Haldwani violence: Four dead, over 60 injured after mazar demolished 'without order'
According to reports, the mazar and Malik ke Bagiche ka madrasa were demolished at around 3.30 pm on 8 February, despite protests
Days after the BJP government in Uttarakhand passed the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), a violent clash erupted on Thursday, 8 February in the Banbhoolpur area of Haldwani district, resulting in four confirmed fatalities and over 60 reported injuries.
The conflict ensued following the demolition of a mazar (enshrined tomb) and a madrasa in the area. According to reports, the mazar and Malik ke Bagiche ka Madrasa were demolished around 3.30 pm on Thursday, 8 February, despite protests. Following the clash, a curfew was imposed in Nainital district, and a shoot-at-sight order issued by the Pushkar Singh Dhami government to maintain law and order.
However, the state's BJP government has not explained why the mazar was demolished in the first place, when the matter is sub judice in the Supreme Court.
The Uttarakhand High Court on Thursday conducted a hearing on a public interest litigation (PIL) aimed at halting the demolition of the tomb and madrasa. The petition, filed by Safia Malik and other residents of Malik colony, contested the notice issued by the Haldwani Municipal Corporation to the petitioners.
But the vacation bench of Justice Pankaj Purohit did not grant any relief in the matter, leading to the commencement of the demolition exercise. The case is scheduled for further hearing on 14 February.
In 2022, the railways had initiated an eviction move, submitting an action plan to clear encroachments during the same month, following a court order that directed the railways to take measures to remove unauthorised occupants from railway land.
In January 2023, however, the Supreme Court had halted the drive, saying residents have been living there for 50 to 70 years, and could not be "uprooted overnight".
Haldwani police claimed the clash broke out after Muslims living in the area pelted stones at the police, who went to the spot to remove the allegedly illegal encroachment. Locals, on the contrary, alleged that the police misbehaved with them and demolished the mazar despite protests.
Nainital district magistrate Vandana Singh said the encroachment was being removed based on a High Court order, and an attempt was made to "burn people".
Residents claim officials declined to show the demolition order documents and engaged in "forceful action". Female police officers allegedly beat women with lathis, while at least four men were injured in gunfire.
Before the incident, officials allowed only two individuals to retrieve religious books from the madrasa, said locals. Some police officers and district administration officials reportedly sustained injuries from the stone pelting.
The demolished mazar and madrasa, situated in the railway colony area housing over 4,000 Muslim families, have been declared illegal by the administration as the structures were apparently built on land owned by the railways.
Senior superintendent of police Prahlad Meena told PTI that the madrasa and tomb stood on illegally occupied government land and the demolition was carried out in the presence of a large number of police and Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel in compliance with a court order. Meena said the police had to use force in self-defence.
The situation in the town is under control with curfew imposed and around 1,100 police personnel deployed there, he said.
Meanwhile, DM Singh said the structures stood on encroached government land and were demolished after issuing prior notice in compliance with a court order. The demolition drive began after the municipal corporation had taken complete legal possession of the two structures, she said.
Rioting by residents of the area began 30 minutes after the demolition of the two structures, the DM said. Police personnel were pelted with stones by mobs of rioters who were dispersed without using "unnecessary force", she added.
They also hurled petrol bombs at the Banbhoolpura police station, and police vehicles in large numbers were set on fire as well. There were also attempts by rioters to burn police personnel alive, forcing them to run to the police station for cover, Singh said.
As the violence escalated on Thursday, all shops in Haldwani were closed. Once curfew was imposed, all schools from classes 1-12 in and around the city have also been closed.
Angry residents, including women, in large numbers descended on the streets to protest the action as the demolition of the two structures began. They were seen breaking barricades and arguing with police personnel engaged in the demolition exercise.