Time for a Judicial Enquiry into the Violence in Haldwani

haldwani bulldozer 1

[The sounds raised by Bulldozers demolishing ‘illegal Mosque and Madarasa’ in Haldwani, on 8 th February evening, which  have resulted in few deaths and injuries to several people which includes even policepersons as well, are now over.

Peace seems to be returning and life seems to coming back to normal and the talk of ‘rioters’ being arrested or ‘mastermind’ of the violence getting nabbed or even a police post being opened up at the demolition site receiving much media coverage.

No doubt violence of any kind cannot be justified and people’s opposition to government’s steps should always remain in the bounds of constitution and if anybody is found be instigating violence, then s/he should be dealt under relevant law only.

One even learns that Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Dhami has reportedly said after violence in Banphulpurwa area that ‘no type of anarchy will be tolerated in DevBhumi and miscreants will have to compensate for damage to government property.’ (https://www.jagran.com/uttarakhand/nainital-haldwani-violence-mastermind-abdul-malik-got-three-days-for-compensate-for-loss-23652005.html)

 Question arises, whether a judicial enquiry preferably under a retired judge of the Supreme Court will be ordered so that a clear picture of the whole incident emerges and one may better comprehend, how an area which was site a peaceful mass movement merely a year back, a movement which was joined by civil society activists, writers etc, suddenly changed colour.

Looking at the executive itself donning the role of the judiciary in many cases -as evidenced even in the recent judgement of M.P. high courts (((https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/madhya-pradesh-high-court-fashionable-now-to-demolish-homes-high-court-on-ujjain-bulldozer-action-5042572)))  – it is expected that cases against the accused here would not be similarly short-circuited and summary punishment will not be implemented  but  they would be dealt as per provisions of law and  will be able to defend themselves before courts of law]

‘People cannot be uprooted using force’:

These were the words of the Supreme Court which had stayed Uttarakhand HC’s Haldwani demolition order last year when residents of Banphoolpurwa, Haldwani had approached it. (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/haldwani-demolition-railways-land-plea-uttarakhand-eviction-supreme-court/articleshow/96758661.cms)

What must have impressed the Supreme Courts that thousands of these people – a large section of them belonging to minority communities – had been living besides the railway lines for decades together, had proofs of residence as well in the form of ration cards etc and as per Article 14 of the Constitution it would be transgressing their fundamental rights if they be uprooted without making any alternate arrangements.

An added feature was that these people had launched a peaceful mass movement to defend their rights – which were joined in by other sections of the civil society as well.

Remember the two judge bench of the highest courts which stayed the High Courts order, ( 4 th January 2023) was following the precedents in the case only. In a historic case in 1985, the Supreme Court itself led by Chief Justice V V Chandrachud, had ruled in favour of those marginalised sections.of people who were  ‘without any hope’ living on government pavements and ordered that they should not be removed with force, without ‘giving them chance to explain'(https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/understanding-the-olga-tellis-judgment/article65351138.ece). In this Olga Tellis judgement it had thus expanded the the scope of Article 21 of the constitution – which is for protection of life and liberty of the individual – and emphasised that right to livelihood should be an integral part of it. Conceding that the pavement dwellers (in that particular case) occupy places unauthorised but it had simultaneously said that it would be ‘unconstitutional’ to remove them without listening to them. 

Today the same area is being stigmatised for ‘rioting’ etc after a demolition operation undertaken by the district administration of an ‘illegally built madarsa mosque’ in the area, which has resulted in violence leading to deaths of five people and injuries to many which includes few policepersons as well. (8 th February)

Deaths of anyone need to be mourned but if the police personnel in this case were also wounded, then it is really a dispiriting situation and these police personnel should be provided with best medical support.

As per newspaper report many ‘rioters’ involved in the ‘violent incidents’ of the day have been apprehended and even the ‘mastermind’ of the whole operation has also been arrested and has been asked to pay compensation for the damage to public property on the day of demolition. (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/mastermind-of-haldwani-violence-arrested-in-delhi/articleshow/107609953.cms ;  https://www.deccanherald.com/india/uttarakhand/haldwani-violence-mastermind-arrested-in-delhi-internet-services-back-in-town-after-4-days-2890020)

As far as common citizens are concerned the report filed by The Wire titled ‘Violence, Arrests and Unanswered Questions‘ (https://thewire.in/communalism/watch-haldwani-unrest-violence-arrests-and-unanswered-questions ) is an eye-opener. As it puts it  “..residents of Gafoor Basti continue to live under conditions of a curfew, with homes barricaded and people relocating to safer areas. Basic necessities such as ration supplies have been scarce for the past four days.’ (

It is being said that it is for the first time that such a strict action is being taken against ‘miscreants’ (https://www.jagran.com/uttarakhand/nainital-haldwani-violence-mastermind-abdul-malik-got-three-days-for-compensate-for-loss-23652005.html) The notice issued by the City Commissioner Pankaj Upadhyay has asked that ‘mastermind’ Abdul Malik will have to deposit the amount within  three days, the cost include damage to bulldozer, helmets, government vehicles etc.” ( -do) All these action resonate with what  Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Dhami had reportedly after violence in Banphulpurwa area. He had said that ‘no type of anarchy will be tolerated in DevBhumi and miscreants will have to compensate for damage to government property. (-do-)

Nobody can condone violence of any kind and everyone has to ensure that every type of resistance should always remain in the bounds of law and constitution and justice needs to be done to the ‘lawbreakers’.

Still the rapidity with which everything is being executed raises doubts about the whole operation

# Civil liberty activists, writers had questioned the big hurry to demolish these two ‘illegal structures”, when both these structures were already in possession of the police and the matter was before the High Courts, which was to deliberate over it on 14 th February. (https://thewirehindi.com/268065/haldwani-to-many-bjp-ruled-states-muslims-are-becoming-targets-of-bulldozer-injustice/) A section of media had also said that the administration allegedly lacked any order by the court to demolish these structures (https://scroll.in/article/1063483/uttarakhand-madrasa-at-centre-of-violence-was-demolished-without-a-court-order); 

#Concerns have already been raised that the police/ administration involved in demolition allegedly ‘did not even take into consideration intel inputs  (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/were-intel-reports-ignored-before-haldwani-demolition/articleshow/107589936.cms)

# A magistrate enquiry has been ordered in the whole incident (https://outlookhindi.com/country/haldwani-riots-judicial-inquiry-given-to-the-current-commissioner-of-kumaon-only-government-seems-to-be-in-no-mood-to-remove-any-officer-83172). Looking at the fact that none of the senior officers executing the operation have been either suspended or at least sent on leave and the enquiry would be conducted by the area commissioner only, who must have been part of this decision making exercise, it is doubtful whether one will ever know the truth.

The question of land ownership seems bit complicated when it comes to Uttarakhand.

In fact, as per an interview given by the local Congress MLA, Sumati Hridayesh, ” Seventy percent of land in Haldwani is Nazool land and government has miserably failed in protecting the rights of the poor’ (https://thewire.in/rights/residents-eviction-haldwani-political-motivation) 

The claim by the district administration that these two ‘illegal structures’ were based on nazul land and the demolition operation was part of its anti-encroachment drive, has also raised  lot of questions as per a memorandum submitted by  writers, journalists, civil society activists to the Governor and issued to the press, which similarly underlined that even a large population of Haldwani itself – which includes people from all religions is based on nazul land  and it has been ‘a long time demand that people living on nazul land be given the ownership of the land. According to them the state government has even sent proposal to the central government in this connection’ ((https://mehnatkash.in/2024/02/10/haldwani-incident-is-worrying-and-condemnable-joint-statement-of-public-organizations-of-uttarakhand/; https://kafila.online/2024/02/12/say-no-to-hate-we-need-jobs/) In this background there was a very valid question that why this specific targeting of a particular people. (https://thewirehindi.com/268126/madrasa-demolished-without-court-permission-why-is-the-truth-of-haldwani-being-hidden/)

Perhaps the need of the hour is that government announces an immediate judicial enquiry, so that all these facts related to the case come to the fore. Such an enquiry under some retired Supreme Court judge would also be able to see veracity of all these claims/ counterclaims, and also see for itself whether there was an error of judgement or not or whether Pushkar Dhami led government was kept in the loop by the district administration or not ?

If such an enquiry does take place then it will also examine whether higher authorities had advised the local authorities to observe diligence before ordering the action – when as per their own intelligence reports – the passing of UCC had already caused enough anxieties among the minorities.

No doubt not only the district administration but the state machinery itself, especially the government led by Pushkar Dhami has also to lot of explaining because without its green signal such an action would not have been undertaken by the district people.

Inadvertently or so the demolition operation in Banphoolpurwa has brought into short focus not only the workings of the state government  but how it has fared since last few years when it comes to defending minority rights is concerned.

The picture emerges is not a very encouraging one.

Merely three months back Scroll had done a story titled ,”How state-backed Hindutva rhetoric is fuelling the ethnic cleansing of Uttarakhand’ penned by retired IAS officer Harsh Mander, (https://scroll.in/article/1057843/)) which tells us about the ‘unprecedent turmoil’ through which the hill state is passing through where ‘[a]n influential and popular campaign for ethnic cleansing has gathered ominous momentum: a battle for the expulsion of all Muslims from the state. This crusade is tacitly supported by the state government.’ (-do-)

Anyone who is familiar with how things are unfolding in India under BJP dispensation would reveal that the demolitions in Haldwani are no exception. It is part of the pattern in various BJP ruled states since last five years or so.

Not many days before Meera Bhayandar area in Mumbai also witnessed similar targetting a of Muslim owned properties when there was some conflict on the streets between fanatic elements on either sides or how the town of Ujjain witnessed to the demolition of a Muslim owned house the very evening when their son was arrested by the police on fabricated charges (https://article-14.com/post/why-former-police-chiefs-judge-say-arrest-of-3-muslim-teens-demolition-of-their-home-by-mp-govt-is-illegal—64c079ad46ab8https://article-14.com/post/muslim-teen-gets-bail-after-151-days-in-mp-case-of-spitting-on-hindu-procession-complainant-witness-deny-police-claims-65a48e77e676c) with people  that he allegedly spat on a religious procession. Last month he was released by the high court when the complainant and witness in the case turned denied police claims.  (https://article-14.com/post/why-former-police-chiefs-judge-say-arrest-of-3-muslim-teens-demolition-of-their-home-by-mp-govt-is-illegal—64c079ad46ab8)

The demolition in Haldwani has come on the heels of Amnesty Internationals release of two damning reports which have once again brought into sharp focus the ‘punitive demolitions in BJP ruled states’ and its demand that authorities must immediately stop unjust targeted demolition of Muslim properties – (https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2024/02/india-authorities-must-immediately-stop-unjust-targeted-demolition-of-muslim-properties/) 

Titled “India: “If you speak up, your house will be demolished”: Bulldozer injustice in India, the first report by Amnesty International has analysed the punitive demolitions of 128 properties in the states of Assam, Delhi, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh following episodes of communal violence and protests between April and June 2022.

It describes how ‘The targeted demolitions were instigated by senior political leaders and government officials and impacted at least 617 people.’ and how ‘Almost two years later, Muslim families and business owners in the five states await compensation for losing their homes, businesses and places of worship. The Indian government’s de-facto policy of punitively demolishing Muslim properties for protesting discriminatory laws and practices, is an ongoing phenomenon. This amounts to forced eviction and collective and arbitrary punishment under international law and must be immediately investigated.’

Whether there will be a let up in the situation, it is difficult to give the answer in the affirmative.

The fact that this ‘colonial era method of collective punishment’ made a comeback when India was preparing to celebrate its 75 th Year of its independence or it continues unabated when preparations are on when India’s ushering into Republic similarly completes 75 years is definitely a cause of concern.

As things stand today, with a triumphant BJP which is looking for making a hatrick elections to Parliament few months hence (2024), it would be height of political innocence to imagine that it will make course correction and revisit its policy of indiscriminate use of bulldozers in demolitions of houses and business establishments, despite growing national-international criticism of its arbitrary actions.

The only possible answer to stop such illegal and unjust actions is unity of the people who are ready to say such actions not in our name.

It is time that peace, justice loving people of this country – especially its young generation – who dream of living in a more equitable, harmonious world take inspiration from the likes of Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist.

It was the year 2003 when a 23 year old Rachel Corrie, was crushed under a Israeli bulldozer when she was protesting the demolition of Palestinian Homes in Southern Gaza.

Her sacrifice on a land which was foreign to her for the defence of the vulnerable should inspire all of us who are living.

We should raise our voice in unison and are able to roar NOT IN OUR NAME

Subhash Gatade is a left  activist associated with New Socialist Initiative

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