At least four people have died in rioting in a state in northern India following the demolition of a mosque by officials who claimed it was built illegally.
The police claim that violence broke out during an “anti-encroachment drive” in Haldwani, Uttarakhand.
According to the authorities, the mosque and the nearby madrassa (religious school) were among the unlawful buildings that needed to be demolished.
Muslims who go to the mosque to pray, however, claim they have been unfairly singled out.
The fighting on Thursday night resulted in hundreds of injuries to both protestors and police officers.
Videos depicted demonstrators throwing rocks and setting cars on fire while police responded with tear gas.
To help manage the situation, a curfew has been implemented and “shoot at sight” directives have been issued by the authorities.
The event happened in Haldwani’s Banbhoolpura neighbourhood. In January of last year, the area saw large-scale protests in response to the serving of eviction notices to over 50,000 individuals, the most of whom were Muslims, on the grounds that they were residing on Indian Railways land unlawfully. The Indian Supreme Court later decided to halt the demolitions.
The most recent effort, according to officials, was motivated by a high court judgement requesting that the area’s unlawful settlements be removed.
The madrassa and the mosque were razed, according to District Magistrate Vandana Singh, since they were not officially recognised as religious buildings and were constructed unlawfully on government property.
Singh said, “The drive was not targeted towards any particular community. It began peacefully but a mob attacked officials soon after, leading to violence,” further saying that state officials had warned the mosque’s administration prior to the demolition.
However, the residents denied this, claiming that the mosque was brought down before the court could give a final decision in the case.
A local councillor, Shakeel Ahmad, said to the Indian Express newspaper, “When the administration came [to demolish the structures] we asked them to stop until the next court hearing. But they did not listen. If they had waited for the final decision of the court, there would have been no resistance.”
The last several months have seen an increase in tensions about mosque demolitions.
Ahead of the general elections that are scheduled for two months, Muslim organisations claim that they are being unfairly singled out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist administration and accused the government of inciting religious conflict. The accusation has however been refuted by the government.
Haldwani’s situation remained tight on Friday when officials shut down internet access and mandated a total lockdown.
Banbhoolpura schools will be closed for the ensuing several days, and thousands of police officers have been sent in to keep an eye on the situation.
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