Roorkee Mahapanchayat: ‘Why Didn’t Police Crack Down Earlier,’ Ask Residents

Dada Jalalpur residents were relieved about the security arrangements in view of the Hindu Mahapanchayat but said similar actions on April 16 could have prevented communal clashes.

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Roorkee, Uttarakhand: After a warning from the Supreme Court, the local administration cracked down on the Hindu Mahapanchayat that was planned in the Dada Jalalpur village near Roorkee on April 27,  prompting several residents of the village to ask why similar arrangements could not have been made during violence reported a few days ago.

The Supreme Court ordered that no “untoward incident” should happen during the Mahapanchayat – referring to anti-Muslim speeches and calls to violence that were made at similar events in the past. The mahapanchayat in Dada Jalalpur village was called by Mahant Anand Swaroop, who asked for a “Hindu awakening” in the face of communal clashes.

On April 16, the Dada Jalalpur village of the Bhagvanpur region of Roorkee in Uttarakhand witnessed violence during a Shobha Yatra on Hanuman Jayanti. For ten days after the violence, hardline Hindu religious leaders relentlessly campaigned for the arrests of Muslim residents and an invocation of the stringent National Security Act against those who allegedly pelted stones at the procession. The mahapanchayat part of their efforts to pressure the administration.

However, taking cognisance of the Supreme Court’s directive on mahapanchyats, the Uttarkhand police imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) – which prevents more than four people from gathering – in Dada Jalalpur. Security within a five-kilometre stretch of the village was also tightened to ensure no congregation takes place.

The police also detained Swaroop’s disciple Dineshanand – also an organiser of the mahapanchayat – was taken into custody, along with six others, to ensure peace in the region. Dineshanand is the state convenor of the Kali Sena, a religious organisation.

Some of his followers told The Wire that they were disappointed over the decision, some were also restricted outside the village.

While residents that The Wire spoke to were relieved over the security arrangements, they also hoped that peace is restored in the region.

“We are glad [the mahapanchayat] has been cancelled,” Habib* a resident of Dada Jalalpur said.

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Some Muslim residents praised the district administration’s decision to impose Section 144 but felt similar actions could have been taken on April 16 to prevent communal tensions.

“It was this easy! If the police had taken stern action on April 16, our kids wouldn’t have wound up in jail for ten days,” Irfana* told The Wire. Her son was detained and later released after ten days.

The police have stationed smaller teams of police members across the village, with many policing the streets and resting in the courtyards of locals. Reportedly, the heavy police presence and the imposition of Section 144 will continue until May 5.

Speaking to The Wire, the additional district magistrate (ADM) of Haridwar P.L. Shah said, “As you know some people gave a call for a dharma mahapanchayat in Dada Jalalpur. We immediately implemented Section 144 in this village and the neighbouring one. There is heavy police deployment to protect the people. Me and my colleagues, including two SDMs and the rest of the police force, are here. There is no possibility of a dharma mahapanchayat in the village. We have been on alert since Tuesday.”

However, the blatant anti-Muslim statements propagated by Anand Swaroop and Dineshanand are stoking fears among the residents.

Bano* is sitting outside her house with her two daughters. Since April 16, she has been hiding with her family in the nearby field. They are scared to stay in their home. “Ours is the last home of the village. When the procession was leaving, it attacked our house. We managed to save ourselves. Since then, we have been hiding in the nearby field, occasionally coming back to check our home,” she tells The Wire.

Bano and her family have been hiding in a field after the communal violence that was reported in Dada Jalalpur on APril 16, 2022. Photo: The Wire

Bano’s husband Rihad* is an e-rickshaw driver. His vehicle which was burnt by a mob early on April 17. “Our cattle were also not spared. Our cows were attacked on their udders. They cannot give milk anymore,” Bano added, as Rihad looked on.

The family said the attacks were targeted to ensure their sources of livelihood are destroyed.

“The police have provided us protection this time, but where were they the last time? It just pains us,” Bano said.

As a visible rift emerges within the communities on the ground, some residents reiterate the need for peace.

Anmol, who runs a local shop in the village, feared that the tradition of Hindus and Muslims exchanging sweets on the others’ festivals may soon be lost. With Eid around the corner, both the communities are yet to move past what happened on April 16. “Nobody wants violence. It is sad that our neighbours won’t see us in the same light. Because of a few boys, the whole village is tensed,” he added.

Many Hindus refused to speak to the media. Some were disappointed over the “targeted attempt to silence Hindus” while the others stated that the atmosphere in the village was tense.

Speaking to The Wire, 70-year-old Sushila said, “These kids [who are accused of violence] have all grown up in front of us. We do not support the way in which things are unfolding. If Hindus have done something wrong they should be punished. Similarly, if Muslims have pelted stones, they should be booked. However, our culture and peace need to be intact.”

*Names changed to protect identities.