On a humid Monday morning, Haryana police officials stood guard as vehicles queued up at the Ghamroj toll plaza along the Delhi-Haryana border, peering down windows to enquire about phone numbers and scheduled destinations of countless passengers.
Haryana was on high alert with the planned resumption of a ‘Braj Mandal Shobha Yatra’, which was disrupted after violence in Nuh last month.
The rally was called by the Sarv Jatiya Hindu Mahapanchayat this time. But Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had denied permission, and had urged the public to visit their local temples for a ‘jalabhishek’ instead of participating in the procession.
The administration had earlier called meetings to boost coordination in case of a law and order situation, and a police spokesperson had said that around 2,000 police personnel and 24 companies of paramilitary forces had been deployed in Nuh.
Curbs on assembly were put in place with Section 144, and institutes and banks were shut in Nuh district, but participants of the yatra decided to proceed.
VHP president Alok Kumar claimed the police had been told about a 51-member committee and they all were allowed to visit the Nalhar Mandir, the starting point of the planned procession.
Newslaundry saw Kumar, five others, and three buses full of devotees being allowed beyond the checkpoints, escorted by the police.
As per a , the police earlier detained Vishwa Hindu Takht chief Viresh Shandilya before he could leave his house to take part in the procession.
The three checkpoints
Meanwhile, in the morning, police stopped Ayodhya sant Tapasvi Chhawani from reaching the Shiv temple in Nuh for Jalabhishek yatra.
Speaking to a posse of television cameras, Chhawani said, “I will fast unto death if they don’t allow me. Along with me, 1,000 vehicles have come from Ayodhya to pay tribute to RSS and Bajrang Dal workers who were burnt alive in the Jalabhishek Yatra held last month. But the police are not letting us go. They have mistreated us.”
But Gurugram SHO Naveen said this was a lie. “There were no 1,000 vehicles. We are just following the government’s order to prevent any kind of communal violence like last month.”
Newslaundry spotted three police checkpoints between Ghamroj toll plaza and Nuh, within a distance of around 35 km.
At the second checkpoint, the Rapid Action Force was deployed, and the police were testing water cannons and videographing each passing vehicle. As Newslaundry entered Nuh, the district appeared like a ghost town, with all the houses locked and the shops on the main road shut. The only signs of movement were the national flags fluttering over several homes.
Internet services have been suspended in the district between Saturday and Monday.
The third and the final checkpoint was on the Nuh bypass road, about four km before the Nalhar Mandir, the starting point of the planned procession which had seen violence in its vicinity in July. This became the reporting hub as the media was not allowed to cross this checkpoint.
As TV9 Bharatvarsh and India Today reporters waited for their cue, an India TV reporter shouted facing his camera, “India TV has deployed five reporters across Nuh. Because we want to give you the best coverage.”
Meanwhile, a couple of TV reporters were baffled about a VHP vehicle being allowed to go in when “the police had cordoned off the entry for outsiders”.
‘Missed my final exam’
Around 11 am, Ashiq Hussain, a third year pharmacy undergraduate student, tried to convince the police at the checkpoint that he is a resident of Nuh and should be allowed to enter. “Because the police officers were not letting me enter Sohna, I missed my final exam today. My whole year might be wasted,” he told Newslaundry.
But the police eventually let him enter after a brief conversation.
Ten minutes later, two Haryana police vehicles escorted Tapasvi Chhawani but did not allow Nuh resident Rahil and her eight-month-old baby beyond the checkpoint.
“We are residents of Nuh. It has been half an hour since I am trying to convince the police that I urgently need to visit the hospital as my child is suffering from a skin disease but they are not listening to me.” A police officer requested others, “Let them go, what if the baby dies?” But as other police officials did not pay heed, Rahil left the spot.
The Haryana police then escorted three police buses stuffed with Hindu devotees. Sticking their necks out of the windows, the devotees shouted, “Har Har Mahadev! Jai Bharat Maa ki!”
Excited TV crews chased behind.
“This is big news. VHP fulfills their promise to hold the procession. Though the administration had clearly said that they will not allow them. Maybe they have found a middle ground,” an India TV reporter spoke into his camera.
‘Bid to censor the press’
Wondering if the media will miss the procession, reporters complained to the police at the barricade that it is an attempt to censor the press by not letting the media beyond the checkpoint. Police tried to quell anger by offering them Mirinda and Coke.
Around early afternoon, VHP president Alok Kumar was allowed to enter Nuh after a 20-minute wait, escorted by the police.
“Why did the administration not impose such tight security on July 31 and let communal violence break out?” quipped a reporter with a prominent channel.
The faultines in a village
About half an hour later, at least 10 Haryana police buses, with personnel in riot gear, reached Ujina village in Nuh.
Newslaundry tailed them, and found Additional DGP Mamata Singh trying to calm down a group of 50 Hindu protesters, who had burnt the CM’s effigy for not allowing the procession. “I understand your sentiments have been hurt. But please calm down.”
“I am not associated with any Hindutva outfit. I am a Hindu and this is my right to hold the procession. All I want to say is Khattar hatao, Haryana bachao.”
Meanwhile, Iqbal Numberdar, a villager, said, “See who is violating Section 144… But why has the police not arrested them?”
Another local Muslim claimed, “The VHP people have been taking out this procession for the last three years peacefully. Communal violence broke out this time because of the instigating messages by Monu (Manesar) and Bittu (Bajrangi). But why did the administration not ensure tight security on July 31 despite several alert messages sent to them? In fact, on that day, the Nuh SP was on leave.”
Asked about the remarks, ADGP Mamata Singh said, “I have already given several interviews regarding the July 31 violence. So I won’t take more questions. All I can say is that the police have learnt from past mistakes.”
Asked about the lack of arrests despite the protests, Singh said the police might arrest people on Tuesday.
Later, at a press briefing at 2.30 pm, Singh denied that a yatra ever took place and insisted that only local Hindus participated in the jalabhishek ceremony. She said a few people accompanying VHP president Alok Kumar and Tapasvi Chhawani were allowed beyond the checkpoints.
However, VHP’s Alok Kumar said a 51-member committee was allowed to go inside the temple. “If the same number of police and paramilitary had been deployed last time, the violence would not have broken out,” Kumar told the media.
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