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regular-article-logo Thursday, 13 June 2024

Uttarakhand: ‘Love jihad’ protesters in Uttarkashi adamant on panchayat

Sources in the Uttarkashi superintendent of police’s office told this newspaper that DM Abhishek Ruhela and SP Arpan Yaduvanshi had met the mahapanchayat organisers with the request on Monday evening but were turned down

Piyush Srivastava Lucknow Published 14.06.23, 05:10 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File photo

Pro-Hindutva organisations in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, accused of driving out Muslim shopkeepers from Purola town, have refused the administration’s request to put off their June 15 mahapanchayat against what they call “love jihad”, officials said.

Sources in the Uttarkashi superintendent of police’s office told this newspaper that district magistrate Abhishek Ruhela and SP Arpan Yaduvanshi had met the mahapanchayat organisers with the request on Monday evening but were turned down.

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Local reporters later quoted Yaduvanshi as saying that the administration had not given permission for themahapanchayat and was “thinking of imposing Section 144 CrPC”, which will ban assemblies of more than four people.

Brijmohan Chauhan, chief of the Purola Vyapar Mandal, a pro-Hindutva traders’ body, told The Telegraph over the phone on Tuesday that the mahapanchayat would be held on schedule but denied that his outfit was among the organisers.

“Ordinary residents, not us, called the mahapanchayat. Nobody has asked any Muslim trader to leave Purola but wrongdoers with a terrorist mindset have done so on their own,” he said.

“The administration has asked Muslim traders not to leave the place and open their shops as usual, but they have their own fears. We can’t help it.”

Reminded that the district and divisional presidents of the minority cell of the ruling BJP — Mohammad Zahid Malik and Shakeel Ahmad — had told reporters they had closed their garment shops and were migrating to Dehradun, Chauhan was dismissive.

“Maybe they committed some crime in the past and fear exposure. People from Saharanpur and other areas open a shop here and then bring 5 or 10 workers from somewhere. They also keep changing their workers every month,” he said.

“We had demanded that the government ensure their police verification but it didn’t happen. Incidents of love jihad are on the rise here and we need to be alert.”

Local pro-Hindutva bodies have accused the sons of Muslim shopkeepers in Purola of carrying out a “love jihad” — an unsubstantiated claim of a Muslim conspiracy to trap Hindu women into marriage and conversion.

Chauhan added: “Purola is a tribal area and the local people are determined to organise their peaceful mahapanchayat against Muslim aggression.”

He claimed he was not associated with any political party.

Ankit Rawat, head of the Purola Pradhan Sangathan, a pro-Hindutva body of village chiefs, told local reporters: “The mahapanchayat will take place on the given date because it is related to people’s lives.”

'Eviction' drive

Local reporters quoted Riyayat Ali, a scrap dealer in Purola, as saying: “I have been here for the last 45 years. Neither I nor anyone else from my family ever committed any wrong. Still, someone pasted a printed notice on my shop on Monday night, warning me to leave the shop by June 15 or face the consequences.”

Many Muslim-owned shops have had notices pasted on them saying: “This is to inform the love jihadis to vacate their shops before the mahapanchayat of June 15. Time will tell you what will happen if you don’t.”

Some other shops have been pasted with notices asking the owners to participate in the mahapanchayat.

The notices bear the names “Devbhumi Raksha Abhiyan” or “Devbhumi Raksha Sangathan”, shadowy organisations that local journalists said they knew nothing about.

Contacted by this newspaper, SP Yaduvanshi expressed his inability to talk. “I’ll call you back,” he said but had till late evening not done so.

Karan Singh Naganyal, inspector-general of police, Garhwal region, was quoted by local reporters as saying: “The mahapanchayat is meaningless when the police have arrested the accused and sent them to jail. A platoon of the Provincial Armed Constabulary has been deployed there (in Purola) to maintain peace.”

He was referring to last month’s arrest of two youths, Jitendra Saini of Bijnore and Ubaid Khan of Purola, on the charge of trying to lure a minor Hindu girl to elope with them.

By the last week of May, the pro-Hindutva organisations had begun protesting against "love jihad" and carrying out stray attacks on Muslim youths.

Ex-bureaucrats’ plea

On Monday, the Constitutional Conduct Group of retired bureaucrats wrote an open letter to Uttarakhand chief secretary S.S. Sandhu and director-general of police Ashok Kumar, seeking “immediate action on the communal situation in the state”.

“We write today to express our deep concern at the developing situation in Uttarakhand…. We wish to draw, in particular, your attention to the fact that threats have been made regarding a mahapanchayat proposed to be held on 15 June 2023 in the town of Purola and a rally on 20 June 2023 at Tehri, both explicitly associated with calls to expel Muslims from these areas,” the letter read.

“We call upon you to ensure that no such criminal, communal or intimidatory programme is permitted to take place on these dates or otherwise, and that the state police and administration functions as per the Constitution, the law, and the multiple directions of the Supreme Court to act against hate speech and mob violence.”

The letter said 42 Muslim families had fled Purola till May 28 and many more were about to leave the town and other areas.

It blamed chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, saying: “We finally note that this intimidation campaign is being justified on the grounds of so-called love jihad and that the chief minister of the state has been repeatedly making public statements claiming that love jihad will not be tolerated in the state, notwithstanding that it is against both the law and our Constitution to target entire communities on the basis of supposed wrongdoing by individuals.”

The letter asked the administration to “ensure that no communal, intimidatory, hate focused or other programme is permitted to be held on June 15th, June 20th, or any other date in the state of Uttarakhand”.

On Tuesday, Dhami said: “There is peace in Uttarkashi. Nobody would be allowed to disturb peace in the state.”

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