’. The consequence of this discourse has been calls for economic and social boycotts of Muslims. The eviction of Muslim tenets from houses and shops and demands and threats to  them to leave the state.” The reports further said that 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 an accomplishment of his government the destruction of 3000 Mazaars, while adopting mostly silence about unauthorized Hindu religious structures in forest and Nazul lands.

The report pointed out that 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 is in 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 rightful lessees of the land whereas the state government has taken the position that these are Nazul (Government) lands.

The fact finding report further concluded that the immediate dispute relates to around 6 Acres of land claimed to be rightfully leased by 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 Madrasa. In recent weeks eviction notices have been peacefully served on other residential buildings and demolitions have been undertaken without resistance. However, when on 30.01.2024 eviction notices were served to vacate the Mosque and Madrasa within a short period of two days committee members gathered. This was followed by a delegation of Ulemas of the city who met the Municipal Commissioner 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 Madrasa. On 6.02.2024 Sofiya Malik who claims to be the rightful lessee of the disputed land on which Mosque and Madrasa are located moved the High Court in Nainital. The matter was heard on 8.02.2024 by a single judge bench and was admitted with no order passed fixing for substantive hearing an early date of 14.02.2024.

The fact finding team said that matters continued to be peaceful with the local community satisfied with the intervention of the High Court to resolve the question of ownership however without warning on the evening of 08.02.2024, the officer of the Municipal office with significant police protection arrived with bulldozers and a large contingent of Municipal workers to undertake the demolition the sealed Mosque and the Madrasa despite the matter being sub-judice. There was immediate anguish by the residents and a group of women residents who stood before the bulldozers in a bid to prevent the demolitions. However, both female and male police personnel reportedly not just forcefully removed them but also beat and dragged them. This further inflamed the sentiments of the local community. Their anguish was further aggravated when their plea that the Quran and other sacred properties in the Mosque be respectfully handed over to the Imam before the demolition was also brushed aside. 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.

As the violence continued to escalate rapidly, Crowds set alight vehicles parked near the police station on fire and parts of the police station were also set ablaze. The police resorted to firing. It may be noted that before firing crowd control protocol requires resorting first to less lethal use of force like tear gas shelling

and water cannon. It is also disputed when the police began resorting to firing and when formal orders of shoot at sight were made. As a consequence of the police firing several people were injured and reportedly six people were killed. According to eyewitnesses, several hundreds of rounds were fired and local people believe that the number of people injured and killed may be significantly higher than the official claims, however, the team members said that they were unable to verify this because they could not enter the affected areas and meet the officials concerned.

At 9 p.m. on 8.02.2024 the curfew was imposed, and this continued without letting up even six days later when the team visited on Februay 14, 2024. 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 hardships and sufferings. The fact finding team believed that much more extensive relief should have been extended by the district administration and arrangements made for periodic relaxations, particularly for women and children.

“Both senior members of the civil society and the people from the affected areas that we were able to make telephonic contact with including the local journalists reported that the police entered homes an estimated 300 homes extensively for searches, but they reportedly beat up 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 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 time of the day of the visit of the team which along with the unmitigated curfew has not allowed the residents to communicate their fears, concerns, and grievances and also report the alleged incidents of vandalization and beatings,” concluded the interim report .


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