Indian town sets curfew after mosque clashes, police ordered to shoot violators

Authorities in a northern Indian town imposed an indefinite curfew and ordered police to shoot violators after clashes over the construction of a Muslim seminary and a mosque left at least five people dead and more than 150 injured, officials said Friday.

The violence Thursday also led authorities to shut down internet services and schools in Haldwani, Uttarakhand state government official Chief Radha Raturi said.

The situation was brought under control with nearly 4,000 police officers rushing to the area, said police officer A.P. Anshuman. He said police were ordered to shoot protesters violating the curfew.

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On Thursday, thousands of protesters tried to block government officials and police who arrived to demolish the seminary and mosque following a court order that the structures were being built on government land without local authorization, Anshuman said.

As violence escalated, police fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protesters using petrol bombs and stones to attack a police station and set several vehicles on fire, Anshuman said.

State police chief Abhinav Kumar said five people died in the violence. He did not give details but said no fresh violence was reported on Friday.

Pushkar Singh Dhami

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, right, meets with injured police on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (Pushkar Singh Dhami on X via AP)

Government administrator Vandana Singh Chauhan over 150 police officers were injured and several people were hospitalized.

Anshuman did not say whether police fire killed the protesters. He also didn’t identify the religion of the victims.

Haldwani is about 170 miles northeast of New Delhi.

Muslim groups and rights organizations have accused India’s Hindu-nationalist government of demolishing their homes and businesses in the past. Officials have defended their actions, saying they are only targeting illegal buildings, but critics call it a growing pattern of “bulldozer justice” aimed at punishing activists from minority group.

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In a report released this week, Amnesty International condemned several instances of bulldozers razing Muslims’ homes, businesses and places of worship, which it said was often done under the guise of illegal encroachment and without adequate notice.

“The unlawful demolition of Muslim properties by the Indian authorities, peddled as ‘bulldozer justice’ by political leaders and media, is cruel and appalling. Such displacement and dispossession is deeply unjust, unlawful and discriminatory,” said Agnès Callamard, the rights group’s secretary general.

The group’s researchers found that between April and June 2022, authorities in five states used demolitions as punishment following incidents of communal violence or protests, and documented at least 128 demolitions during this period.

Critics and opponents have long accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of looking the other way and sometimes enabling hate speech against Muslims, who comprise 14% of India’s 1.4 billion people.

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Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party denies the accusations.