Tuesday, March 5, 2024

“They would have killed all of us”: Haldwani Muslims share ordeal of police brutality

The situation in Haldwani town of Uttarakhand’s Nainital district remained tense on February 9, with a significant deployment of police and paramilitary forces and multiple buffer zones established on every nook and corner.

What started as a demolition drive by the Haldwani Municipal Corporation on 8 February, Thursday of an “illegal Madrasa and mosque” snowballed into a full-fledged communal flare-up against the Muslim community resulting in the death of 5 Muslims including a minor and a father-son duo while 3 are critical.

The 5 killed Muslims are identified as Zahid aka Johnny (45) his son Anas (16), residents of Ghafoor Basti, Shahbaan (23) from Banbhoolpura, Faheem (30) of Indiranagar and Salman (30) of ward number 16.

More than 60 others are said to be severely injured which also includes police personnel during the violence.

However, Vandana Singh, District Magistrate of Haldwani on Friday said that the mob attempted to burn the police personnel, alive who were trapped inside the police station, media reports claim.

The city has been placed under strict curfew, with shoot-at-sight orders issued against protesters since violence erupted and internet services completely shut down.

A Muslim shop owner in the area, who was hit by the rubber bullet fired by the police while trying to save the women protestors requesting anonymity told Maktoob, “Police were brutally beating women with lathis, misbehaving with us, throwing Islamophobia slurs like “katwe and mulle”.”

“While we were being beaten up by the police, a mob set the transformer of the area on fire which resulted in a power outage and police took advantage of that too, we were surrounded by the police from each side,” he said.

The shop owner added, “Some of us managed to hide ourselves in the nearby police station, some went into houses nearby. I don’t know how we are saved.”

“They would have killed all of us, as they were attacking us without counting or looking. Just aimless beating but targeted attack”, he added.

Multiple videos of the violence surfaced on social media sites substantiating police action against Muslim men and women.

Moreover, the Friday Congregational prayers couldn’t take place due to continuous curfew and shoot-at-sight orders amid the internet shutdown.

People were forced to skip the Friday prayers and offered Zuhr salah (afternoon prayers) at home instead.

A local said, “Now they are planning to suffocate in our homes with no internet so no truth can travel outside.”

“The mainstream media is already useless, we are expecting that they will only run propaganda but we don’t know what they have published. Because no newspapers were delivered to our homes today,” he said.

The 21-year-old who aspires to become a journalist “to document the truth” warned this reporter to not visit Haldwani as the “police are too hostile and bloodthirsty at the moment.”

“They don’t care if you are investigating the matter, they just want to cover up what they did and what we experienced,” he added.

When asked what they did, he said, “I cannot tell you in words the kind of brutality unleashed upon us and our women but they aim to make India, Palestine for Muslims.”

Maktoob has also learnt through sources that no trains are halting at Haldwani Railway Station and are either stopping at a station before or ahead.

Maktoob reached out to the Haldwani police multiple times to learn about the incident. However, no response has been received. The copy will be updated if and when any response is received.

A call for violence against Muslims

Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader and infamous Hindutva politician Praveen Togadia in a walled hall meeting held in Haldwani on 6 February delivered a speech inciting hate against Muslims.

In the video of the speech surfaced on social media, he can be heard calling Muslims “monsters” and encouraging Hindus to distribute trishul (a three-edged weapon) on a large scale across the country.

The case of “illegal mosque and Madrasa”

The now demolished Mariyam mosque and the Abdul Razzaq Zakariya Madrasa also known as “Malik k Bagheeche” ka Madrasa which became the centre of violence were built in 2002, on land leased from the government (Nazul Land) owned by one Abdul Malik, a resident of Banbhoolpura.

Abdul Malik received a notice for the demolition of the mosque and the madrasa citing it as encroachment by the Municipal Corporation on 30 January, as per a Samajwadi Party leader in the area. 

The notice seen by Maktoob stated that Abdul Malik is running a namaz site and a Madrasa illegally on Nazul land. It also said that he must demolish and vacate the property by February 1 under Uttarakhand’s Nazul policy of 2009 and 2021, and the Municipal Corporation Act, 1959, otherwise the corporation would do so by force.

On 31 January, Malik made a representation to the district magistrate, requesting the stay of the demolition of the structure until the authorities make a decision on another plea filed by his father in 2007 seeking freehold possession of the land.

But the Municipal corporation and Magistrate’s course of action didn’t align, and the corporation scheduled the demolition for February 4th. 

“But it didn’t take place due to public uproar and opposition of political and religious leaders who collectively managed to convince the municipal corporation,” said the SP leader.

“The contested structure was, however, sealed by district authorities,” he added.

On 6 February, Safia Malik, Abdul Malik’s wife, approached the Uttarakhand High Court stating that the land on which the mosque and madrasa were built was leased out in 1937 and bought by her family in 1994. 

A request to continue the lease had been submitted to the district administration in 2007, but no cognisance has been taken yet. Therefore the Madrasa and Mosque were running as usual.

The court heard the matter on 8 February and listed it for the next hearing on 14 February, after marking the presence of all the parties involved. 

The court order of February 8, seen by Maktoob, is updated on the Uttarakhand High Court’s official website.

Despite the scheduled hearing in Uttarakhand High Court, the Municipal corporation under police protection carried out the demolition of the structure sparking a communal flare-up resulting in multiple deaths and casualties.

It is noteworthy that the contested structure now demolished, was nothing like a usual mosque with minarets and a tomb. It was more of a big hall which was being utilised as a Madrasa for disadvantaged kids and was being used as a spot to offer prayers five times a day.

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