In Focus
BJP's Communal Bulldozer in Haldwani

The events of February 8 in Banbhoolpura in Uttarakhand's Haldwani show telltale signs of the BJP-RSS's script to stroke communal disharmony. Otherwise, why was the local administration so eager to destroy the mosque and Madrasa when the matter was subjudice by ignoring the warnings from local intelligence?

The demolition and police heavy-handedness sparked public rage, as people threw stones at the police and municipal workers and a group even set fire to a police station. The police responded with “shoot at sight” orders, leaving in its wake at least six people dead and many more seriously injured. The entire town was placed under curfew, with several reports of violent police retaliation against the local population.

CPIML Demanded An Immediate Stop to Violent Crackdown

CPIML criticised the state administration and police for inflicting indiscriminate violence on residents of Banbhoolpura in Haldwani. The party had asked to stop such retaliatory vengeful atrocities on people.

Regarding the demolition drive, the party has held Nainital DM and SSP directly responsible for the hastily and irresponsible action. The court had not ordered the demolition, but after the violence the Nainital DM gave misleading information that the drive was carried out as per the court order. In reality, the high court, while refusing to grant interim relief in the petition against the demolition, had posted the next hearing in the case on February 14 for further hearing.

CPIML Uttarakhand State Secretary Indresh Maikhuri noted that such ghastly violence by police and administration on one side and residents of a Muslim dominated area on the other was unprecedented in the entire history of Uttarakhand. The police are raiding houses in the name of search operation and brutally beating up people, not sparing even women and children. Widespread arrests were carried out under UAPA or NSA.

In view of increasing crackdown, on February 10, a delegation of CPIML and other INDIA coalition leaders and civil society representatives met the Uttarakhand Governor seeking a high level judicial inquiry into Haldwani violence. A memorandum was also submitted to the National Minorities Commission on February 22 condemning the crackdown on Banbhoolpura residents and reiterated the demand for high level judicial injury.

A Pattern

Banbhoolpura, a Muslim majority locality, has long been in the target list of right-wing forces and the BJP government in the state. In 2022, the area witnessed massive protests by the locals against the move by Pushkar Singh Dhami government to demolish houses of more than 4000 families. The BJP government claimed that the land belonged to the railways, and it was acting on a court order. Dhami, along with the Sangh machinery, left no stone unturned to vilify the protesters and delegitimise their demands. The demolition was stayed by the Supreme Court in 2023, stating that such a large number of people can't be thrown out of their homes overnight.

In the past two years, across the state of Uttarakhand, several mazar and other structures of Muslims communities have been aggressively razed to ground either by the government machinery or BJP-RSS backed groups. These targeted demolition drives are fomented by chief minister Dhami himself. Dhami, while addressing a gathering in Nainital district, on April 7, 2023, declared, “It has been found that at more than 1,000 locations, either a mazar or other such illegal structures have been constructed. When these locations are dug up, no remains are found. Such acts of encroachment will not be allowed.” According to reports, by August 2023, the 'demolition drives' razed around 465 mazars/ Muslim structures.

There is a clear ‘bulldozer raj’ pattern visible of using the state machinery to build up fear and corner the minority community to the extent of provocation followed by heavy police repression and then holding the aggrieved minority members themselves responsible for the happenings.

The Question of Nazul Land

As was in the case of the 2022 demolition drive, the Banbhoolpura mosque and madarsa that was demolished on February 8 was built on Nazul land. Nazul land refers to non-agricultural land that is owned by the government which can be leased to families and, in some cases, even given as freehold. Although it belongs to the government, Nazul land is not directly administered by the state authority. In fact, the majority of Haldwani town rests on Nazul land.

Most of the residents on Nazul lands pay taxes and have patta (lease) to prove the ownership and even Aadhaar cards, but according to activists, the BJP government is systematically denying rights to Muslim applicants in relation to these lands.

Tales of Repression

A fact-finding report released by Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), 'Bulldozing Peace: State Violence and Apathy in Muslim Settlements of Haldwani' documents disturbing information from Banbhoolpura post the February 8 incident.

According to the interim report, the entire area is engulfed in fear and dread. There are discrepancies in official accounts regarding casualties and arrests, along with alleged brutality during raids and detentions, which raise questions about the police efficiency and intentions.

“The state government led by Chief Minister Pushkar Dhami and radical right-wing citizen groups have together contributed to a highly polarising 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 ‘Mazar 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.

Using the Banbhoolpura incident, BJP-RSS ecosystem is attempting to dehumanise the Muslim community with several incidents of ostracising Muslim families and shopkeepers being reported from the state. Just after Banbhoolpura incidents there were many incidents when Muslim shopkeepers and vendors in Hindu majority localities in Haldwani were threatened and not allowed to conduct their business by organised Hindutva groups. Violent calls for economic and social boycott of Muslims and threats for them to leave the state are being issued by Sangh groups to bulldoze the pluralist traditions of Uttarakhand.

The incidents of violence in Haldwani reflect the Sangh’s ploy to otherise and ghettoise the Muslim community.

BJP's Communal Bulldozer in Haldwani