SAHARANPUR/LUCKNOW: Twenty people were arrested as curfew and shoot-at-sight orders on Sunday remained in force in the city hit by clashes between two communities over a land dispute.
District magistrate Sandhya Tiwari said, “The situation is better than yesterday. I have to just impose the law and order in the city and the situation is quite normal now.”
On the land dispute, Tiwari said, “I’m not going into it… The construction is on hold.”
Five policemen, a city magistrate, and 13 others were injured. A constable Shensar Pal was stated to be in serious condition in Chandigarh PGI after suffering a bullet injury.
Violent clashes erupted in Saharanpur early Saturday morning killing three men and injuring over 24 others when two groups clashed over a patch of disputed land adjoining a gurdwara close to the city’s railway station.
Alarmed at the ferocity of the communal flare-up and clearly wiser after the Muzaffarnagar riots of August last year that displaced over 50,000 and left 62 dead, the district administration quickly deployed 8 companies of PAC and 10 companies of CPMF in the troubled areas while imposing curfew across six police stations in the city.
Rioting began when a group of people gathered outside the gurdwara and started pelting stones. “It was around 6 am that the rioters first began the assault and started looting shops in the market,” said Balbir Singh Dheer, the gurdwara pradhan. “It seemed well-planned.” While one group claimed the disputed land belonged to the Wakf Board, the other insisted it had purchased it 15 years ago and has the papers to show for it.
Soon the violence that went on unabated for the next four hours took the shape of a massive riot that engulfed the entire city. One group of armed rioters even tried to overrun the Qutub Sair police station, forcing the cops there to resort to lathi charge and firing. “Cops had to run for their life and it was only after a policeman was shot that reinforcements came to Qutub Sair chowk,” said Anil Sharma, a local resident. By afternoon large parts of the city were covered in smoke coming from the shops and vehicles that were burnt by angry mobs.
Later in the day, Union home minister Rajnath Singh spoke with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and said law and order must be maintained at all cost. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, too, waded in and issued a statement that said he was “saddened” by the events and that “violence, divisiveness and hatred have no place in our country.”
With tension prevailing in Saharanpur and Moradabad, Yadav also directed senior home department officials to “be strict” in handling the situation in the two areas. The CM is learnt to have told officials that no laxity will be accepted in keeping the rioters under control.