Last week, houses of multiple residents of a village in Chamoli district were demolished by district administration. The officers claimed that everything had been done exactly according to the law and villagers had been provided advance notice. The same week also saw the administration tiptoeing around the issue of an illegal mosque near the Tehri dam. In the age of social media, such bias is now clear to even the rural population of the state and leading to angry reactions.
The demolished houses of Haat
On Sept 26, 2021 army soldier Ashish Hatwal returned home from Punjab. He had rushed home from the front after hearing that his home will be demolished. Although by the time he reached home, there was not a single home left in the village. The hardened soldier was seen crying in the arms of his old mother. His father was also a soldier in the army. Ashish was to be married in the month of November.
These houses were coming under the area of Vishnugad-Pipalkoti hydropower project which has been pending since 2006. The project has been on hold due to cases against it in High Court as well as Supreme Court. Of the 185 demolished houses, 112 families had claimed compensation while others had rejected the offer to be resettled and not taken any compensation.
What makes this particularly tragic is that the action was taken at the time of Shraddh Paksh, when Hindus offer prayers for the departed souls of their ancestors. This period is universally observed in the hill areas of Uttarakhand in a solemn manner. According to villagers, they had even asked for time till Oct 3 to vacate the houses, but were not granted any leniency. According to reports, even the small temples of the village were not spared by the authorities from demolition. To add injury to insult, winter is fast approaching in the hills of Uttarakhand with snowfall expected in October in nearby areas. How the administration expects these people to live in the winters is anyone’s guess.
The mosque at Tehri dam
Last week itself, the issue of an illegal mosque at Tehri Dam also came to light. According to locals, when Tehri dam was being constructed, a tin shed was provided by the contractor to the Muslim labourers for their prayers. After the dam was complete, the place was converted into a mosque. Notably, this structure is on government land, unlike the case of villagers of Haat who were living on own land.
In this case, when locals protested and demanded removal of the mosque the police became belligerent and asked the protesting locals to “tone down”. It may be added that Tehri Dam is a sensitive area in terms of security and ordinarily no one is allowed to visit without authorisation.
After the matter became too hot to handle, the administration organised a meeting with mosque committee and requested them to remove it. Finally, the mosque is being shifted the mosque committee itself to some other place.
When the administration could negotiate with the Muslim community, could it not have done the same with Hindu residents of Haat? Could they have stopped till Oct 3? Could the temples of the village too have been shifted too ? Would the administration order the demolition of a mosque or Muslim houses in the month of Ramzan? These are the questions that need to be considered now.
Situation in Uttarakhand
Uttarakhand is facing a tough demographic situation today. According to reports, last 10 years have seen large scale migration from western UP in the hill as well as plain areas of Uttarakhand. Just last week report came out of large scale Muslim migration to the Nepal border of Uttarakhand and incredible increase in population increase of Muslims in these areas. Apparently, there is a plan to create a corridor between Pakistan and Bangladesh having a Muslim majority populataion.
This has happened while a large number of villages in Uttarakhand have become “ghost villages” due to unrelenting outward migration of locals in search of education, health facilities, jobs and due to failing hill agriculture. In plain areas, illegal settlements have been legalised by the government recently in a bid to win elections. However, the anger of people at such administrative bias could hurt the chances of the government seeking reelection.