Magsaysay Award-winning activist Sandeep Pandey and three others were prevented by the Uttar Pradesh police from travelling to Ayodhya from Lucknow on Wednesday, a member of the group said. Sunita Vishwanath, a member of a US organisation called Hindus for Human Rights, said that the police cited a law banning the gathering of more than four people when stopping them.
“The police invoked Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which gives them the authority to restrict our movements because of apprehended danger or disturbance,” she said.
In addition to Pandey and Vishwanath, the group included another Hindus for Human Rights member Giri Iyengar, and Amit Maurya, a resident of Aseni village in Barabanki district. Police officials stopped the group at Patranga village, about 80 km from Lucknow.
The activists had planned to meet Jugal Kishore Sharan Shastry, a priest at the Saryu Kunj temple in Ayodhya. Shashtry and Pandey are trustees of a Multi-Faith Harmony Centre that they plan to open in Ayodhya.
The group had left from Lucknow at around 10.30 am on Wednesday. “We noticed a police van parked outside Sandeep Pandey’s house,” Vishwanath told Scroll.in. The same police van followed the group’s vehicle as they set out, she claimed.
At around noon, Vishwanath said that police officials in Patranga stopped them. “They were polite and they told us that we could not go on,” she said. “They knew we were coming. There were tables and chairs arranged on the side of the road. A crowd had gathered there. And we were told in different ways that we had to go back.”
She alleged that Shastry phoned the group to say that he had forcibly been admitted to hospital by police officials on Wednesday. “He was told that the people coming to meet him could go to his temple, but would not be able to meet him,” Vishwanath said.
But police officials in Patranga denied Vishwanath’s claims. “We never stopped them,” Station House Officer of Patranga Police Station SK Singh told Scroll.in. “We told them about the situation in Ayodhya and the protests. The sub divisional magistrate was also present.” Asked whether Section 144 had been invoked to stop the group, he did not comment.
Pandey has been put under house arrest four times since August, when the special status for Kashmir was revoked. He had been organising peaceful protests against the government’s decision. He has also been at the forefront of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens.
This was the third time that he had been prevented from travelling to Ayodhya, Vishwanath said.