Haldwani violence a template for erasing Muslim history: Harsh Mander

What happened in Haldwani may be replicated in other states to erase Muslim identity without physical violence, he warned

Human rights activist Harsh Mander, who started the Karwan-e-Mohabbat campaign in solidarity with the victims of communal violence, has described the recent Haldwani violence, between February 8 and 9, as “a template for the erasure of Muslim identity without physical violence”.

In a South China Morning Post report, Mander warned about the recurring of such a ‘template’ in future in every Indian state in the wake of creating Akhand Bharat, a narrative constantly grilled and propagated through various channels, including certain sections of the media, by the right-wing.

“Is this the template of how we are going from state to state? Initially peaceful, Haldwani became polarised due to encouragement from the state administration, leading to increased violence and communal divisions. So it is important to understand what has happened in Haldwani,” he cautioned.

MS Education Academy

Haldwani comes under Nanital, the southern district of Uttarakhand, ruled by Pushkar Singh Dhami of the BJP. In recent years, the normally peaceful area has been disfigured by communal violence.

Mander points out the saffron party’s recent approach is to erase religious monuments or remnants such as graveyards.

Haldwani violence of 2024

The recent clashes occurred after the Banbhoolpura district administration decided to raze down a mosque and madrasa alleging it was part of an anti-encroachment drive. More than 100 police personnel were deployed in the heavily dominated Muslim area.

Moreover, as the buildings were being razed down, local Hindus started chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans, escalating tensions further.

Officials records say that six people died in the clashes with the police. Most of them were Muslims, the youngest being a 16-year-old.

Following the unrest, the district administration suspended internet services and ordered the closure of all schools and colleges. Two days later, police registered cases against 19 named and 5,000 unidentified people.

According to a police statement, 74 people including the alleged mastermind – Abdul Malik– were arrested.

On February 17, videos surfaced on social media platforms showing the Haldwani police confiscating the houses of nine people including Malik, who were named in the FIR. A district civil court ordered the seizure of their properties.

Visuals of police personnel dismantling the door of an accused made rounds of the internet.

Targetted violence

A fact-finding report titled ‘Bulldozing Peace: State Violence and Apathy in Muslim Settlements of Haldwani’ conducted by the Association For Protection of Civil Rights in association with Karawan-e-Mohabbat and other rights activists, alleged that Haldwani violence was a targetted violence against young Muslim men, women and minors.

“The state government and radical right-wing citizen groups have together contributed to a highly polarising narrative with many disturbing elements,” the report stated.

Similar approach in 2022

On December 31, 2022, reports emerged of the removal of encroachments from railway land in compliance with a high court order.

The said land belonged to a majority of Muslim families. It was the same Banbhoolpura area of Haldwani. Thousands of residents, who have been residing for decades, began a satyagraha to protest the removal of their houses from the railway land.

Finally, the Supreme Court of India came to their rescue passing a stay order on the planned eviction and saying, “a workable solution must be devised.”

Other places targetted

On January 31 this year, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) razed down a 600-year-old mosque in the name of the anti-encroachment drive, without prior notice.

Akhoondji mosque in Mehrauli located in New Delhi constructed before 1200 A.D. However, according to the DDA, it stood on an encroached land.

According to the masjid’s imam, Zakir Hussain, the entire demolition happened before the azan for Fajr prayers. He alleged that the debris was quickly removed to conceal the demolition from the public eye.

“I was not allowed to enter the masjid by the DDA officials. The officials forcefully took away my phone so that I could not contact anyone when the demolition was happening,” he said, adding he was not even allowed to take copies of the Holy Quran, which were inside the mosque.

According to South China Morning Post, so far, five Islamic shrines have been demolished by the DDA, including Dargah Sunehri Baba and Dargah Hazrat Qutb Shah Chisti, located outside the headquarters of the Election Commission of India on Ashoka Road, New Delhi.

A Hindu-only country in the making?

A professor in the Hindi department at Delhi University Apoorvanand told This Week in Asia that there is a visible attempt to make India a Hindu-only country.

Citing the example of the ongoing onslaught on Palestinian people by the Israeli Army, he said, “When we talk about genocide, one of the most crucial elements of it is cultural elimination. You see in Gaza, where Israel is destroying all archaeological monuments and buildings which have historical importance to erase historical memory of the Palestinian community, similarly this has been the project of the RSS in India.”

“You are destroying shrines and mosques on the pretext of being illegal, symbols of invaders, and the courts are also looking other way as no life is lost. So you achieve two things: you destroy the self-esteem of the community and make it powerless without killing them,” he was quoted by the online news portal.

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