Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Haldwani: Muslims fear death toll may be higher than 20, says fact-finding report

Haldwani Municipal Corporation’s demolition of Maryam Masjid and Abdul Razzaq Zakariya Madrasa, coupled with police brutality, resulted in several deaths and numerous injuries; a fact-finding report suggests that local Muslims fear the death toll may exceed 20, while officials claim it’s 6, with the report asserting at least 7 deaths.

Association for Protection for Civil Rights (APCR) and Karawan-e-Mohabbat led fact-finding team visited Haldwani on 14 February, comprising members of civil society, advocates, and retd. Public officials. They conducted interviews, gathered eyewitness accounts, and documented evidence to understand the situation on the ground.

The report read: “The violence resulted in the death of 7 individuals. 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 higher than 20.”

The report alleged that the non-relieving of position by Municipal Commissioner Pankaj Upadhyay raises questions as his actions seem to escalate tensions.

“On the evening of February 8, the police force advanced to the scene of the incident with municipal corporation workers, sanitation workers, and two bulldozers at around 4.30 pm. The preparations were underway following a meeting with the district magistrate. Locals informed that more bulldozers arrived later. Regardless of his transfer to another department Pankaj Upadhyaya continued to serve in the position of Municipal Commissioner. He abused the entire Muslim community including misbehaving with the women on the demolition day. His video also went viral on social media,” read the report.

It went on to say: “Despite the local intelligence advising the administration to take action in the morning to prevent public disorder and take clerics and locals in confidence, the forces initiated the demolition without prior notice. It happened like an attack. A large number of women gathered upon this to protest against the demolition. The Masjid and Madrasa were technically under government possession as they were sealed.”

“Following the protest sparked by the threat of demolishing the Masjid and Madrasa, the situation escalated when women were subjected to mistreatment, including physical violence and forceful removal. The women were abused, manhandled, beaten, and dragged. The incident captured on video and in photos fueled anger among locals leading to clashes with the police who used mild force,” it added.

It read: “Amidst the chaos, the police opened the seal of the Masjid and Madrasa. The intelligence had also instructed that the sacred books and other belongings must be submitted to Mualana after inquiry. The police did not make the list of the holy Quran and other belongings kept there and also refrained from handing them over to the responsible authority. This resulted in religious sloganeering in rage, and stone-pelting from Muslims and consequently from the police.”

According to the administrative statement, the firing order was for after darkness. However, there was an aerial firing in gross daylight, the fact-finding team alleged.

The report went on to ask: “Why was the administration in such a hurry to demolish the Masjid and Madrasa despite the impending hearing on February 14 in the High Court? Besides, why was the Muslim community not taken into confidence for the second time when they already cooperated at the time of sealing?”

The report noted that the police actions during the demolition including mistreatment of women incited further violence leading to clashes and stone-pelting.

“There was a continuous police firing in different city areas with approximately 1000-2000 rounds fired in two hours. However, the media only reported 350 rounds fired,” the report noted.

The report said: “The chaos and arson persisted for approximately two hours from 7 PM to around 9 PM after which a curfew order was imposed, internet shutdown and shoot-at-sight was ordered. However, despite the curfew, atrocities continued as police vandalised vehicles, barged into homes, and assaulted women, children, and youth between the night of February 8th and 9th.”

Hindu mob joined the attack, the fact-finding report noted, saying sanitation workers from the Valmiki community sided with the police in attacking Muslims. One of the seven individuals was shot dead by the members of Hindu mob, it said.

The report stated: “Sanitation workers, the majority of whom belong to the Valmiki Community, backed the police when the clashes unfolded. They mobilised their community to support the police in attacking Muslims. It ultimately led to communal violence. Vandalism and attacking Muslims with slogans “Jai Sri Ram (Glory be to Lord Ram)” were also reported by the locals. The role of sanitation workers siding with the police raises questions about their duty to serve impartially and uphold public trust. It seems that their attack was a part of anti-Muslim hatred and radicalization as one Sanjay Solankar of the Valmiki Community also killed his Muslim neighbor Faheem.”

A ridiculous statement was made by the district magistrate that respected leaders of the community were called prior to demolition on February 8 but their phones could not be reached as they were switched off, the fact-finding report noted. The Muslim clerics and leaders deny this statement as 80 individuals can not have their phones turned off at the same time. They demand the district magistrate’s accountability to prove their claims.

Human rights violations in the area are uncontrolled, said the report. “The shoot at sight order remains in effect with people unable to access basic medical care. Fearful residents are resorting to locking their doors to show their homes as empty, but the police are breaking these locks and mercilessly beating anyone found inside,” it alleged.

Official data claims only 30-36 people are detained, but the truth is different, claimed the report.

“Police have set up detention centers resembling torture chambers where numerous individuals, including those from Haldwani who were away in other cities for various reasons are being held captive,” it added.

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