At least four people lost their lives and over 200 are reported injured in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand's Haldwani town after what the police calls, "an anti-encroachment drive." After the authorities demolished a mosque and a madrasa alleging that it was illegally constructed, violence broke out as hundreds of protesters and police clashed on Thursday evening.
Authorities maintain that the drive was launched to clear out illegal constructions and encroachments in the area, which included a mosque and a madrasa. However, Muslims in the area reportedly have a different story to tell. They say that the religious school and the demolition of their place of worship is one of the many instances of Muslim community being unfairly targeted by the current government.
Videos of the clashes that made their way to social media show hundreds of protesters and police personnel clashing, with some of them setting fire to vehicles and pelting stones even with the police firing tear gas. With the state on high alert, a curfew has been imposed, internet has been shut down and Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami issued shoot at sight orders. He also said that monetary and economic loss in Haldwani violence will be compensated from rioters.
The issue runs deep
This is not the first time that demolition drive or notice of eviction has been served by the authorities. Last year in January, over 4000 families in Haldwani took to the streets after being served eviction notice which alleged that they were illegally living on land owned by the Indian Railways. The demolitions, which would have affected nearly 50,000 people out of their homes, mostly Muslims, was later stayed by the Supreme Court.
The recent demolition drive took place in Banbhoolpura area of Haldwani, which the officials say, happened after a high court order asking authorities to clear illegal settlements and encroachments. However, the protestors claim that the next date of hearing is February 14 and when the officials came, they only requested time until February 14.
District Magistrate Vandana Singh says that the mosque and the madrassa were demolished because they were not registered as religious structures and were built illegally on government land. She denies that the drive is targeted towards any community. After the videos went viral on social media, many see the violence as a development within days of the Uttarakhand assembly passing the Uniform Civil Code.