New Delhi: Videos of disturbing hate speeches and instances of vigilantism have emerged from Uttarakhand amidst the recent campaign by Hindutva supporters to drive out supposedly “illegal” Muslim shopkeepers and vendors from the state.
The new charge against the minority, that of “vyapar jihad” literally translates into “business jihad”. This is apart from the bogeys of “love jihad” and “land jihad”, which give credence to the imagined conspiracies of Muslim men converting Hindu women through marriage and occupying land respectively.
Sources say that the present drive was triggered by the news of two people – one named Ubaid and another named Jitender Saini – allegedly abducting a Hindu minor girl. The incident led to tensions that have pervaded the Purola district since May 26.
However, there are videos from before the alleged abduction showing Hindutva leaders calling for action against, “Love jihadi wolves who come in the forms of carpenters, mechanics, masons, electricians and plumbers.”
As per reports in the local press, some of the homes and shops belonging to the minority community were marked with an “X” sign.
The Times of India reported that even a BJP minority cell leader who had been living in the town for 25 years was forced to flee the town.
Timeline of events
The duo accused in the Purola abduction case were charged under sections of the POCSO act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) and arrested by the Uttarkashi police on May 26.
Subsequently, Hindutva groups took up this case and began calling it an instance of “love jihad.” Posters in the name of Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan, a local Hindutva outfit, surfaced in the area. The posters warned the minority community to leave the “devbhoomi” or “god’s land” and shut down their businesses before the Mahapanchayat on June 15, failing which they would face consequences in due course.
The leader of the outfit, Darshan Bharti, has reportedly denied pasting the posters though he accepted that the call for the Mahapanchayat is by him. He also told The Hindu newspaper, “I am meeting people from across town and urging them not to give their houses and shops on rent to people from the Muslim community. Almost 50% of them agreed with me.”
The bandh calls by local market unions, as per reports, are spiralling out of Purola and are gradually turning into a statewide campaign.
On May 29, a large rally by Hindutva supporters turned violent, leading to vigilantism. Local activists allege a lackadaisical approach by the state administration in not invoking Section 144 to stop the mobilisation. Now a letter by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to the administration has surfaced, asking the administration to ensure that “Muslims are evicted” from several cities, failing which a chakka jam or road blockade would be launched on June 20.
VHP and Bajrang Dal have sent a notice threatening to block roads on June 20th if the Muslims don't leave.
According to TOI, 11 shopkeepers have migrated from Purola, 3 from Barkot.
"Mahol theek nahi hai" one of the shop owners told me stating that he hasn't opened his shop. pic.twitter.com/PZAx3hnAtj
— Samriddhi K Sakunia (@Samriddhi0809) June 11, 2023
As of now, a criminal case has been filed by the police against only unnamed miscreants for marking minority establishments with cross marks. On the other hand, the Uttarkashi police has repeatedly claimed that it has made serious efforts to bring down the tension but repeat offenders continue to target the minority community.
Certain key speakers from the 2021 Haridwar Dharma Sansad – where calls for a Muslim genocide were made, sending shockwaves across the country – have been vocal about pushing out Muslims from the state.
One of the prominent Hindutva leaders leading this drive is Swami Darshan Bharti and his disciple Rakesh Uttarakhandi.
Based on the videos posted by these Hindutva leaders on their social media and their interviews to local YouTubers, The Wire has attempted to piece together the speeches of those driving the present anti-Muslim campaign in Uttarakhand.
To a local channel, Hindutva activist Rakesh Tomar Uttarakhandi said, “We have worked to chase ‘jihadis’ from the hills under Swami Darshan Bharti for the last eight…We have given them a ten-day ultimatum.”
Darshan Bharti said, “I thank the people of Yamuna valley who have given a message to the entire people of Uttarakhand that the state will be free of ‘jihad’. I am telling you that ‘jihadis’ should not be given work because they eye on our land, women and businesses. We are only awakening the people. This is our first phase.”
The Haridwar Dharma Sansad
The Wire had also reported that between December 17 and 19, a large collection of major religious leaders, right-wing activists, hardline fundamentalist militants and Hindutva organisations came together at Haridwar for an event called the ‘Dharma Sansad’ or ‘religious parliament’. Over the course of three days, this event had witnessed an extraordinary outpouring of hate speech, mobilisations to violence and anti-Muslim sentiment. At the Dharma Sansad, Bharti and others had talked about how the “devbhoomi” is being infiltrated.
At the Haridwar Dharma Sansad, Bharti spoke about “Islamic activities in the devbhoomi.” He said that even Aurangzeb had not managed to conquer the devbhoomi and claimed that its people have not allowed any mosque to be built there since 2015.
“No mazar was allowed to be built.. No madrasa was allowed to be built…Remember this too…Learn this from these poor…I definitely wish to put to you people that only after saving that shrine of Hindu religion can we talk of a Hindu nation…If India follows the path shown by Shankaracharya ji, then surely this saint will give you this knowledge,” he said.
The Wire had reported how in 2019, members of Bharti’s group, the Uttarakhand Raksha Abhiyan, had reportedly circulated 1.5 lakh pamphlets that incited Hindus to stand up against alleged changes in the demography of the state because of Muslims. Bharti was briefly incarcerated after this, having been arrested on charges of instigating communal violence against minorities after instances of looting and arson of shops belonging to the minority community were linked to his Facebook posts.
In a video uploaded two days ago on Facebook, Prabodhanand, the president of the Dharma Sansad in Haridwar extended support to Darshan Bharti in leading the campaign to evict “jihadis” from the state.
“You forced jihadis to leave. You have taught them a lesson in Purola. Jihadis should be taught a lesson in the entire Uttarakhand. Every single jihadi should be evicted from Uttarakhand. Only then can the devbhoomi can be protected…If you want to protect your temples and shrines then Uttarakhand has to be made free of these jihadis,” he said.
The video ends with a slogan: “Save the devbhoomi, chase the jihadis.”
Prabodhanand, in the 2021 Dharma Sansad too, had made an open call for Muslims’ extermination.
“We have to make preparations,” said Swami Prabodhanand Giri, president of the Hindu Raksha Sena, a right-wing organisation based out of Uttarakhand.
“And I’ll tell you what those preparations are. I will make myself clear, this is the solution, and if you follow this solution, then the path is made for you…in Myanmar, Hindus were being chased away. The politicians, government and police were just standing and watching. They started by killing them by cutting their necks, and not only this, but they began to cut them in the streets and eat them. The people watching thought we are going to die, we are not going to live.”
Another priest at the Dharma Sansad has been advocating the total ban on the entry of non-Hindus in Uttarakhand. Recently, he had endorsed the government’s demolition drive against “illegal shrines,” a move criticised by observers as targeting the minority community. At the Dharma Sansad, Swaroop had clearly said that Haridwar is the land of Hindus and non-Hindu festivals like Christmas should not be allowed. “We have written to nearly 300 hotels that they should not entertain Christmas celebrations at their places on December 25. If they still go ahead, they will have to face the consequences,” he had said.
A September 2021 Uttarakhand government order to the police and administrative officers to track “illegal land deals” based on fears around the changing demography of the state is also a contributing factor to tensions.
The statement issued by the Pushkar Singh Dhami-led Bharatiya Janata Party government had said: “Due to unprecedented rise in population in certain areas of the state, the demography of those areas has been majorly affected. And due to this demographic change, members of a certain community are forced to migrate from those areas. Also, there are possibilities that the communal harmony in those areas may be disturbed.”
The statement added: “A list of all such people should be made who have a criminal background and are living in Uttarakhand. A verification of their profession and domicile status should be done to make their records. The DMs (district magistrates) should also monitor the illegal land dealings in their districts and check whether someone is selling his land out of fear or pressure. If it is found so, then they should stop it and take strict action against those responsible for it (sic).”
Qurban Ali, the petitioner in the Haridwar hate speech case, feels that the government in Uttarakhand has failed to implement Supreme Court orders on hate speech.
Dismayed by what he describes as the lack of political will to act against repeat offenders, Qurban said, “When no option is left we go to the Supreme court but merely registering an FIR won’t help. The police have to act on the FIRs and make arrests. Lack of action has emboldened these people. Last time, when the Supreme Court intervened, the administration was forced to stop these hate assemblies and the temperatures were suddenly brought down.”
Calls for peace and demands for accountability
A memorandum by local civil society members and opposition parties in at least 10 districts expressed anger at the attitude of state law enforcement authorities. It called upon the government to take action against the “unconstitutional environment of hate” being created in the state.
“The safety of every citizen is the responsibility of the government, but despite repeated strict orders from the Supreme Court and communal propaganda in various cities of the state, the government is not seen to be taking any steps,” it read. A social activist who is part of this memorandum pointed out that the present drive should be seen in the context of recent campaigns against Vanngujjars by the same set of Hindutva activists.
In Dehradun, the memorandum was handed over to the City Magistrate and Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order). During the programme, Kamla Pant, president of Uttarakhand Mahila Manch, said that any kind of sexual violence and crime against any woman cannot be tolerated and it was on this issue that the people of Uttarakhand took to the streets when Ankita Bhandari’s murder happened. But creating a communal atmosphere on the pretext of such incidents and targeting a particular community is a criminal act in itself, Pant said.
Indu Nautiyal of the Janwadi Mahila Samiti said that such an environment is being created in the state in which communities are not able to maintain their businesses and are feeling insecure. Samar Bhandari of the Communist Party of India said that this is also in contempt of the orders of the Supreme Court.
Highlighting the series of eviction drives, mob violence and hate speech in the state, over two hundred organisations and concerned citizens also wrote an open letter to the President of India, expressing concerns.
“This type of violent, hate filled atmosphere has never existed in the state of Uttarakhand. The real development of the state can happen only through these principles. The ongoing hate-filled efforts will only harm our country,” the letter reads. Local activists allege that the anti-Muslim mobilisation has only escalated in recent months.
Earlier, a letter dated May 30 by senior Supreme Court advocates to the government of Uttarakhand highlighted how the SC order in the hate speech case has not been implemented in its spirit.
The letter said how in 2018, in its judgment in the Tehseen Poonawalla vs. Union of India and Ors. case, the Supreme Court directed all state governments to proactively act against hate speech and mob violence, including through appointing nodal officers who will “also make efforts to eradicate hostile environment against any community or caste which is targeted in such incidents.”
The letter also said:
“Further, as per the Court’s 21.10.2022 order in Shaheen Abdullah vs. Union of India (WP(C) 940/2022), the states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi were specifically directed to “ensure that immediately 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 motu action will be taken to register cases even if no complaint is forthcoming and proceed against the offenders in accordance with law.”
The letter was addressed to the Uttarakhand governor.
It also highlighted a National Commission for Minorities report against Hindutva activist Rakesh Tomar Uttarakhandi, who allegedly threatened the Van Gujjar community to leave their land by April 10 or be ready for consequences.
The community, which predominantly comprises Muslims, had to appeal to the District Magistrate after being threatened by the Hindutva activist. However, no serious action was taken against the activist.
On April 20, a Dharma Sabha was reportedly held by Rudra Sena in the state’s Chakrata region, where hate speeches were made calling for the economic boycott of minorities, and a ban on the settlement of “non-Sanatanis” in the state, the letter said.
They had even declared that “peace cannot prevail in the world, unless every ‘jihadi’ is eliminated.”
It is pertinent to note that as per the letter, which was reported by the Times of India, one of the speakers at the event was Prabhodanand Giri. He’s also named in the FIR that was lodged after a similar event in Haridwar in December 2021 had attracted international outrage and condemnation from senior retired officers of the armed Forces as well as large sections of civil society.
As per the letter, the speeches in Chakrata were posted on Facebook. The police also claimed that they had videographed the event,
but they said they had received no complaints.