Haldwani: The face of State terror 

The illegal demolitions in Haldwani and the police brutality in its wake hold ominous portents

When bulldozers came rolling: Malik ka Bageecha, Haldwani, 8 February 2024
When bulldozers came rolling: Malik ka Bageecha, Haldwani, 8 February 2024

Rashme Sehgal

Salim Khan, editor of the evening newspaper Uttaranchal Deep, was at work when the police broke into his home in Indira Nagar—a considerable distance from Banbhoolpura in Haldwani—on 9 February and beat up his wife Rizwana, two daughters and sister-in-law.

None of them had anything to do with the protests on the evening of 8 February against the demolition of the Mariyam mosque and Abdul Razzaq Zakariya madrasa. That did not prevent the female constables from vandalising their house and destroying valuables including their television and fridge. Sameera was alone at home with her ailing father.

When asked to hand him over, she refused. The cops beat Sameera and broke her wrist. When Shahana failed to produce her husband and sons to the posse who barged into her home, simply because they were away attending a wedding, the wedding invite did not prevent the cops from beating up Shahana and her two young girls.

A string of retaliatory actions carried the violence forward from the previous day’s baton-charge and police firing that resulted in six deaths and over a hundred injured. Only one explanation was given: to avenge the violence of the night before.

Uttarakhand director general of police Abhinav Kumar said the police had “no intention of acting against anyone without evidence”. He insisted a “false narrative had been constructed about the events of 8 February and their subsequent fallout” and that unbiased cops would act in accordance with the law.

Of the 5,000 people against whom the police filed an FIR, only 18 have been named so far, giving them a free hand to arrest and harass Muslims under the draconian UAPA. When Salim Khan took up the matter with senior police officials in Haldwani and city magistrate Richa Singh, they admitted it had been a mistake.

Would he file a counter-FIR or at least claim damages? No, Khan said, adding, “Our community did not oppose the construction of the Ram Mandir nor the passing of the UCC. We would have accepted this demolition, too.”

Was this the first instance of police firing in Uttarakhand’s 23-year history? No, Khan replied, a similar incident had occurred in Kaladungi some years ago. This time, however, former municipal commissioner Pankaj Upadhyay had played a “Machiavellian role in this sad episode which resulted in so much destruction and loss of life”.

Women were thrashed by police for being at the forefront of the demonstrations.
Women were thrashed by police for being at the forefront of the demonstrations.

Women were targeted for being at the forefront of the demonstrations against the demolition. Both the mosque and the madrasa (where poor children were educated) were built in 2002, and were being looked after by Abdul Malik and his wife Safia. When the women tried to stop the bulldozers, they were baton-charged. This incensed the men. Stone throwing ensued and a number of police vehicles were burnt.

Hasnain Khataibi, a pharmacist who lives near Malik ka Bageecha and witnessed the fracas said, “The administration did not take anyone into confidence, nor initiate talks with the local imam or maulvis. We learnt subsequently that intelligence reports had advised against any action on the heels of the recently passed Uniform Civil Code in the Uttarakhand assembly, which ordered sweeping changes in Muslim Personal Law, and the Gyanvapi mosque dispute.”

The police first resorted to tear gas, and ended up firing 350 rounds, some in the air, some directly at the people. “All this killing and mayhem could have been easily avoided if they had shown some sensitivity to our feelings,” Khataibi added.

Councillor Shakeel Salmani said, “Pankaj Upadhyay had been the municipal commissioner of Haldwani for the past five years. He retired on 31 December 2023. After retirement, out of the blue, he raised the issue that the mosque and madrasa were built on nazool (government-owned) land, and Malik ka Bageecha was an avaidh basti (illegal settlement). But then half of Haldwani is built on nazool land including premier colonies such as Ambedkar Nagar, Gandhi Nagar, Bareilly Road, Sunny Bazar and Hira Nagar. Why did he raise this issue now?” Salmani asked.

He went on to add, “A Gopal Mandir located 200 metres from the mosque is also on nazool land, as is the Saraswati Bal Vidyalaya, a school run by the RSS. These structures were not touched. In fact, when the demonstration turned violent, Muslim groups ensured that no damage was done to the temple.”


Vehicles torched during the violence
Vehicles torched during the violence

Fear is palpable in Banbhoolpura. The majority of residents of Malik ka Bageecha have sought shelter with relatives in neighbouring towns. Those who have nowhere to go are hiding in the forests nearby. The very old and disabled are the only ones left in the area, which with its charred vehicles and smashed windowpanes resembles a battlefield.

The entire incident stinks. For one, the corporation served a demolition notice to the Malik family on 30 January 2024. On 6 February, Safia Malik moved the Uttarakhand High Court claiming that the land on which the complex was built had been leased in 1937 and sold to her family in 1994.

She sought interim relief against the demolition and the court had listed the matter for hearing on 14 February. Why then the tearing hurry? With more than 300 mazars having been demolished within a three-month span, Muslims see it as part of a concerted move to tear down Islamic structures.

Last January, the authorities ordered the demolition of over 4,000 homes which had allegedly encroached on land owned by the Railways. The Supreme Court ordered a stay, affirming that 50,000 people could not be ‘uprooted overnight’. Despite suspension of internet services in Banbhoolpura, videos of women being beaten by female constables continue to surface.

Indresh Maikhuri, general secretary of the CPI(ML) issued a statement asking the police not to indulge in ‘counter retaliatory action against the public, especially women and children’, and demanded a judicial inquiry. The government has ordered a magisterial inquiry, while doing everything to put the blame squarely on the Muslims.

The police say they were attacked with ‘stones, bombs and firearms’ while carrying out their lawful activity. In a further travesty, Abdul Malik and his son have been accused of ‘masterminding’ the violence. Malik was asked to pay Rs 2.44 crore as damages to government property, to be deposited to the Haldwani Municipal Corporation account by 15 February.

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