Uttarakhand communal tension: Hindutva mahapanchayat in Purola stayed

The mahapanchayat was called by right-wing groups, mainly the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, against the right-wing conspiracy theory “love jihad”

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

Ashlin Mathew

The Uttarakhand government informed the state High Court just ahead of the hearing in the case that the Hindu mahapanchayat that was scheduled to be held in Purola by Hindutva organisations on June 15 has been cancelled. Section 144, which bans the assembly of four or more people, is in force till June 19.

The mahapanchayat was called by right-wing groups, mainly the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, against the right-wing conspiracy theory “love jihad”.

The call for the mahapanchayat had led to a public interest litigation (PIL) being filed first before the Supreme Court and then before the state High Court because of concerns that it would worsen the communal tensions in the state.

When the HC was informed by the state that the mahapanchayat was called off, a division bench of Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Rakesh Thapliyal underscored that the state has to maintain peace even though the event was called off. They also asked the state to appear before it in three weeks with a detailed response.

Appearing for Association for Protection of Civil Rights (petitioner), lawyer Shahrukh Alam highlighted that certain TV channels such as Sudarshan TV were amplifying the demand of the Hindutva leaders demanding the removal of Muslims from Purola town. She said that the district magistrate was not taking action and it was in direct breach of the Supreme Court order.

She also mentioned that the Muslim mahapanchayat scheduled for later this week could also lead to violence and that needed to be addressed too. Alam requested Court to direct the state to register First Information Reports against those who made calls leading to potential communal tensions.

However, the court refused to entertain this plea.

They observed, "We direct respondents to take whatever steps necessary to fulfill the constitutional obligation.” The Court also directed the parties to refrain from flaring up the issue by participating in TV debates and sharing videos on social media.

Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) had filed the petition in the HC on Wednesday seeking to halt the 'mahapanchayat' convened by Hindutva groups. The petitioner had approached the HC after the Supreme Court vacation bench of justices Vikram Nath and Ahsanuddin Amanullah refused to entertain the petition.

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 HC as law and order was for the administration to handle.

The history

Communal tension soared in the Uttarkashi town of Purola from what began as a local campaign against “love jihad”, a 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, and not 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.

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