At least four dead as religious riots break out over demolition of mosque in India

Uttarakhand state authorities shut down internet and issue ‘shoot-on-sight’ orders

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Friday 09 February 2024 05:53 GMT
Violence breaks out in Uttarakhand state, India
Violence breaks out in Uttarakhand state, India (Screengrab/NDTV)

At least four people were killed and over 200 sustained injuries in violence that erupted over the demolition of a mosque in India's northern state of Uttarakhand.

The picturesque Himalayan state has been on the edge following incidents of targeted violence against the minority Muslim community and the recent passage of a contentious bill to establish a unified law governing marriages, divorce and other civil rights for all religions.

Internet services were shut down as state authorities on Thursday imposed a curfew, shut schools and issued "shoot-on-sight" orders in Haldwani city.

The violence ensued when a team of government officials and police personnel attempted to raze an "illegally built" mosque and an adjacent religious school, citing a court order.

Locals reportedly pelted stones at the officials and took to the streets in protest, which prompted the police to open fire at the demonstrators. The police also retaliated by firing tear gas. Despite the large display of opposition, the mosque was demolished later on Thursday.

The Uttarakhand High Court on Thursday refused to issue an immediate order halting the demolition and instead scheduled the matter for a further hearing next week.

Shakeel Ahmad, a local councillor for the area, told The Indian Express that the court had not given a final order and the authorities acted in haste. "The next date of hearing was 14 February and when the administration came, we requested them to stop until then," he said.

Vehicles, including 20 motorbikes, parked outside a police station were set ablaze during the protests, according to Abhinav Kumar, director general of police in Uttarakhand.

"The exact sequence of events that led to this kind of situation is a matter of administrative inquiry. We will check what was the cause for this kind of public anger, and if there is some conspiracy, we will look into it," he told the newspaper.

Chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said additional forces have been dispatched to the region and warned "anti-social elements" of strict action.

"Police have been given clear instructions to deal strictly with unruly elements.

“Every rioter who indulged in arson and stone pelting is being identified, no miscreant who disturbs harmony and peace will be spared," the chief minister from Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said in Hindi in a post on X.

The incident comes just a day after the state assembly passed the contentious Uniform Civil Code bill to establish a unified personal law for all citizens, irrespective of their religion.

The bill – largely opposed by minorities in India – has long been a policy goal of prime minister Narendra Modi, who wants to bring the entire country under a single code of law.

The code means that there will be a single set of laws for all residents of the state irrespective of religion, sex, gender and sexual orientation on matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption.

It will override the different laws and customs that are followed by Hindus, Muslims, Christians and other minority groups currently on various personal matters.

Minority and Tribal groups say that the bill, which would supercede various existing personal laws based on religious lines, undermines their diverse customs and violates the right to freedom of religion enshrined in the Indian constitution. Critics argue the bill is intended to bring practices closer in line with those of the Hindu majority.

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