Eerie silence envelops Haldwani’s Malik ka Bagheecha locality, looks like a battlefield

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Policemen at one of the crossroads in violence-hit area of Haldwani on Sunday, February 11, 2024.

By Masihuzzama Ansari

HALDWANI (UTTARAKHAND)—An eerie silence has enveloped the Malik ka Bagheecha(Malik’s Garden) area in Haldwani, with debris of a demolished mosque and madrasa scattered in the locality. The demolition happened on February 8, 2024.The debris of the flattened mosque, piles of burnt vehicles that belonged to Haldwani Municipal Corporation, and locks on most of the houses give a strange and frightening feeling to the visitors. It makes people nervous. The locality presents the look of a battlefield. The only people left in the locality are the old, the disabled and some children who cannot go anywhere.

This change has happened to the area that was once full of activity due to the presence of mosque and madrasa where people used to assemble at least five times a day for offering prayers or Namaz  and children flock to the madrasa to study the Quran and basics tenets of Islam. The total population of Haldwani is not more than three lakhs and Muslims account for 32 per cent of it as per 2011 Census. Haldwani is about 300 kms from Delhi, the nation’s capital, and is the entry point to the famous tourist destination, Nainital.

Malik ka Bagheecha is undoubtedly a Muslim-dominated area. The police have banned the entry to the area since February 8 when a clash took place between the local Muslims and the police after the local administration pulled down a mosque and a madrasa despite the fact that a case about it is sub-judice in the Uttarakhand High Court. The next hearing is scheduled on February 14. As many as five persons have been killed in police firing as per official record and dozens of others have been injured. The entire area continues to be under indefinite curfew since February 8 which is being strictly enforced, with no relaxation even on Friday and Muslims had to perform their Friday congregational prayers inside their homes.

The area looks like a battlefield with armed policemen standing guard at every entry point in the locality. They have banned access to everybody, including journalists whose job is simply to collect information and disseminate them. However, some journalists connected with the local administration manage entry to do their job of collecting information and informing their readers and audiences.

I and another journalist accompanying me were lucky among the few journalists who managed to reach the area. I found that almost everyone had fled due to indiscriminate police raids and alleged harassment. The only sound that can be heard are those coming from coughing by old people in a couple of houses. There were a few people looking at us through curtains and windows of their houses as if they were scared, shocked and terrified.

On February 8, five people were killed in the violence that broke out after the police used force to quell the protest against the demolition of the mosque and madrasa. The municipal corporation bulldozed it under heavy police protection on the pretext that it was illegal and on the government land. But the matter is still pending before the Uttarakhand High Court for final adjudication.  Besides five deaths, several people were also injured including some policemen.

Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Nainital, Pramod Kumar, told this scribe that curfew is relaxed briefly so that people could buy essential items. Curfew continues in some Muslim areas but care is being taken to ensure that they do not face any kind of problem. He claimed situation is normal in the town.

More than 100 people are reported to have detained so far.

Police accused of vandalizing the Muslims houses

Some families alleged that the police forced their entry into Muslim houses and vandalised them. They alleged that police damaged household goods, their vehicles including autorickshaws, bikes and cars. Some families alleged that police indulged into brutality.

We were taking pictures of the debris of the madrasa and the burnt vehicles, when some women started crying and narrated about how the police harassed them.

We saw the counters of some shop destroyed and their glass doors broken. When asked, a woman said, “The police have vandalized a lot of houses and buildings in the name of investigation.”

The windshields of many autos were badly damaged. A woman said, “Wherever the policemen passed by, nothing was left intact, be it cars, shops, autos or doors and windows of houses, all were badly damaged.”

The mother of a disabled youth showed her house where windows, doors and other household items were broken. She alleged, “The police did not leave anything intact. They destroyed everything they found, and even beat up my disabled child, who is weak and handicapped.”

Another woman with tears flowing down her cheeks alleged, “The police took away her husband Riyaz, who worked as a labourer, from home yesterday and there is no trace of him till now. I have small children and I cannot even go out to get food. I am very upset. My husband was not involved in any protest, yet the police took him away.”

India Tomorrow team met many such families who said that arrests have been made from their families and there is no food in their homes. One of the women said, “Even during the temporary relaxation in curfew, there is no one to bring food to their homes because their men are in police custody.”

Another woman in tears, alleged, “Police came here in large numbers yesterday (Saturday) and entered the houses using the stairs and vandalized them. In the houses where no man was found, women and girls were also beaten with sticks. My elder son is disabled, so I cannot go anywhere with him.”

A 30-year-old youth named Shahrukh has been detained by the police, whose mother alleged, “Hundreds of policemen came here on Saturday, entered the houses and started vandalizing them. Girls and women were also beaten with sticks.”

Malik’s Garden, where the Madrasa was situated, almost all the people in the nearby houses have fled. The houses are locked but vehicles, autos, cars and two-wheelers parked outside the houses have been badly damaged. Women standing in front of their houses alleged all this vandalism was done by the police on Saturday.

Many women alleged that “the police, apart from breaking into houses and destroying things, also beat up and abused the women.”

A local woman alleged that outsiders were involved in the arson, who were covering their faces with handkerchiefs and clothes.

Another woman said, “We saw many people who were not from here who were involved in burning municipal vehicles but the police are now targeting people of our locality and harassing us.”

Zainab told India Tomorrow, “Arrests are being made from our homes. We are being harassed because government vehicles have been burnt outside our homes. You tell me, will anyone commit arson outside his own house?”

Many other women alleged, “People from outside were involved in the arson but the police are making arrests from our houses.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Seriously, you just want to tell one side of the story that too unverified?

    What about the policemen who could have been burnt alive in the station and the illegal structure standing on those grounds?

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