Saturday, December 9, 2023

“Pure hate”: Muslims targetted in Uttarakhand town share ordeal

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What started as a local campaign against the right-wing conspiracy theory “love jihad” in Uttarakhand’s Purola has escalated into a full-fledged hate campaign targeting and forcing Muslims out of the Yamuna valley.

The term “love jihad” is an Islamophobic conspiracy theory more often propagated by proponents of the Hindutva ideology.

In the last two weeks – from May 26 till June 7 – at least 10 towns including Purola, Uttarkashi, Mori, Naugaon, Barkot, Chinyalisaur, Dunda, Damta, Netwar, Dehradun and Sankri have witnessed, strikes, hate rallies, physical attacks, calls for vacating the area, solely targeted towards Muslims.

On June 5, posters threatening Muslim traders to shut their shops and vacate the area before the scheduled Mahapanchayat by June 15 surfaced in Purola town. The posters bearing the name of ‘Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan’, a controversial hindutva organization, written in Hindi reads, “Love Jihadiyon ko suchit kiya jata hai ki dinak 15 June 2023 ko hone wali Mahapanchayat hone se purv apni dukene khali karden, yadi tumhare dwara esa nahi kiya jata to wo waqt par nirbhar karega. (This is to inform love jihadis that they should vacate their shops prior to the scheduled Mahapanchayat on June 15, if you fail to do so, the consequences depend on time).”

Apart from this, cross marks were also seen on some shops which are reportedly owned by Muslim traders in Uttarkashi, a town in Uttarakhand. Posters and boards of some shops were also removed and torn down by some “unidentified people”.

A Muslim shop owner, whose shop was marked with a black cross, refusing to be named told Maktoob, “Cross marks were made deliberately for our shops to be identified easily.”

He said, “It is done so that shops owned by Muslims can be easily identified and the marks are an attempt to scare and intimidate us.”

On June 3, Right-wing Hindu groups attacked the shops and houses belonging to Muslims in Barkot, and videos of the incident went viral on social media sites. Uttarkashi Police however has claimed to have removed the posters and is working to identify individuals responsible for pasting the posters.

Maktoob contacted Sub-Divisional Magistrate Jitendra Kumar to learn the entire issue; he hung up the call as soon as he was informed that the call was from a reporter. Repeated calls made by the reporter went unanswered.

On June 03, Devbhoomi Rakhsha Abhiyan, the outfit involved in the poster campaign against Muslim traders has called for a “Mahapanchayat” on June 15 and several right-wing Hindutva organizations, including Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, are expected to join the grand rally supposed to happen in Uttarakhand.

On June 5, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal also sent a letter to the District Magistrate of Tehri Garhwal urging the administration to restrict Muslims to trade in a particular belt of Uttarakhand. The letter read, “People of a particular community roam around as waste pickers, fruits, and ice cream vendors and they possess our women, religion, resources, and heritage of Uttarakhand.”

The letter also mentioned that locals of Uttarakhand had given 10 days to Muslims what they call a ‘Particular community’ till June 15 to leave the Yamuna valley.

They along with several Hindutva outfits including Hindu Yuva Vahini, Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Traders’ Union of Tehri Garhwal have also warned to protest on Yamuna Bridge and to block the highway on June 20 if no action will be taken for their demands.

The letter however didn’t mention which highway but precisely called for “Chakka Jam” as written in the letter.

‘Love jihad’ row sparks

The prevailing tense situation in Uttarakhand openly calling for ousting the Muslims trace back to the May 26 incident, when two youths, one Hindu and another Muslim were accused of abducting a minor girl, which further sparked the “love jihad” row in Puorla town. Obaid Khan (24) and Jitendra Saini (23) who allegedly tried to kidnap a minor were caught by locals and handed over to the police.

The duo is currently in police custody on several charges including sections 363 and 366A of the Indian Penal Code ad Protection of Children from sexual offences (POCSO) Act.

However, the incident snowballed into a communal flare-up against Muslims keeping in mind the religion of the one boy involved in the case furthering the case of what is being called a conspiracy of “love jihad.”

Hindu groups took out a rally and submitted a memorandum to the district administration to take action against what they termed as ‘perpetrators of love jihad’.

Locals say that the rally was violent and scary, as Hindu groups raised provocative slogans and abuses targeting Muslims in the locality – the Purola market.

A Muslim trader, requesting anonymity, said, “My kids were asking why they were abusing Muslims. I had no answer.”

The trader said that the Traders Union removed the Muslim traders from the Whatsapp groups before the protest on May 29. “It happened strategically. I have never seen such animosity in Purola. this is pure hate,” he told Maktoob.

May 29: Muslim-owned houses and shops attacked

The alleged abduction case sparked unrest in Purola and a protest march was called with the idea to ‘raise concerns over the incident’ but turned hostile and violent as protesters resorted to attacking houses and shops owned by Muslim residents.

The attacks, hostility, and targeted attacks towards Muslims have instilled a deep sense of horror, life threat, fear, and insecurity among them.

As a result, Muslim families residing in the town started to flee the area. At least 40 shops are shut since the protest with a fear of being attacked and targeted.

Sattar Khan (name changed on request) told Maktoob, “The situation was so scary on the day of protest and we thought that we won’t be able to live here peacefully, my kids are very young.”

“We knew that there will be protests. But I never expected such violent attacks and it shook me. I am educated enough to know what protest is, a peaceful march raising slogans making your demands, but it was pure hate,” he told Maktoob.

“So I decided that we should leave for safety and we moved out,” said Khan – father of two girls aged 3 and 5 – who had a business in his own shop Purola Market.

He declined to disclose to the reporter his real name and the place he relocated to, fearing being identified and attacked as he has property back in Purola. “We might go back when the situation will settle,” said Khan.

At least four people Maktoob spoke to were reluctant to be quoted by their names fearing the repercussions.

Another Muslim family, where the husband is a tailor and the wife gives tuition to children to meet their expenses, had to leave the town fearing for their lives.

“We can set up a tailor shop for my husband anywhere, but the studies of my students will suffer. The kind of environment children are being forced to live in now is going to impact them for life. Being a teacher, this concerns me,” the woman told Maktoob.

“They will find another teacher. But I wish to go back again once everything limps back to normal. And we hope it will”, she added.

They’ve left their tailor shop in the market as it is with all the goods and machines locked inside it since the day of the protest.

Maktoob spoke to six families in Purola whose shops have been shut since May 29. They are choosing to stay back. They told Maktoob that they are afraid to open their shops in such a ‘hostile atmosphere’.

They have written an application to Deputy Collector of Purola, Uttarkashi urging the administration to provide them security so they can resume the business and open their shops.

In the application – which Maktoob got access to – on June 6, written by the six traders mentioned: “The prolonged closure and the prevailing situation are severely affecting our livelihood and trade, our families are facing the consequences and we are concerned for our safety”.

The letter also mentioned that a copy of the same application has been sent to the Purola police station. The traders are yet to hear back from the administration.

Mohd Altaf (name changed on request), a resident in the town for decades, said, “We have never faced such a situation earlier, but we have properties, houses, and businesses established here for years, how can we go leaving behind everything.”

“Our children are enrolled in schools here. Their education will be hampered. Our businesses are effecting”, said Altaf.

He said, “We are scared in this environment. We are concerned for the security of our women.”

The trader is among those who have written to the city administration and said, “We are hopeful that something will come out of it. But we are not going to leave, this city belongs to us.”

A call for calm

On June 7, a group of at least 200 social justice organizations and non-governmental organizations wrote to President Dropadi Murmu criticizing the government’s role in what is being called a ‘hate-filled campaign’ in Uttarakhand and demanded an immediate intervention to safeguard lives and properties of people.

“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,” the letter handed over to the City Magistrate and Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) reads.

Nayyar Kazmi, All India Majlis e Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)’s President of Uttarakhand state has also written a letter to Dehardun’s Director General of Police (DGP) seeking action in the ongoing violence in Purola and other parts of Uttarakhand.

“People of Muslim Community in the region of Purola and adjacent areas are being attacked, threatened and harassed in the name of so-called ‘love jihad’ due to which they are forced to leave the area. With respect to the same I urge you to take serious action against the elements who are trying to disturb the communal harmony of Uttarakhand”, reads the letter directed towards DGP.

Kazmi told Maktoob, “We are trying to urge the Centre and state government to handle the volatile situation that has prevailed in the Uttarakhand; the authorities have assured us to take action.”

AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi has also demanded a ban on the Mahapanchayat proposed to be held by Hindu groups on June 15 and to bring back the citizens who had fled the Purola town fearing the loss of life.

Police Action

According to the affected citizens, the Police’s action in punishing the culprits who are inciting violence and giving open threatening calls against Muslims, for giving calls for holding Mahapanchayat has been complicit so far.

Maktoob tried to contact Purola SDM Devanand Sharma on his official and personal contact numbers, but it was unreachable.

A Muslim trader whose shop was attacked told Maktoob, “We have written a letter to authorities asking for security on June 5 and they are yet to respond to our demand.”

“Since May 27 we are living in constant fear. There is hardly any security or police deployment”, said the trader.

However, Surender Bhandari, Circle Officer Purola denied the claim made by the trader and said, “There is constant patrolling and police deployment in the area ever since the incident on May 27”

Muslim leaders in Uttarakhand have decided to hold a public gathering in Dehradun on June 18, to protest the targeted attack on the Muslim community by Hindutva militant organization, Hindustan Times reported.

On Sunday, Waseem Ahmed, media in charge of Muslim Seva Sangathan – an organization working in the state for the rights of Muslims, informed Hindustan Times that people from across the state will participate in the ‘Mahapanchayat’ on June 18.

Mohammad Ahmad Qasmi, Shehr Qazi in Dehradun, said that the culprit in the “Love jihad” case should be punished but the whole community is not responsible and they should not bore the brunt of an individual’s action.

The violent open calls for the extermination of Muslims from the state of Uttarakhand come despite, Supreme Court orders in 2018 and 2023 directing all the states to take strict action against hate speech. 

The Supreme Court on April 2023 directed all the states to take suo-moto cognizance in the cases of hate speeches and delay in filing such cases will be treated as contempt of court.

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