Haldwani: Residents allege illegal detention, torture by police

Tension and resentment simmer in Haldwani as police are accused of illegally detaining and torturing hundreds of people, and denying them access to lawyers

Some of those arrested on 10 February (photo: Haldwani City/Facebook)
Some of those arrested on 10 February (photo: Haldwani City/Facebook)

AJ Prabal

Haldwani Police claim to have arrested 30 people for the violence that led to police firing and the loss of six lives on 8 February. Posters have also been pasted with photographs of a dozen odd people who are ‘Wanted’; but an unspecified number of people are said to have been detained by the police illegally in a school 15 km from Haldwani, which has been turned into an interrogation-cum-detention centre.

This was recorded by a fact-finding team that visited Haldwani this week. The team was told that the detainees have no access to legal help and their whereabouts are unknown owing to a curfew and Internet shutdown. Police, however, are said to have barged into as many as 300 houses, broken furniture and appliances, and manhandled family members, including women. Many of the men were taken away and their whereabouts are not known.

The team was constituted jointly by Karwan-e-Mohabbat, a civil society campaign launched in 2017 in solidarity with the victims of mob lynching and communal violence, and Association for the Protection of Civil Rights.

Members of the team were not, however, allowed to visit affected areas and speak to people in view of the curfew, which was relaxed only a week after the violence that broke out on 8 February. 

The fact-finding team, which released an interim report on Friday at the Press Club of India, highlighted the need for a thorough and independent inquiry to determine the role of officials in the municipality, the police, and the civil administration, and raised the following questions:

1. The administration admits that the disputed structures were sealed by them without any resistance on 3 February. Since the premises were already in possession of the government, why were they demolished hurriedly on 8 February?

2. What was the rationale behind the demolition at 4.00 pm on a February afternoon, especially since the high court had admitted a petition challenging the sealing the very same morning?

3. At least 80 members and clerics of the minority community were taken into confidence at the time of sealing the premises pending the court's decision. Why were they not consulted before the demolition, especially since the High Court was due to hear the matter on 14 February?

4. The team found the explanation of the district magistrate, that all 80 people were contacted on phone at around 3.00 pm on 8 February but their phones were switched off, completely unconvincing.

5. There was apparently no urgency to acquire the land, the team found, and no immediate use for the disputed land since the chief minister has now declared that it will be used to open a police station.

6. Equally questionable is the formation of a five-member team by the administration to look into human rights violations and the role of the police.

7. On the one hand, the government claims to have restored normalcy within 24 hours while on the other, it did not relax the curfew for a week. There is also a total Internet shutdown in the area and since even the fact-finding team was not allowed to visit the area and speak to people, the government has had free run in spreading its version without fear of any contradiction.

Former civil servant Harsh Mander, the founder of Karwan-e-Mohabbat, pointed out that the Uttarakhand government seemed to have invited and engineered the violence. It was a totally avoidable conflict and once the administration pushed ahead with bulldozers, the outcome was predictable.

Trade unions in the town told the team that the violence was part of a conspiracy to polarise voters before the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP was finding itself on the backfoot in the Nainital Lok Sabha constituency, where workers, agricultural labourers and women have been restive and were agitating.

The communal violence was engineered by a municipal official who had already been transferred. They also told the team that women in Haldwani had always been at the forefront of civil rights movements, including the agitation against the CAA; it was, therefore, wrong to suggest that the women were deliberately manipulated or coerced into opposing the demolition.

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