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Uttarakhand Mahapanchayat Could Lead to Communal Tension, Petitions Urge CJI To Prevent It

Ashok Vajpeyi and Apoorvanand, and the PUCL in separate letters, have noted that Muslim traders are being warned to leave Purola town and that the meeting by right-wing groups "could be a precursor to large scale violence".

New Delhi: In two separate letter petitions, Hindi scholars Ashok Vajpeyi and Apoorvanand and the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties have asked the Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud and Uttarakhand high court Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi to prevent a mahapanchayat from happening in Uttarakhand’s Purola town on June 15 because it could lead to communal tensions and large-scale violence.

The petitions seeking judicial intervention ahead of the Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan’s mahapanchayat comes hours after 52 former civil servants wrote to Uttarakhand’s chief secretary and police chief expressing their concern about communal tensions in the state.

“If the mahapanchayat is allowed to happen, it could lead to a boil in communal tensions in the state. Muslim traders are reportedly being warned to leave Purola town before the mahapanchayat takes place … This could be a precursor to large-scale violence,” Vajpeyi and Apoorvanand say in the letter.

They also mention an ultimatum given to the state’s Muslim community by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan to leave the state. They note that these incidents are part of a trend where minority religious groups are targeted and intimidated through hate speech.

Writing that such events are incompatible with the rule of law and parliamentary democracy, Vajpeyi and Apoorvanand write to the judges “hoping for prompt action in [their] capacity as head of the judiciary to take immediate action to prevent the mahapanchayat from taking place on June 15, 2023”.

Also Read: Cross Marks on Doors, Cries of Extermination: How Uttarakhand Became Our Hate Speech Capital

Posters surfaced in Purola threatening the town’s Muslim community to shut their businesses after two people, a Hindu and a Muslim, allegedly abducted a minor Hindu girl. Also, shops belonging to Muslims in the nearby town of Barkot were marked with black crosses.

“A multi-layered discriminatory public campaign led by certain groups such as Bajrang Dal, VHP for the last few months and continuing till date have been systematically targeting the Muslim community,” says the PUCL’s letter. “During the course of these campaign they has used terms like “Vyapar Jihad” (Business Jihad), “Love Jihad,” and “Land Jihad” to instigate fear and hatred among the majority community which has created an atmosphere of violence and insecurity against the Muslims living in the region, causing an exodus… Papers like Amar Ujala and Hindustan have reported that a letter has been sent by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to the Tehri District Magistrate giving an ultimatum to members of the Muslims Community to leave the Jaunpur valley and in particular the towns of Nainbagh, Jakhar, Nagtibba, Thatyur, Saklana, Damta, Purola, Barkot and Uttarkashi. The threat specifies that if Muslims don’t respond to their ultimatum of leaving the areas themselves, these organizations will organise a chakka jam in Tehri on 20.06.2023.”

“The campaign was based on an incident of alleged abduction of a Hindu minor girl in Purola by two accused (belonging to both Hindu and Muslim communities) and has been escalated as proof of ‘love jihad’. It should be noted that no governmental organisation or data has ever substantiated the existence of ‘love jihad’, or forcible conversions in the guise of fraudulent romantic relationships, but that the concept has been used to buttress hate-speech against Muslims across the country in recent times. The current situation in Uttarakhand is playing out similarly.”

In such a situation, says the PUCL letter, “the state’s failure to take adequate action is notable given that this was brought to their attention in an open letter dated May 30, written by the Lawyers of the Supreme Court of India to the Governor of Uttarakhand. The letter also noted specifically the actions of the previously mentioned entities in relation to hate-speech and past communal violence.”

The two letter petitions by (1) Vajpeyi and Apoorvanand and (2) PUCL are appended below.

§

June 13, 2023

To,
The Hon’ble Chief Justice of India,
Supreme Court of India,
Tilak Marg, New Delhi – 110001
[email protected]
011-23386178 (Secretary General)

The Hon’ble Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court
Nainital, Uttarakhand
[email protected]
FAX: 05942-237721, 05942-231692

URGENT APPEAL FOR PREVENTION OF COMMUNAL VIOLENCE IN UTTARAKHAND

SUB: Proposed ‘Mahapanchayat on 15 June 2023 against Muslims in Uttarakhand in the name of protection of “DaveBhumi”.

Respected Sir,

1. This is to bring to your kind notice that a ‘mahapanchayat’ is scheduled to be held on June 15, amid continued communal tension, in Purola. Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. If the Mahapanchayat is allowed to happen, it could lead to a boil in communal tensions in the State. Muslim traders are reportedly being warned to leave Purola town before the Mahapanchayat takes place. Posters threatening Muslim traders to shut shops and leave the state by 15 June have recently surfaced. Due to the tension and threats. Muslim residents have already shut their shops and some families have migrated from the district. In fact, there is a Facebook post that states that the State Administration would not ask the traders to keep the shops open. This could be a precursor to a large scale violence.

2. There are confirmed reports that there is internal displacement as Muslims as fleeing their houses. The constitution guarantees the right to reside anywhere in Article 19 of the Constitution.

3. On May 29, a major rally was taken out in Purola by right-wing bodies demanding that Muslims leave the town. In videos of the rally that subsequently went viral, mobs can be seen attacking Muslim-owned shops, despite the presence of the police. Posters warning Muslim traders of ‘dire consequences’ were pasted on shopfronts. The posters were undersigned by a group called the ‘Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan’. A protest was again held on June 3, under the banner of Yamuna Ghati Hindu Jagriti Sangathan. in which hundreds of people took part. This harassment is not just limited to Purola Town. In the nearby Barkot, shutters of shops owned by Muslims have been reportedly marked with a black cross.

4. Ultimatums have also been issued Besides the 15 June Mahapanchayat threat indicated oil the posters pasted on Muslim-run shops. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has written a letter to the Tehri Garhwal District Administration giving an ultimatum to Muslims who are euphemistically referred to as the “particular community” in the letter, stating that 10 days’ worth of time has been given to them to leave from many mentioned belts of Uttarakhand. The VHP, in its letter, wrote that if this doesn’t happen, then they along with the Hindu Yuva Vahini and Traders’ Union of Tehri Garhwal will block the highway on 20 June in protest.

5. These aforementioned events are in the context of widespread or systematic hate speeches directed against minority religious groups in the recent past, which have created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. On the 17th & 19th of December 2021, at two separate events organised in Delhi (by the Hindu Yuva Vahini) and Haridwar (by Yati Narsinghanand), hate speeches calling for the genocide of Muslims in order to achieve ethnic cleansing, were openly made in flagrant violation of the law. It was the intervention of the Hon’ble Supreme Court which forced the state administration to act against the organizers of the aforesaid event. The threat of holding a Mahapanchayat on 15 June is part of a series of such similar events that have taken place in the past.

6. Indeed, the events in Uttarkashi are illustrative of the State Government’s failure to follow the guidelines in Tehseen Poonawala v. Union of India, (2018) 9 SCC 501. These guidelines, inter alia, provided for “preventive measures” to be undertaken by the State Governments to prevent precisely the events currently unfolding in Uttarkashi. Uttarakhand. The guidelines state:

40.1. The state governments shall designate a senior police officer inti below the rank of superintendent of police, as nodal officer in each district. Such nodal officer shall be assisted by one of the DSP rank officers in the district for taking measures to prevent incidents of mob violence and lynching. They shall constitute a special task force so as to procure intelligence reports about the people who are likely to commit such crimes or who are involved in spreading hate speeches, provocative statements and fake news.

40.10. It shall be the duty of the central government as well as the state governments to take steps to curb and stop dissemination of irresponsible and explosive messages, videos and other material on various social media platforms which have a tendency to incite mob violence and lynching of any kind.

7. Thus, urgent judicial intervention is required to protect the life, limb, and property of those under attack and against whom the Mahapanehayat has been scheduled to be held on the 15th of June.

8. Under these circumstances, I am writing to your Lordship hoping for prompt action in your capacity as the head of the judiciary to take immediate action to prevent the Mahapanchayat from taking place on 15 June 2023. It is also respectfully urged that directions may be issued to the state government of Uttarakhand to take the necessary steps to protect the lives of those under threat. Further, those who have been forced to leave their shops and homes should be provided compensation and rehabilitated with the adequate protection. It is respectfully submitted that such events are anathema to the rule of law and cannot be countenanced in a parliamentary democracy. They threaten the very secular fabric which binds the country together.

Yours truly,

Ashok Vajpeyi

Apoorvanand

§

LETTER PETITION

TO CHIEF JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

13 June, 2023

 

To
Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud,
The Hon’ble Chief Justice,
Supreme Court of India.

    1. We are writing this letter as People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) to bring to your attention the alarming rise of hate speech, vigilantism, and targeted communal violence against the minority Muslim community in Uttarakhand in the last few days.
    2. We are a civil liberties and human rights organisation formed in 1976 by Sh. Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Kriplani, Krishna Kant and others. Justice V.M. Tarkunde, Justice Rajindar Sachar, Rajni Kothari, K.G. Kannabiran and other  legal luminaries. PUCL has been at the forefront of the defence of the freedom of speech and expression in its work ever since its inception. However, as per human rights standards both internationally as well as in the Indian Constitution, the freedom of speech and expression does not extend to the ‘advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’  as per Article 19 of the International Covenant  on Civil and Political Rights. Article 19 (2) envisages a restriction of the freedom of speech and expression on the ground of ‘incitement of an offence’. It is precisely this dangerous transgression of the limits of free speech which threatens the life, liberty and property of an entire constitutionally protected grouping, in Uttarakhand that we wish to bring to your kind attention.
    3. We submit this petition to draw your immediate attention to the alarming rise of hate speech, vigilantism, and targeted communal violence against the minority Muslim community in Uttarakhand and to request you to kindly direct the state government of Uttarakhand and the concerned authorities to take immediate measures to redress  violent hate campaign, incitement to violence, increased insecurity in the minority community which is resulting in many being coerced into leaving their homes.
    4. A multi-layered discriminatory public campaign led by certain groups such as Bajrang Dal, VHP for the last few months and continuing till date have been systematically targeting the Muslim community. During the course of these campaign they has used terms like “Vyapar Jihad” (Business Jihad), “Love Jihad,” and “Land Jihad” to instigate fear and hatred among the majority  community which has created an atmosphere of violence and insecurity against the Muslims living in the region, causing an exodus
    5. The situation threatens to escalate by June 15, 2023 in Purola in the district Uttarkashi, where a ‘Mahapanchayat’ (a mega assembly) is being planned by several groups who have come under the leadership of Swami Darshan Bharti of Debhoomi Raksha Abhiyan. The Hindustan Times has reported that posters have been put up in Purola threatening  owners of Muslim owned shops to vacate before the Mahapanchayat. The link to the report can be found here – https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/posters-asking-muslim-traders-to-leave-surface-in-uttarakhand-101685991761377.html
    6. Papers like Amar Ujala  and Hindustan have reported that a letter has been sent by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to the Tehri District Magistrate giving an ultimatum to members of the Muslims Community to leave the Jaunpur valley and in particular the towns of Nainbagh, Jakhar, Nagtibba, Thatyur, Saklana, Damta, Purola, Barkot and Uttarkashi. The threat specifies that if Muslims don’t respond to their ultimatum of leaving the areas themselves, these organizations will organise a chakka jam in Tehri on 20.06.2023. The report of Hindustan, a Hindi newspaper detailing the contents of this letter can be found here – reporhttps://www.livehindustan.com/uttarakhand/story-communal-tension-tehri-district-after-uttarkashi-particular-community-people-warned-leave-city-within-10-days-8282992.html
    7. The continuous barrage of hate filled campaigning has already led to the exodus of numerous Muslim families. It will also provoke an already volatile situation into systemic communal violence on a large scale, unless the state takes immediate and urgent proactive measures to stop both the hate campaigns as also to prevent violent attacks to take place.
    8. The campaign was based on an incident of alleged abduction of a Hindu minor girl in Purola by two accused (belonging to both Hindu and Muslim communities) and has been escalated as proof of ‘love jihad’. It should be noted that no governmental organisation or data has ever substantiated the existence of ‘love jihad’, or forcible conversions in the guise of fraudulent romantic relationships, but that the concept has been used to buttress hate-speech against Muslims across the country in recent times. The current situation in Uttarakhand is playing out similarly.
    9. The Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan is an organisation operating in the area, which issued posters demanding that Muslims in the area flee their residences on threat of violence. They were joined by local community leaders like Swami Darshan Bharti and Rakesh Uttarakhandi, who also called for the forced eviction of Muslims while making hate-speech against the community. Evidence of these speeches are available in videos currently seeing wide circulation, and are contributing to the deterioration of communal harmony in the area.
    10. Local press has also reported that homes and shops belonging to Muslims have been marked with an ‘X’, and long standing residents including a BJP Minority Cell Leader (Mohammed Zaid), have been forced to flee their homes due to the threat of violence.
    11. The threats were consolidated and escalated on May 29, when a rally organised by groups of the majority Hindu communities of the ruling BJP parties with the support of trade unions, turned violent, with mob violence against home and shops in the area. Reports suggest senior leaders of the ruling party have been involved with these rallies, with the District General Secretary of ruling party, Prakash Kumar Dabral, saying, “We will not let them do business here, will not let them open shops. Then they will leave on their own.”
    12. These demands go against the spirit of the Preamble which rests on the spirit of the fraternity. These consistent hate speeches attack the dignity of the individuals, threatens not only their livelihood but also their life based on their religious identity i.e. Muslims. It reduces the Muslim citizens to second class citizenship and creates both institutional and popular sentiment to view them as lesser than. As ground situation shows, it does not stop with seeing Muslims as lesser than but goes on to instigate targeted violence against them, their property and a series of their fundamental rights. The violent targeting of a religious group with the intent of removing them from a geography, holds alarming similarities to genocidal tactics. This is not an exaggeration, as the primary leaders of this campaign have also previously been involved in explicit calls for the mass-murder of Muslims, at speeches given at the Haridwar Dharma Sansad of 2022. The common leader between the Dharam Sansad of 2022 and the hate campaigns now is Swami Prabodhanand Giri Mahamandaleshwar who is a repeat offender. This court has critically intervened when it came to the hate speeches made in Dharam Sansad and directed the state to register FIRs against the accused. A brief profile of the antecedents of Swami Prabodhanand Giri Mahamandaleshwar can be found here  https://www.thequint.com/news/india/haridwar-dharam-sansad-yati-narsinghanand-jitendra-tyagi-bjp#read-more
    13. This also follows from the incitement to genocide on April 20 2023, at a Dharma Sabha in Uttarakhand organised by the fundamentalist group, the Rudra Sena, where calls for an economic boycott of minorities & and a ban on the settlement of “non-Sanatanis” in the state were made.
    14. They declared that “peace cannot prevail in the world unless every ‘jihadi’ is eliminated.” The leader of the Rudra Sena, one Rakesh Tomar Uttarakhandi, has previously made speeches calling for the Van Gujjar community (a primarily Muslim tribal group) to evict the area on threat of violence.
    15. Swami Darshan Bharti, mentioned above in paragraph 4 is leading the call for mass evictions. He was among those making hate speeches at the Dharma Sansad. His group, Uttarakhand Raksha Abhiyan, has previously circulated 1.5 lakh pamphlets inciting Hindus to stand up against alleged changes in the demography of Uttarakhand because of Muslims in 2019. He has been previously jailed after his hate-speech inspired physical attacks on Muslims.
    16. Following are a few links corroborating the above facts:a. Post 1 by Swami Prabodhanand Giri Mahamandaleshwar https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1176625616336285&id=100002420099047&mibextid=CDWPTGb. Post 2 by Swami Prabodhanand Giri Mahamandaleshwar https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2491178251042485&id=100002420099047&mibextid=Nif5oz

      c. Post 3 by Swami Prabodhanand Giri Mahamandaleshwar https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid02CaosTehfX9bNd2dfDZHc5ajiCrC7AprGugCVDEJGi8iRz1BFnCgiwsLvgy6emEVLl&id=100002420099047&mibextid=CDWPTG

      d. Post 4 by Swami Prabodhanand Giri Mahamandaleshwar https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid02CaosTehfX9bNd2dfDZHc5ajiCrC7AprGugCVDEJGi8iRz1BFnCgiwsLvgy6emEVLl&id=100002420099047&mibextid=CDWPTG

      e. Post 5 by Swami Prabodhanand Giri Mahamandaleshwar https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid02mvGJdgXfNpWPQ3H3Qha76miGtrWvpF71FkXLRXXG56Lse3BmBooJjkcJz1vUT5V7l&id=100002420099047&mibextid=CDWPTG

    17. All of these speeches, posts, fall squarely within the understanding of hate speech that this very court has provided in Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v Union of India. As the Supreme Court observed:

“7. Hate speech is an effort to marginalise individuals based on their membership in a group. Using expression that exposes the group to hatred, hate speech seeks to delegitimise group members in the eyes of the majority, reducing their social standing and acceptance within society. Hate speech, therefore, rises beyond causing distress to individual group members. It can have a societal impact. Hate speech lays the groundwork for later, broad attacks on vulnerable that can range from discrimination, to ostracism, segregation, deportation, violence and, in the most extreme cases, to genocide.” A copy of this judgement is annexed as Annexure – A.

The situation in Uttarakhand of fear amongst the Muslims, the exodus and threat of violence are the visible harms of hate speech in action as noted by this Supreme Court. More so, the reality presents alarming similarities to the ground work before a genocide.

18. In such a situation the state’s failure to take adequate action is notable given that this was brought to their attention in an open letter dated May 30, written by the Lawyers of the Supreme Court of India to the Governor of Uttarakhand. The letter also noted specifically the actions of the previously mentioned entities in relation to hate-speech and past communal violence.

19. This is despite this honourable Supreme Court in W.P. No.940 of 2022 directing the state of Uttarakhand vide its order dated 21.10.22 “to ensure that immediately as and when any speech or any action takes place which attracts offences such as section 153A, 153B and 295A and 505 of the IPC etc., suo motto action will be taken to register cases even if no complaint is forthcoming and proceed against the offenders in accordance with law.” A copy of this order is annexed as Annexure – B.

20. It is important to note that the Hon’ble Supreme Court has been deeply concerned at the rise of hate speech and mob violence in the country and in Uttarakhand in particular. On 17.07.2018, in its judgement in Tehseen Poonawalla vs. Union of India and Ors., the Court directed all State governments to proactively act against hate speech and mob violence. A copy of this judgement is annexed as Annexure – C.

21. 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 moto action will be taken to register cases even if no complaint is forthcoming and proceed against the offenders in accordance with law,”. Despite this till date no FIR’s have been registered by the police.

Given the grave threat to the lives and property of minorities and the dereliction of constitutional duty of the State, in Uttarakhand we urge the Hon’ble Supreme Court:

  1. Urgently intervene by directing the Chief Secretary, Government of Uttarakhand and the Director General of Police to personally ensure that the Mahapanchayat scheduled to take place at Purola on 15.06.2023 and the rally and chakka jam programme on Tehri on 20.06.2023 are denied permissions based on the harm caused by the continuing hate campaigns to the constitutional fabric of the State.
  2. The Chief Secretary and DGP, Uttarakhand should be held accountable for the dereliction of their constitutional duty to protect all citizens and ensure law and order in the State.
  3. To direct the concerned authorities to immediately register FIR’s under the relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 against Swami Prabodhanand Giri Mahamandaleshwar, Swami Darshan Bharti, Rakesh Uttarakhandi and Prakash Kumar Dabral, amongst others who threatening the right to life, livelihood and residence of Muslim population in the State of Uttarakhand.
  4. To ensure initiation of a thorough investigation regarding the role of organisations such as Rudra Sena, Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal among others, into the incidents of hate speech, vigilantism, and violence targeting the minority community in Uttarakhand taking place in an unabated manner with the full and tacit support of the state administration and police.
  5. Ensure the implementation of Supreme Court orders regarding hate speech and mob violence, including the appointment of nodal officers to eradicate hostile environments against targeted communities as spelt out by this court in Tehseen Poonawala case and Shaheen Abdulla cases.
  6. Provision of adequate protection to the minority community and individuals, both in their residence as also in their shops and business areas, who are at risk due to the ongoing campaign of hatred.
  7. Issuance of clear directives to the state government and law enforcement agencies to maintain law and order, protect minority rights, and prevent any further incidents of violence.

We firmly believe that the judiciary, as the guardian of justice and protector of citizens’ rights, has the power and responsibility to uphold the constitutional values of equality, secularism, and social harmony. By addressing this petition, your Lordship would not only ensure justice for the affected communities but also uphold the principles of our democratic society.

We earnestly request your urgent attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Kavita Srivastava, President
V. Suresh, General Secretary