On 17 May, the administration of the Ram Sanehi Ghat tehsil, in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki district, demolished the Masjid Gareeb Nawaz, a local mosque, in violation of a high court order and despite objections by locals that it was not an illegal construction. Exactly two months earlier, “zuhr ki namaz”—afternoon prayers—“were read there for the last time,” Syed Farooq Ahmad, a local social activist and law student, told me. That day, police officials barricaded the entrance to the mosque, closing it for public entry. Earlier that month, the Uttar Pradesh government had announced that religious structures built after January 2011 on public roads would be removed within six months. But government documents indicate that the mosque has stood at the site since at least 1991, and residents said that it was decades older.
On 24 April, the Allahabad High Court issued a stay order on “any orders of eviction, dispossession or demolition, already passed by the High Court, District Court or Civil Court,” if they had not already been executed, until 31 May. The court had issued the order “in the wake of recent upsurge of pandemic Covid-19,” as a general instruction for all such demolitions, in a suo moto case concerning pending cases before the court affected by the pandemic. The order also stated that “State Government, Municipal Authorities, other Local Bodies and agencies and instrumentalities of the State Government shall be slow in taking action of demolition and eviction of persons” till 31 May. The district administration demolished the mosque in spite of this order.
The decision to demolish the mosque appears to have been taken to comply with another high court order, from 2016, which directed the state government to remove religious structures encroaching on public roads. The order stated that any such constructions that were built after January 2011 would be demolished, and in the event that a structure was built prior to 2011, it would be moved elsewhere. On 11 March this year, the Uttar Pradesh government announced its decision to implement the order. Four days later, Dayashankar Tripathi, the Ram Sanehi Ghat tehsildar, issued a notice referring to the order and demanding the provision of archival evidence for the “unauthorised construction” within three days.