Memorandum to Governor of Uttarakhand

Date: 
Thursday, March 14, 2024

Press Release

A CPI(M) delegation led by Brinda Karat (member, Polit Bureau), Vijoo Krishnan (member, Central Committee), Rajinder Negi (Secretary, Uttarakhand State Committee) and others visited the violence-affected area of Banbhoolpura, Haldwani on March 13.  A report and findings of the delegation was sent to Hon’ble Governor of Uttarakhand requesting for taking appropriate action. 

We are herewith releasing the text of the memorandum for publication.

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Hon’ble Governor                                                                                   
Lt. General Gurmit Singh ji
Uttarakhand

Ref: Report and Findings of CPI(M) Delegation to Banbhoolpura, Haldwani

Sir,

This is to draw your attention to the findings of a CPI(M) delegation which visited Haldwani on March 13. The delegation comprised of Brinda Karat, Vijoo Krishnan, Rajinder Negi, Mahinder Jakhmola, Lekhraj, Yusuf Tewari and others. The delegation visited the affected area of Banbhoolpura and met scores of residents, including families of those killed. It met journalists who had been injured. It also met police personnel who had been injured.

1. The unfortunate events of February 8, leading to violence, police firing, loss of lives, injuries, loss of livelihood was a consequence of the decision and action of the administration to bulldoze a Madrasa and a Masjid, even while the case was posted for hearing on February 14, by a Bench of the High Court. The argument of the administration that the plea for a stay on the demolition was not accepted by the High Court thus the demolition was legal, itself shows the flawed approach of the administration. The case was not dismissed by the Court, it was posted for hearing and instead of waiting for the court hearing, the administration moved in with bulldozers within a few hours, which was both thoughtless and provocative.

2. The manner in which the demolition was done is also questionable. Instead of first removing the holy books kept in both the Madrasa and the Masjid before starting the operation, the books were removed only after the demolition had already started. The delegation saw video evidence of this. Rumours spread that the holy books had been damaged. This was not the case, but passions were inflamed. 

The first finding of the delegation is that the administration must be held responsible for a wrong decision and further, insensitive implementation. The entire incident was totally avoidable.

3. The delegation saw evidence of mob violence in the vehicles burnt.  The police thana was also attacked. The thana itself has been renovated but the delegation was told by the thana in-charge of the damage to the thana by stone pelting. The delegation met police squads who had been caught in the violence including a brave young woman police personnel, Vandana. She said that she was surrounded by the mob and was abused and threatened in vile language. She also suffered injuries through stone pelting. She told the delegation that she was saved by people of the community and she was given shelter along with other police personnel by a Muslim family who, she said, helped her. She is a brave lady as she was back on duty in the same area in a few days. She should be awarded as also the Muslim family who gave her and others shelter.

4. We heard a similar experience from journalists who were also caught in the mob violence. Many have lost their cameras and some told the delegation that their two wheelers had been burnt. The insurance companies are delaying the compensation. The Government should assist the media personnel in this process. The journalists told the delegation that they were protected by members of the community who took them to a nearby Masjid and gave them protection. This is a clear indication that there was nothing communal in the violence but a reaction to the demolitions. 

The second finding of the delegation is that there was a spontaneous outburst of anger at the demolitions and the rumour that the holy books had been damaged. There was no pre-planned conspiracy. In this context the use of UAPA against the rioters is questionable. While all those involved in the violence must be punished, indiscriminate arrests using the draconian provisions of UAPA must be reconsidered.

5. The delegation met families of five of the six persons who were killed. Four were killed in police firing; one was killed by his neighbour in a clearly communal killing and one died of stab injuries. The details are as follows:

The delegation met Shimmi whose husband Md Zahid and 17 year old son, Md Anas were both shot dead by the police. Zahid was a driver with a small pick-up vehicle. He had gone out to get milk for his four month old granddaughter. When he did not return for some time, Shimmi sent her son Anas to look for him. The next thing she knew was that both had been shot dead. She has two sons who dropped out of school after Covid and a married daughter Khushboo. She is presently living with her mother Mumtaz Begum. They have no income or any earning member. The tragic killings of her husband and son have devastated her. It is essential that the government should provide help and compensation on compassionate grounds to the family.

The delegation met Naseema whose husband Md Israr was shot dead by the police. He owns a four wheeler used for loading. They have four girls and two boys. The elder boy Suhail who works in a small  car denting garage, told the delegation that he got a call from his father to come home early as there was trouble in the area. His father said that he himself was returning home after praying at the Masjid. The younger son Imran went out to where his father usually parked the vehicle. He saw his father walking home when suddenly there was firing and before the boy’s eyes, his father was shot dead. There was police firing in the area. It was indiscriminate and this innocent man was killed. Naseema has stopped speaking. Her young children are struggling with the situation. Only Suhail works, earning 8000 rupees a month. This family too desperately requires support. The government should give compensation and relief.

The fourth victim is a young boy of just 18 years. He suffered serious stab injuries, was rushed to hospital  but succumbed to his injuries a few days later. The police have not identified any suspects as yet. The delegation met his mother. She was too distraught to speak. She only said “I have lost my son.. What else is there for me to say”.  Neighbours told the delegation that she refuses to meet anyone or speak. They said “she cries all the time”.

The third finding of the delegation is that it appears those killed were not involved in the rioting and violence. Their families are in deep distress. Compensation and help is urgently required.

6. The delegation met the family of Haji Fayeem who was shot dead by his neighbour. This was the only case which was clearly a communal killing. For this reason the delegation takes up this case separately and requests you to intervene in this case urgently.

Fayeem and his family live in a colony which has a mixed population of Muslims on one side and Hindus on the other. His house along with his brother’s house were adjacent to the Hindu houses. The delegation was told that on February 8, a big group of men from the neighbouring houses attacked Fayeem’s house, pelting stones  and burnt it. The group was led reportedly by one Sanjay Sonkar who was reportedly a former leader of the Congress and is presently with the BJP. All the vehicles of the family parked outside the house were set on fire. Fayeem came rushing down to try and save his vehicles but was shot dead. There are eye witnesses including Fayeem’s brother Parvez who saw the killing. There were women and children inside the house at that time. The delegation met them. They said they were saved by the thana in-charge who came to the spot and took them to safety. They were deeply thankful to him.

However, the same cannot be said of other members of the police. The delegation saw videos of the  attack on the house of Fayeem where the police can be clearly seen standing by while the house is being attacked. Slogans can be heard including “Har Har Mahadev” and “Jai Shri Ram”. What is most disturbing and indeed shocking is that despite clear evidence against the attackers and murderers, named in a complaint by Parvez, the police have not even filed an FIR, leave alone arrest the accused. When the delegation inquired why an FIR was not filed and arrests not made, the police said the inquiry is still going on.

The fourth finding of the delegation is that this case clearly was a communal killing. The police has shown a bias in its dealing of the case to protect the accused. This requires your urgent intervention to bring justice to the family of Fayeem.

7. The delegation met many women who were victims of police brutality following the incident. On February 10, police broke into at least fifty houses, if not more, hitting out at women and children, manhandling the women. This is in violation of police norms which prohibit male police from handling women.  Items in the house were also broken by the police. Some of the women suffered serious injuries.  In the name of finding the “culprits” the police made random searches, breaking into houses terrorizing families who had nothing to do with the incidents. Apart from this the delegation was told that scores of young men were randomly picked up by the police and kept in a makeshift “jail camp” in Kunwarpur inter college campus, (Gola Paar). The delegation was told that the boys were severely beaten and suffered injuries from which they are yet to recover. There is a palpable sense of fear in the area.

The fifth finding of the delegation is that having suffered injuries in the condemnable stone pelting attacks by the mob on February 8,  the police took it out on members of the community. Innocent women, children and young men were subjected to severe beatings. The delegation also saw videos of policemen throwing stones and bricks. Thus, while the delegation strongly condemns the attacks on the police and journalists, one section of the police has brought disgrace to the force by these actions and action should be taken against them.

In its concluding finding, the delegation is concerned that the arrests, already over 100, are being made ostensibly on the basis of video evidence but the “evidence” is more in the nature of presence in the area. When the delegation inquired as to why six women had been arrested, which included an ailing sixty five year old and also a breast feeding mother, the police said they were “inciting “ the crowd. There is no question that anyone guilty of violence and arson must be punished, but imprisoning women on flimsy charges and putting stringent clauses against them do not serve the ends of justice.

An independent inquiry, if instituted, will bring out all the different aspects referred to above. We urge you to set-up such a probe which must include as its first term of reference what we consider, the wrong, unjust, disastrous decision and its implementation to demolish the Masjid and Madrasa without waiting for the court decision.

We request you to take appropriate action.

Yours sincerely

Sd/-
Brinda Karat (Polit Bureau member), Dr. Vijoo Krishnan (Central Committee member), Rajinder Negi (Uttarakhand State Secretary)