While the Uttar Pradesh police is still struggling to maintain peace in Saharanpur, Pilibhit in the western part of the state has also been struck by violence. A crowd of people blocked a highway and became violent on Tuesday, after a Hanuman temple was demolished in the area.
The police filed an FIR against around 40 people for rioting, arson, and assaulting officers who were on duty, after the crowd had become violent and set vehicles on fire in protest against the demolition. On Thursday, four people were also arrested in connection with the violence. Security has been increased in the district.
Officials of the Public Works Department had demolished the temple, which is along NH 730 in Sunghadhi area of Pilibhit, on Tuesday. The district is along the Uttar Pradesh-Uttarakhand border. However, the temple priest had alleged that the structure was demolished by an anti-social group of people, who had also set his home on fire. Villagers had then blocked the highway and demanded the alleged culprits be arrested immediately.
PWD officials had allegedly not informed the local administration or police of their plans to demolish the temple.
“The villagers, even after assurance of proper action, went on a rampage on the highway,” Assistant Superintendent of Police Ram Suresh Yadav told Scroll.in. “When the police attempted to stop them, they assaulted them and set policemen’s vehicles on fire. The situation is tense but under control.”
The police said the violence had escalated on Wednesday, when several of their personnel and locals had been injured in protests. The mob had also pelted stones at the police, after which they lathi-charged the crowd. The administration has imposed Section 144 in the area to prevent large crowds from gathering.
Some police personnel, who did not want to go on the record, told Scroll.in that a few Bharatiya Janata Party workers were responsible for the growing violence. “The situation in the city is getting worse due to two groups of BJP,” an official said. “One group has core Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and BJP values, and the other is made up of young college-goers who are trying to misuse power.”
Senior Superintendent of Police (Pilibhit) Dev Ranjan Verma and District Magistrate Sheetal Verma have visited the district and ordered an inquiry.
The BJP district chief has called a meeting of party workers on Thursday, while the villagers have announced that they will protest until the temple is relocated and reconstructed.
The incident comes even as caste violence has consumed Saharanpur, where one person has died and several have been injured in Dalit-Thakur clashes.