Uttarakhand communal strife: Sec 144 imposed; HC to hear plea against Hindutva mahapanchayat

Supreme Court vacation bench refused to hear the petition to halt the 'mahapanchayat' scheduled for June 15 in Uttarakhand's Purola town

Uttarakhand High Court (photo: NH file photo)
Uttarakhand High Court (photo: NH file photo)

Ashlin Mathew

Communal tensions have been brewing in Uttarakhand's Purola town for the last fortnight as the ultimatums have been posted across town with ultimatums for Muslim citizens to leave town before the 'mahapanchayat' scheduled for June 15.

The Uttarakhand High Court chief justice has now agreed to hear a petition seeking to halt this 'mahapanchayat' convened by Hindutva groups, to held on June 15. The hearing is scheduled for the same day, Thursday, 15 June.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Muslim leaders, including the Uttarakhand Waqf Board and the Haj Committee, have called on the state's chief minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami of the BJP, to take action against those harassing Muslims in Purola town. 

The petitioner to the High Court, the Association for Protection of Civil Rights, approached the high court after the Supreme Court vacation bench refused to entertain the petition. The matter was mentioned before Uttarakhand High Court chief justice Vipin Sanghi by their lawyer Shahrukh Alam.

Alam pointed out that it was a writ petition seeking directions to the government in view of the mandamus by the Supreme Court in matters related to hate speech in Uttar Kashi and Tehri Garhwal. She said Muslims in Purola were given an ultimatum to leave the town before the mahapanchayat scheduled for June 15 (tomorrow). As the petition was in the process of being filed, Justice Sanghi agreed to hear it on June 15.

The petitioner, through their lawyer, has written to the Uttarakhand chief secretary and DGP and to the Tehri Garhwal district magistrate, informing them that the district authorities were in breach of the "Supreme Court’s mandate if they failed to institute a criminal case and immediately prosecute the habitually offending organisations".

Soon after, Uttarkashi district magistrate Abhishek Rohilla said that Section 144 CrPC has been imposed in Purola. Additionally, Uttarakhand DGP Ashok Kumar said that no one would be allowed to disturb law and order in the state.

Earlier in the day, the petitioner was asked to approach the High Court for the stay, by the SC vacation bench of justices Vikram Nath and Ahsanuddin Amanullah.

Alam had informed the bench that an ultimatum was issued to Muslims to leave the town before the mahapanchayat and she highlighted that the Supreme Court had earlier issued an order to the Uttarakhand Government to ensure that no hate speeches were made in the state.

The SC bench asked why the petitioner hadn’t moved the High Court as law and order was for the administration to handle. “If there is a mandamus by this Court, High Court will pass orders. You should have some trust in the High Court,” said Justice Amanullah. The bench then dismissed the petition as withdrawn, granting petitioner liberty to avail all the alternate remedies under the law.

In April 2023, an SC bench of Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna had directed all states and Union territories to take suo moto cognizance of hate speech without waiting for any formal complaint. It had warned that any hesitation to act in accordance with these directions would be viewed as contempt of court. This was an extension of their order on 21 October 2022 directing Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand governments to act against hate speech on their own.

In May 2023, a group of SC lawyers had also written an open letter to Uttarakhand governor Lieutenant General Gurmit Singh about the government’s inaction on repeated instances of hate speech in the state.

The letter pointed out that the state government is prima facie in contempt of the Supreme Court by refusing to take action on the hate speech cases, despite orders from the Supreme Court to do so. The letter also listed four examples of hate speech by Hindutva groups against Muslims in a span of 12 days.

The history

Communal tension soared in the Uttarkashi town of Purola from what began as a local campaign against “love jihad”, a favourite right-wing conspiracy theory. Two men, Jitendra Saini (23) and Obaid Khan (24), had recently been accused of attempting to abduct a minor girl on 26 May, which sparked off the campaign against the “love jihad”. Both the men, of whom only one is Muslim and the other ostensibly Hindu, are in custody. The girl has said she knows neither of them, while some local people have claimed she was involved in a relationship with Saini, rather than his friend Khan.

From May 26 onwards, however, 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, damage to shops and eviction 'notices' pasted on houses, all solely targeting Muslim residents.

This escalated hate campaign has seen several Muslims being forced out of the Yamuna valley. On June 5, posters appeared in Purola town threatening Muslim traders to shut their shops and vacate the area before the scheduled mahapanchayat by June 15. The posters bore the name of a controversial Hindutva organisation called Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan.

A delegation of Muslim leaders, including the Uttarakhand Waqf Board and the Haj Committee, have called on the state's chief minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami of the BJP, to take action against those harassing Muslims in Purola town. 

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Published: 14 Jun 2023, 2:49 PM