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Haldwani: Fact-Finding Report Highlights Role of Officials, Reignites Concerns Over Marginalization

A recent fact-finding report points to “official apathy and hasty decisions” in the demolition of a mosque and madrasa as it sparked widespread violence in Haldwani, located in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand. The Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) released these findings about the February 8 rioting in a detailed document released at the Press Club on Thursday.

APCR, a group committed to curtailing the spread of hate speech and propaganda, has documented the events leading to the unrest. The report particularly scrutinizes the role of Haldwani Municipal Corporation Commissioner Pankaj Upadhyay, who pushed forward with the demolition despite his transfer order and the ongoing legal proceedings concerning the demolished property.

Notable figures, who contributed firsthand knowledge to enhance the conversation around the topic included social activist Nausharan Kaur, journalist Ashok Kumar Sharma, former Planning Commission member Dr. Syeda Syedin Hameed, social worker Nadeem Khan Shaiq, and former chairman of the Delhi Minority Commission Wajahat Habibullah.

The fact-finding committee, in its report, stated that the demolished property had already been sealed by authorities, signifying the government’s acquisition of the property. Oddly, the operation was conducted even though the case was listed in the Uttarakhand High Court, with a hearing set for February 14.

The demolition, executed under contentious circumstances, especially targeting religious structures, has been criticized in the report for its timing and the modus operandi, stirring allegations of insensitivity and undue haste shown by officials.

The incident has reignited discussions on the familiar pattern of attacks and marginalization of Muslims, a narrative familiar in regions like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh.

“The state government led by Chief Minister Pushkar Dhami and radical right-wing citizen groups have together contributed to a highly polarizing narrative with many disturbing elements. One strand of this discourse is about creating Uttarakhand as a ‘Devbhoomi’, the holy land for Hindus, which would have no place for other religious minorities. Other strands of this divisive discourse include unsupported extravagant claims of a series of “Jihad” allegedly waged by the Muslim population of the state including ‘Love Jihad’, ‘Land Jihad’, ‘Vyapar Jihad’, and ‘Mazaar Jihad’. The consequence of this discourse has been calls for economic and social boycotts of Muslims. The eviction of Muslim tenants from houses and shops and demands and threats to them to leave the state,” said the report.

The report also questions the efficiency and intentions behind the police response, highlighting discrepancies in official accounts regarding casualties and arrests.

Furthermore, it reveals a concerning pattern of police raids, detentions, and alleged brutality, underscoring a lack of legal support for the detainees. The report also stated that several young men, women, and juveniles were reportedly beaten, and taken to undisclosed locations for investigation.

“Both senior members of the civil society and the people from the affected areas that we were able to make telephonic contact with including the local journalists reported that the police entered homes an estimated 300 homes extensively for searches, but they reportedly beat up residents including women and children and extensively damaged properties both within the homes and the vehicles parked outside. Large numbers of young men, some women, and juveniles are also reportedly beaten, detained, and taken to unknown locations for interrogation. As a result, the entire area is engulfed in fear and dread. This is further aggravated because of the internet shutdown which again continued right till the time of the day of the visit of the team which along with the unmitigated curfew has not allowed the residents to communicate their fears, concerns, and grievances and also report the alleged incidents of vandalization and beatings,” concluded the interim report.

The fact-finding committee comprising the Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), Karawan-e-Mohabbat, and civil rights activist Sahid Qadri visited Haldwani on February 14 to prepare the report. The team interviewed several locals, journalists, writers, lawyers, and a few unidentified people to obtain necessary information.

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