In Photos: Police Enforce Denial of Permission To Controversial Mahapanchayat in Uttarakhand

Since early on Thursday, The Wire’s team spotted heavy police bandobast not just in the town but for about 35 km along the highway to Purola.

Purola (Uttarkashi district, Uttarakhand): Large police presence since Wednesday evening and the presence of all top district officials on the ground since Thursday morning ensured that the denial of permission to hold a controversial Mahapanchayat in the communally charged Purola town was implemented on June 15. The day passed by without incident in the town, located in Uttarkashi district.

Since early on Thursday, The Wire’s team spotted heavy police bandobast not just in the town but for about 35 km along the highway to Purola. A local police official said it was to thwart the mobilisation of people from nearby towns like Naugaon for the mahapanchayat called by Hindutva outfits Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan led by Darshan Bharti. The rally was planned to demand the expulsion of Muslims from the town.

Though some locals said a rally had been taken out in Naugaon on June 15, The Wire couldn’t confirm it independently.

The town has been under section 144 since June 14. Though no orders were issued to shut shops, the shops remained closed during the day as per a call by the local traders’ organisation to support the call for Mahapanchayat and to oppose the district administration’s denial of permission.

Purola has seen communal tension after an alleged attempt to kidnap an underaged Hindu girl by two youngsters, one a Hindu and the other a Muslim, was reported on May 26. While the girl was “rescued” by locals, and the police arrested the two accused, the locals claim it was an instance of ‘love jihad’ – a conspiracy theory put forth by right-wing groups. Several residents justified their standpoint by highlighting ‘similar incidents’ that took place across the region for ‘some years’.

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Though the permission for the Mahapanchayat was denied, Vikas Verma, the convenor of VHP’s Dehradun unit, was seen at the venue with a few members of the outfit. Clad in saffron from head to toe, he interacted freely with the visiting media persons even as the police watched.

On the same day, the Uttarakhand high court heard a petition against the mahapanchayat, with the petitioner arguing that a case must be registered against the organisers for asking the district magistrate to evict a “particular community”. The court asked the magistrate to examine the issue, but did not order the registration of a first information report. It, however, asked the government to maintain law and order and ensure that there is no loss of life or property.

“In the meantime, the State should ensure that proper assessment of the potential of any violence of any kind is made, before it permits the holding of any public meeting, or congregation of people in the State,” said the court order.

The court order also said that the petitioners, its associates and other persons are not permitted to engage with social media and shall not give interviews.

Here are a few scenes from Purola shot during the day by The Wire‘s team.

Police personnel on duty at Purola Market on June 15, 2023 even as the shopkeepers kept their shutters down as per a diktat of the local traders union. Photo: Atul Howale/The Wire

While local people could be seen interacting with electronic media personnel who arrived in Purola to cover the Mahapanchayat called by a set of Hindutva outfits on June 15, the market area of the small town was under prohibitory orders and was deserted towards the afternoon. Photo Atul Howale/The Wire

While the planned Mahapanchayat couldn’t take place due to the denial of permission by the district administration, Vikash Verma, the convenor of VHP, travelled from Dehradun to reach the venue. He interacted with the visiting media personnel. Photo: Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty/The Wire