in Haldwani, the plight of Muslim Indians

in Haldwani, the plight of Muslim Indians

In Nazim Hussain's hand, the wad of charred notes forms an oily black brick. On the 100 rupee notes he took from the overturned iron cabinet in the middle of the room, Mahatma Gandhi's face was eaten by fire. Shreds of burnt clothing lie in a pile in a corner of this accommodation rented by a mason and his family, fortunately absent on the day of the riot. “There's nothing left heresighs this 44-year-old Muslim tailor, not even a spoon. » Ten meters further, along a narrow alley which marks the boundary between the predominantly Muslim district of Banbhoolpura and the Hindu district of Gandhinagar, Nazim Hussain's house only escaped the flames by a miracle. The Molotov cocktail, thrown too short, set his motorcycle on fire. Tied to his stake, his goat burned alive. “This had never happened in Haldwani, he confides. We lived well with the Hindus before. We celebrated religious holidays together. We distributed candy for the holidays, we shared joys and problems. It was normal, before February 8. »

That day, violence broke out in Haldwani, a town of a million people in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, when bulldozers razed a mosque and a Koranic school in Banbhoolpura, on the pretext that they were built illegally. Indignant, a crowd of Muslims threw stones at the machines and their police escort, and set fire to a police station.

At the same time, around a hundred Hindus from Gandhinagar attacked the homes of Muslims on Nazim Hussain's street. One of his neighbors, who went out to protect his motorcycle and his van, was shot and killed. To suppress the riot, the police decide to open fire on the Muslims. Five of them were shot and around ten others were injured.

Eviction policy

Mohammad Suhail's father was among those fatally shot by police on February 8. “He was not participating in the riot, he had simply left the house with my brother to park his car, says this 22-year-old mechanic in the cramped house where he lives with his family under a tin roof. Shortly after they got out, my brother called me to tell me that our father had been shot in the right temple. I rushed outside to find him. He was still breathing. » Aged 53, his father died in hospital for six days before succumbing to his injuries on February 13, at 9:13 a.m.

Mohammad Suhail is not the only one to report indiscriminate shooting. “My father was out buying milk for my niece when someone called me to tell me he had been shot, says Mohammad Aman, 21 years old. When I found him, he was lying in a pool of blood. I lifted him onto a trolley to take him to the hospital, but around ten police officers came upon me and beat me. I begged them to let me take my father, but they wouldn't listen. They hit me so much that my hands were swollen. »

Mohammad Aman managed to take his father to the hospital, but too late to save his life. The funeral took place the next day, when a drastic curfew had just been introduced. Only five family members will be allowed to attend, under close police surveillance. In Haldwani, some blame the violence of the demonstrators. “Of course it is wrong to throw stones at police officers and burn down a police station, but is it right that only places of prayer and houses of Muslims are targeted for demolitions? “, says a local activist, who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

Muslims frequently denounce the fact that the destruction of buildings constructed without authorization, which are very numerous in India, disproportionately affects their community. Already in 2023, the authorities came close to razing more than 4,000 homes in the Banbhoolpura district for this reason. The decision was ultimately suspended by the Supreme Court.

“They left, like during the Partition”

This policy of eviction nevertheless remains firmly promoted by the local authorities, under the leadership of Pushkar Singh Dhami, head of the executive of Uttarakhand. This long-time member of the BJP, the Hindu nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is particularly engaged in a campaign aimed at destroying Muslim shrines and places of worship built in “non-regulatory”an expression according to him of “Land Jihad” (“land jihad”, in English, Editor’s note) supposedly leading Muslims in the state.

“When I was young, it was no problem being Muslim, but now we live in fear,” continues the activist. According to him, more than a hundred families left Haldwani at least temporarily after the curfew was lifted. “They took what they could, and they left, like during the Partition,” he said, in reference to the violent separation of India and Pakistan following Independence in 1947.

“The government is fueling all of this, it’s clear that they want this violence between communities to take place,” says Mohammad Suhail, the young mechanic whose father was killed. According to him, tension remains palpable in the city between Muslims and Hindus. “When I cross Gandhinagar to go to work, I see Hindus staring at me, I don’t feel safe. » The day before our interview, while he was at the mosque, “four or five Hindus” cried out to the faithful “Jai Shri Ram!” » (“Glory to Lord Ram!” in Hindi), the rallying word of Hindu nationalists, before decamping on a motorbike. Never seen before, according to him, before February 8.

Saffron flags versus green flags

Nazim Hussain remembers hearing these words on the day of the riot, chanted by the crowd, over and over again, while his children cried, barricaded inside the house where he was born. This day of violence marks a break for him. While he had always wanted to spend his life in Haldwani, he is now considering moving elsewhere, somewhere where his family would not feel unsafe. “I don’t want to say anything bad about Hindus,” he declares upstairs in the house, in the bedroom with apple green walls where he has installed his old sewing machine.

Since February 8, its Hindu customers have become rare. “For us, the problem was with the authorities, not with the Hindus. But now the trust is broken. » On his phone, he shows photos taken last year on the occasion of Holi, the festival of colors, in which we see him with a Hindu friend from Gandhinagar, laughing and covered in colored powder. Since the riot, the two men have hardly spoken to each other. Will he celebrate Holi this year? He smiled for a moment, before his face fell. “Our feelings are hurt, he said, pointing his index finger at his heart. It will take time for us to heal. »

Across the street, a group of Hindu boys are playing cricket. Hit too hard, a ball flies through the air and bounces with a metallic crash on the sheet metal awning of their Muslim neighbors, which is still cluttered with the stones thrown two months earlier by the rioters. The women come out, looking anxious. The street which separates the two neighborhoods is only five meters wide, but the distance seems considerable, further widened by the saffron flags which have multiplied on the roofs and in the windows of the houses of Gandhinagar. Symbols of Hindu nationalism, they have been floating here since the grand inauguration in January of the great temple of Ayodhya, in the neighboring region of Uttar Pradesh.

At the very spot where a mosque destroyed by Hindu extremists in 1992 once stood, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced “the advent of a new era”. In a game of mirrors, the Muslims of Banbhoolpura hoisted green flags when the month of Ramadan began. The two districts, dotted with standards, now seem to eye each other like enemy citadels.

Similar Posts