The most worrisome development coming in from the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand is the mass exodus of Muslims from the Uttarkashi district. What started as some Muslim shopkeepers and traders fleeing Purola town after one of the accused in the abduction of a minor Hindu girl cause furore among right wing groups, has exacerbated. It is a matter of grave concern and the police and administration are hell bent on maintaining the rhetoric that everything is fine and there is no mass exodus. The Hindi news reportage from the area, however, speaks otherwise and speaks volumes.
In the last 2 weeks, up to 10 towns — Purola, Uttarkashi, Mori, Naugaon, Barkot, Chinyalisaur, Dunda, Damta, Netwar and Sankri — have seen strikes/hate rallies calling for Muslims to be denied shops, for extra “verification”, or simply for them to be expelled, pointed out The Polis Project.
How did it all begin?
It can be said that an incident of the abduction of a Hindu girl was merely used as a pretext to cause this mass exodus by creating an atmosphere of terror lined with threats. As class nine student was allegedly abducted by two men, Ubed Khan (24) and Jitendra Kumar Saini (23) who were arrested on May 27. On May 29, a procession was carried out by right wing groups as also businessmen of the area last week and shouted slogans against targeting the Muslim community while threatening them to vacate their shops. Fearing violence, 42 shopkeepers and vendors like street hawkers, vegetable vendors, bicycle repair persons and other such small businesses reportedly fled the area.
The protesting group also sent a memorandum to the Governor through SDM Devanand Sharma demanding the immediate removal of businessmen from a particular (read Muslim) community, with a criminal mindset.
The protest march in Purola on May 29 had turned violent whereby Muslim shops were attacked and over 900 people had taken part in this mob. The memorandum sent by the protestors said, “In the garb of doing business in the town, some people from a particular community have been indulging in immoral activities… thereby, polluting the atmosphere,” as reported by HT.
The boycott spread
What started in Purola then spread to Barkot whereby Muslim shops were left with black cross marks, as a sign of boycott of their businesses. Some even removed the boards of these shops. These miscreants remain unidentified. A local trader from Purola speaking to TOI, said, “The posters asking us to leave or face action are an attempt to intimidate us. Over 30 shops have remained shut since May 26.”
Hindustan Times reported the disturbing incidents in which the poster read:
“Love jihadiyon ko suchit kia jata hai ki dinak June 15, 2023 ko hone wali mahapanchayat hone se purv apni dukanein khali kar de. Yadi tumhae dwara aisa nahi kia jata, toh wakt par nirbhar karega (Love jihadists are informed that they should vacate the shops prior to a mahapanchayat on June 15. If they don’t, it (consequences) will depend on time),” the poster, which calls for ‘Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan’ (campaign for protection of land) said.
Local news reports
On June 9 Hindustan news reported that VHP and Bajrang Dal have released a memo stating that if Muslims are not evicted from Nainbagh, Jakhar, Nagtibba, Thatyur, Saklana, Damta, Purola, Barkot, Uttarkashi within 10 days then locals will protest and the Yamuna bridge will be blocked.
Pahad ki Dahad Youtube channel posted a video last week with its reporter Surendra Rawat. He had a trishul (trident) strapped on his back. Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyaan (Movement to save land of gods) leader Swami Darshan Bharti was garlanded on the streets. Bharti said that our ancestors never let such jihadis to stay here and now we are proud that they have been asked to leave from Uttarakhand and jihadis should not be entertained and no one should deal with them in business. He said “this our first wave Awareness. The public is getting aware and has now awakened. We had started this campaign for the security of this Devbhoomi (land of gods). Today the public is also participating in this”.
“Pahad ke logo ne tay kar lia hai ki khaskar Uttarkashi se chingari uthi hai ki Muslim samuday k log hai unko yaha par katay bhi bardasht nahi kia jayega unki dukaane band karane ki chetwani di hai. 30-35 dukano ko 15 din ke andar dukaan khali karne ki chetawni di gai hai aur yaha se hatt jane ko kaha gaya hai kyuki Hindu samaj ka kehna hai ki yaha par pahad ki bholi bhali ladkiyo ko bhagane ka kaam ye kar rahe hai” (the people of the mountains have decided that they will not tolerate Muslims here. Aorund 30-35 shopkeepers have been asked to vacate and leave the area because Hindus feel that Muslims trap innocent Hindu girls). He also mentioned the “encroachment” of land by putting up mazaars everywhere and called it “Land jihad”.
on June 11 a video was posted by journalist Meer Faisal, where a mob could be seen vandalising a premises in Uttarkashi with lathis, trying to break a door down. It was unclear what the premises were but it has been reported that they were ransacking the shops and houses of Muslims traders whilst raising “Jai Shree Ram” slogans. The way the police are seen dealing with these goons and mobsters is shameful to say the least.
In Uttarkashi’s Purola, a Hindu mob ransacked shops and houses of Muslim traders while raising slogans of Jai Shri Ram. Posters threatening to vacate the shops of Muslim traders were put up in the main market of Purola before June 15. Muslims are migrating, and vandalism is also… pic.twitter.com/ewWjPALUzR
— Meer Faisal (@meerfaisal01) June 11, 2023
Direct threats issued
On June 10, the Pahad Ki dahad Youtube channel interviewed with a right wing goons who said, “I appeal to you that this is Devbhoomi and not a land of Mullahs and Maulwis. Get them to vacate their shops and houses. If you are okay buying things from these people who kill our daughters, then you are on the path of adharm.”
According to him, to walk on the path of Dharma is to get Muslims to vacate their shops and homes and leave Uttarakhand. Basically to implement the mass exodus of Muslims from the state. He also said that they have spoken to many shopkeepers who will remove Muslim who are employed as workers.
The shops being locked down were also shown in the video. When the reporter questioned one of he shopkeepers, he said, “there were only shops (of Muslims) here and we have already told them to vacate. This invoked an applause from others standing with him.
— Hate Detector 🔍 (@HateDetectors) June 10, 2023
Swami Prabhodhanand Giri Mahamandaleshwar uploaded a video on June 9 raising the same trope of “Love jihad” and raised slogans of ‘Uttarakhand Bachao, Jihadi Bhagao’. He congratulated those who have caused the mass exodus of Muslim from Uttarkashi and said that entire state should be free of Muslims. He said that this campaign should go on till the last of the Muslims leave Uttarakhand. “If you want to save your daughters, your land, your temples then they have to be evicted”
Journalist Alishan Jafri pointed out how Zee News covered this news. While the show on display raised the question “Uttarkashi se kyu bhagaye jaa rahe hai Muslim dukandar? (Why are Muslim shopowners being chased away from Uttarkashi?). the title of the video read, “Uttarakhand me ‘Love jihadiyo’ ko last warning (Last warning to Love Jihadis in Uttarakhand).
They speak as they flee
Further, TV9 Uttarakhand spoke to some Muslims who were fleeing from Purola. Md. Wasim, who was doing a job of washing cars and was staying in Purola for the past 8 years was interviewed by the channel. He said that the landlord did not directly ask him to leave but said that it is up to whether to leave since tensions are brewing. He and his family said they are going by their own will since the atmosphere in the town is bad and will come back when things settle down. Another Muslim shop owner said that they don’t wish to leave but they are compelled to do so since the shop has been closed and there’s no money to buy even food.
When these speeches are available in the public domain, why is the state government and police not following the Supreme court directive on hate speech in its letter and spirit?https://t.co/5RwaalMCFy
— Alishan Jafri (@alishan_jafri) June 11, 2023
Lawyers raised concerns over contempt of SC by police
On May 30 some lawyers of Supreme Court wrote to Uttarakhand Governor highlighting the instance of hate speech and violence and how the state’s police have been acting in contempt of the Supreme Court by not following the court’s order.
What were the Supreme Court’s orders?
On April 28, the Supreme Court, in a significant development, the Supreme Court extended the
application of its October 2022 order (which directed the Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand Police to take suo motu action against hate speech cases) to all States and Union Territories.
So now, all States/UTs, including Maharashtra, are enjoined and bound to take suo moto action to register FIR against hate speeches, without waiting for any formal complaint. The bench
comprising Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna said the following:
“Respondents (states) shall ensure that immediately, as and when any speech or any action takes place which attracts offences such as Section 153A, 153B, 295A and 506 of IPC etc, without any complaint being filed suo moto action be taken to register cases and proceed against the offenders in accordance with law. Respondents will issue directions to the subordinates so that appropriate action can be taken at the earliest. We further make it clear that such action be taken irrespective of the religion of the maker of the speech, so that the secular character of Bharat as envisaged by the Preamble is preserved.”
wherein it had directed that:
“As and when any speech or any action takes place which attracts offences such as Sections 153A, 153B and 295A and 505 of the IPC etc., suo moto action will be taken to register cases even if no complaint is forthcoming and proceed against the offenders in accordance with law.”
The court had further said that non-compliance would amount to contempt of court:
“We make it clear that any hesitation to act in accordance with this direction will be viewed as contempt of this Court and appropriate action will be taken against the erring officers,” the order reads.
On February 3, 2023, the Supreme Court issued directions with respect to an event which was scheduled to be held in Mumbai on February 5, 2023 by the
Sakal Hindu Samaj, another extremist fringe Hindutva group. The petitioner, Shaheen Abdullah, had contended that similar to its anti-Muslim speech during ‘Hindu Jan Aakrosh Morcha’ held in Mumbai on January 29, it can be apprehended that the same will be repeated during the February 5 meeting as well. The apex court had thus sought a video of the entire event to be scrutinised by the court at the next hearing. The court has also taken an undertaking from the government of Maharashtra that if permission for this event is granted “it will be subject to the condition that nobody will make any hate speech and in defiance of law or disturbing the public order.”
The court also outlined directives with respect to taking preventive action in such cases:
“We also direct that the Officer(s), in case, permission is granted and, in case, the occasion arises for invoking the power under Section 151 of Cr.P.C. as aforesaid, it shall be the duty of the Officer(s) concerned to invoke the said power and to act as per the mandate of Section 151 of the Cr.P.C.”
The intolerance and unwillingness of the right wing groups to let the minority community to live peacefully in the state has been evident in the many incidents that can be called precursors to the situation today. The eruption of Radha Semwal Dhoni as a hate offender, threatening, intimidating Muslim vendors on the streets, demanding to see their Identity cards is among the events. Further, the repeated and persistent claims of illegal mazaars in the forests and government land in the state and calling it encroachment is also responsible. The news channels that carried on with the trope of “mazaar jihad” are equally responsible for this mass exodus. This trope was introduced by the state’s CM Pushkar Dhami himself. Being the Chief Minister, the one with the people’s mandate, Dhami can be said to be completely responsible for the current state of affairs. Three days ago, he also said that “Love jihad” will not be tolerated in the state. This statement was made amidst tensions brewing in Uttarkashi. In April, he had said that ‘land jihad’ and ‘mazaar jihad’ will not be tolerated in the state.
The inaction of the police is evident in the fact that the exodus continues as Muslim community does not have any assurance that they will be protected by the police from unruly, anti-social right wing elements who have decided to chase them away. The attitude of the Chief Minister is not of much help either. The future of the Muslims in Uttarakhand is daunting unless the high court or Supreme Court takes matter in its hands.