Uttarakhand: Posters Put Up in Purola Warning Muslims to Vacate Their Shops

The posters surfaced two days after members of right-wing organisations held protests in Barkot and reportedly attacked shops and houses belonging to Muslims. Tensions have been on the boil in the region since an alleged abduction attempt on a minor girl.

New Delhi: Posters threatening Muslim traders to vacate their shops by June 15 were spotted in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi on Monday, June 5, the Hindustan Times reported. This is the latest development after two people, one of whom belongs to a minority community, was caught in an alleged abduction attempt of a minor girl last month, the report said. 

“Love-jihadis are informed that they should vacate their shops before the mahapanchayat which is to be held on June 15. If you don’t do it then [the consequences] will depend on time,” the poster read in Hindi. 

According to Hindustan Times, 24-year-old Ubed Khan, a local shopkeeper, and 23-year-old Jitendar Sahni, a motorcycle mechanic, were arrested on May 27 and charged under the Protection Of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act for attempting to abduct a minor girl from the majority community. The case has sparked a campaign against “outsiders”, a term that right-wing organisations in the region use insidiously for members of the Muslim community.

The posters surfaced two days after members of right-wing organisations held protests in Barkot and reportedly attacked shops and houses belonging to Muslims, the Hindustan Times reported. Shops belonging to the community were also marked with a black cross during a rally led by a local outfit on Saturday, a Times of India report said. 

An affected local trader in the Purola market, who agreed to be identified only by his first name, Imroz, told TOI: “The posters asking us to leave or face action are an attempt to intimidate us. Over 30 shops have remained shut since May 26.”

“We have removed these posters and are identifying the anti-social elements who pasted them,” Uttarkashi superintendent of police (SP) Arpan Yaduvanshi told Hindustan Times.

According to people aware of the matter, the Purola main market has nearly 650-700 shops and of these, around 30-40 are run by Muslims, the HT report said.

“These posters were put up by local residents who want people from a particular community to leave the town to ensure peace and communal harmony. They came here on the pretext of doing business but are targeting girls and women from our community,” Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Virender Rana told Hindustan Times.

It had been reported earlier that the local traders’ association was asking Muslim shopkeepers to get a letter from their shop owner or landlord, “taking complete responsibility for their activities on a stamp paper”. Now, as many as nine landlords have reportedly asked their Muslim tenants to vacate their shops according to reports in Amar Ujala on Tuesday, June 6

“We are living in constant fear and cannot return to Purola in such an atmosphere. If they want us to leave the hills, authorities should compensate us for the property owned by us,” said 35-year-old Saleem, who runs a garment shop in Purola and has fled to his brother’s house in Dehradun. 

Another 40-year-old Muslim shopkeeper in the market, who did not wish to be identified, told Hindustan Times: “We condemn the abduction bid and demand strict action against the culprits. We don’t support people who indulge in criminal and illegal activities.”

On Monday, a few Muslim families also handed over a memorandum to Purola sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), highlighting the financial crisis they are facing and seeking security to reopen businesses. The memorandum, according to the Hindustan Times, also said that the administration will be held responsible if anything untoward happens to the Muslims.

Sources told The Wire that the string of bandhs (shutdowns) and calls for Muslims to leave are still on. After the bandhs in Purola, Uttarkashi and Barkot, the marker in Chinyalisaur has been shut down on Tuesday.

Apart from registering a case against unknown persons for putting up inflammatory posters, the police have not taken any action despite open calls threatening Muslims to leave or face adverse circumstances.

On being asked about these open calls and the nine landlords asking their Muslim tenants to leave, Purola SHO Khajan Singh Chauhan said, “This is between the landlords and the tenants. Now if I don’t want to rent my house or shop to a Muslim or Hindu or anyone from a different caste then that is my personal freedom. What can the police do about this?”

“No traders have given a call for Muslims to leave, nobody has given any hate speech and nothing of this sort has been reported to us,” Chauhan added. 

He also told The Wire that no organisation or persons have asked for permission to hold any such mahapanchayat. “Kaun kara raha hai mahapanchayat? Aise apne man se kara denge kya? Permission lene koi nahi aya hai (Who has organised the mahapanchayat? They can’t do it without police permission and no one has come to us asking for one),” Chauhan said over the phone.