By Haris Zargar

After the controversial inauguration last month of a Hindu temple at a site in Ayodhya in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where a historic mosque once stood, India’s far-right government has moved to raze other Islamic heritage sites, reigniting long-simmering tensions over sacred Muslim landmarks.

Under the guise of reclaiming state land or clearing alleged encroachments, Indian authorities have mobilised bulldozers to dismantle mosques and other places of Islamic reverence.

Tensions flared up earlier this month in the northern Uttarakhand state, where violent clashes left at least six people dead and many more injured after the demolition of a madrassa and mosque in Haldwani. To enforce calm, the local administration imposed an indefinite curfew, shut down internet services and ordered police to shoot violators.

With police arresting dozens of people from their minority community since the clashes, hundreds of Muslim families have fled the area, fearing state reprisals.

The demolitions in Haldwani appear to be part of a broader strategy pursued by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Uttarakhand government to dismantle Islamic structures across the state. Last year, the state government, in what was labelled a “mega clean-up” operation, razed more than 330 mausoleums.

The campaign – endorsed by the BJP’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) organisation – was described by the state’s chief minister as a pivotal crusade against “land jihad”, a phrase used by Hindutva proponents to refer to Muslim construction in Hindu-majority areas.

In January 2023, massive protests erupted in Haldwani after authorities ordered the demolition of around 4,000 Muslim homes that allegedly encroached on railway land. The demolition was stayed by the Supreme Court of India, which ruled that 50,000 people “cannot be uprooted overnight”.

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