Haldwani: Muslims live in fear after India mosque demolition

5Pillars’ correspondent Musa Farooqi reports from the town of Haldwani in northern India where deadly anti-Muslim violence erupted after the illegal demolition of a mosque and madrassah last week.

Haldwani in Uttarakhand’s Dehradun district remains tense with tight police and paramilitary deployment, as well as internet suspension for the sixth day after communal tensions erupted over the demolition of a mosque and a madrassah in the Banbhoolpura area.

The unrest has so far led to the deaths of six people, five of them Muslim.

The Abdul Razzaq Zakariya Madrasa and Mariyam Mosque were demolished on the pretext that they had been built without permission, even though a local court was due to deliberate the case at a later date. The buildings were integral to the cultural and religious identity of Muslims in the area.

“The mosque and madrassah were not just buildings; they were the heart of the Muslim community, providing both spiritual solace and education,” explained a local resident to 5Pillars. “Their destruction is a blow to our cultural and religious identity.”

The demolition, which was carried out suddenly on February 8, without waiting for the court hearing on the matter scheduled for February 14, reportedly resulted in heavy stone-pelting and violent altercations between the police and residents.

Locals claim that the mosque and the school, which were built in 2002, have been unfairly targeted. “Locals who arrived shortly at the demolition site attempted to persuade the authorities to not destroy the buildings. Prayer mats, the Quran and other religious books are still buried beneath the debris,” a resident said.

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The police claimed that locals burned vehicles and threw stones at them. To quell the unrest, authorities then charged the demonstrators with batons and fired tear gas shells. However, the residents say that the protesters were angered when the police lathi-charged (hit with sticks) the women and tear gassed them, leading some to resort to arson.

As the unrest quickly spread throughout Haldwani district, Uttarakhand’s Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami declared a curfew. Later, authorities in Haldwani issued a shoot-at-sight order, imposed a curfew, suspended internet services, closed schools and banned large gatherings.

This has severely affected the daily life of Haldwani Muslim residents. As a result, locals are complaining that there is a shortage of daily essentials like milk, water and cooking gas, among others things.


Amidst this turmoil, the local Muslim community feels a particularly acute loss. Unaware that the protest had turned violent after the demolitions, Zahid, a 55-year-old grandfather, hurried to buy milk for his months-old grandchildren.

And when Zahid’s middle son Mohammad Anas, 16, heard that his father had left, he set out to find him in the narrow, dilapidated lanes of the Muslim ghetto of Banbhoolpura in Haldwani. But 200-meters down the same road, the father was shot in the chest by the police, and the son was shot in the stomach.

“Two funerals have been taken out from one house. There are small children at home, what should we do?” asks a woman of the house. Moreover, when Zahid’s eldest son went out to retrieve their bodies, the policemen beat him with a baton. Zahid and Anas are among at least six people killed, including five Muslims, in clashes that involved mob violence and police firing.

The communal tensions in Haldwani are centered around a larger pattern of government-led demolitions targeting Muslim structures in India. In 2023, over 300 Muslim shrines were reportedly demolished in Uttarakhand. The Chief Minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, justifies the anti-encroachment drive, claiming court approval. However, a copy of Justice Pankaj Purohit’s order reveals a scheduled court hearing on February 14, regarding these particular structures.

Mohammad Sarfaraz, brother of Mohammad Shanawaz. Pic: 5Pillars

Amid the allegations of “illegal encroachment,” Safia Malik, daughter of Abdul Malik,  a prominent local figure, petitioned the state High Court on February 6, contending that the land had been legally acquired by her family, pointing to a lapse in administrative action on their lease renewal application since 2007.

And the local administration’s decision to proceed with the demolition, despite the pending court case, has been met with fierce opposition. The demolition, executed amidst a legal wrangle, has resulted thus far in the death of six individuals  — a figure that remains unconfirmed due to the ongoing chaos — five of whom are Muslims.

While the police claim that their action was in response to the violent attacks on them by the protesters, the families of the deceased allege that many of those killed were not even involved in the protests.

A local resident, Mohammad Shahnawaz, was shot while he was on his way to collect a payment, a task made urgent by the financial strain imposed by the ongoing curfew. Shahnawaz was observing the fast for Mi’raj and had just broken his fast, before getting shot.

“He was shot twice, once with a rubber bullet and once with live ammunition. The bullet went right through his chest,” his brother Sarfaraz told 5Pillars.

Currently in intensive care, Shahnawaz’s condition speaks of the tumultuous situation faced by many in Haldwani. “We’re in a financial crisis now; the curfew means we can’t work, we can’t even step out,” his brother added, explaining the desperation and helplessness felt by many families in leading their daily lives amidst the financial strain caused by curfew and the internet shutdown.

Muslim families flee

On the morning of February 11, hundreds of people were seen boarding buses to neighbouring towns and cities of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, with luggage in their hands. It appears that the police action has triggered an exodus of Muslims from Haldwani, looking for a safer place to stay.

A few families were forced to walk kilometers, due to the lack of transportation facilities to reach the railway station, as people were seen walking with their belongings along the Bareilly Road. According to police sources, several residents of the Banbhoolpura area were taken into custody for questioning the day before.

Mohammad Furkan, an electrician said: “After the disturbance in Banbhoolpoora, the strictness of the police has increased. They are harassing innocent people, instilling fear among the people, who are fleeing to Bareilly to stay with relatives.”

Mohammad Shanawaz, who was shot in the chest by police.

Reports of Muslim tenants being asked by their landlords to vacate the premises were also received from some areas in the town.

Over 100 Muslim families have fled from the Banbhoolpoora area in Uttarakhand’s Haldwani, the epicentre of the February 8 violence. The deaths, acts of vandalism, detentions, harassment and the curfew has taken a toll on the residents’ livelihood, leaving them with no choice but to evacuate the region. The fear of a possible extension of the curfew has further fuelled this decision.

Meanwhile, the police have intensified their search operation to arrest more people involved in the violence. So far, 100 people have been arrested and three police reports have mentioned more than 5,000 unidentified people. The curfew for Haldwani’s outer districts was lifted by the authorities on Saturday.

The police officials allege that the mob pelted stones, torched cars and surrounded the Banbhoolpura police station leading to the arrest of 25 people in connection with the violence. Nainital’s senior superintendent of police, Prahlad Narayan Meena, told reporters that 12 people were arrested for the attack on the police station, six for setting cars ablaze outside the police station and seven for violence during the anti-encroachment drive.

Police crackdown

Residents have reported instances of police brutality, with allegations of homes being invaded, women being assaulted, and men being detained without due process, which has left them terrorised.

Parveen’s husband, a daily wager, was taken away by police officials along with their neighbour Shahid, a vegetable vendor. Mehreen claimed that four police officials detained her husband, Arif, who works at a local hardware store. Moreover, she alleged that she was assaulted by the police officials who hit one of her hands and one of her thighs, leading to swelling.

Muslims are fleeing the area.

The 55-year-old said that her son Shahrukh, who makes cots for a living, was detained on February 10, after police officials forcibly entered her house. They started beating us the second they came in and then they dragged out my son and took him away, she said.

Similar incidents that took place following the violence were reported from different parts of Haldwani.

On February 11, the curfew in the rest of the town was lifted, but little changed in Banbhoolpura. Several incidents of police crackdown were reported from the region. In one such incident, in the morning of February 10th, a dozen police officials arrived at the Chirag Ali Shah Mosque of Gafoor Basti and accused the 50-year-old muezzin of being an “outsider” who pelted stones on them on February 8, and allegedly took him away.

Around 60 Muslim families reside in the above-mentioned locality which has had no water supply since the day of the demolition, according to a resident. A woman had sent her daughters to the adjacent locality with plastic containers to get water, despite the curfew, only for them to be locked inside by the police.

Muslim homes burned and looted

In Gandhinagar, Faeem Qureshi, a goods vehicle driver and father of two preschoolers, was killed outside his home by some of his own neighbours.

The locality – dominated by members of the Valmiki caste – had only eight Muslim homes. A Valmiki mob of about 200 people torched Qureshi’s house and his vehicles on February 8th, forcing Qureshi to step out of his house to douse the flames.

However, it led to Qureshi’s death, after being hit by three bullets, according to his brother. His brother also alleged that the police stood about 50 meters away from the mob, yet took no action.

The same Valmiki mob that attacked Qureshi also set fire to three of Nazir Hussain’s and his relatives’ home, and allegedly looted them. “My family barely survived by climbing onto our neighbour’s terrace. I used to treat my neighbours [Valmiki] like family, but they betrayed us and attempted to kill us,” Hussain said.

Mohammad Shaban, 23, a shopkeeper from Machli Bazaar was allegedly killed in police fire. According to his uncle, he was shot dead while on his way back home after closing the shop.

The district magistrate of Nainital, Vandana Singh, told reporters that the Haldwani violence incident was not communal, although the locals allege that the mob raised slogans aligning with Hindu majoritarianism.

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