Take Strict Action Against Those Who Spread Communal Tension: Uttarakhand Mahila Manch

Purola Uttarakhand communal tension

On 26 June, 2023, a four-member team led by Uttarakhand Mahila Manch from Dehradun visited Purola town in Uttarkashi district. The team consisted of Kamla Pant, Geeta Gairola, Ranjana Padhi and Chandrakala.

The objective of the team’s visit was to understand the reasons that triggered communal tension a month earlier in Purola and to apprise the current situation.

The preliminary observations of the team are summarized here:

Women and men in Purola along with the secretary of the traders association shared that the communal tension flared up on May 26 in the aftermath of the incident involving one Muslim boy and one Hindu boy who allegedly attempted to abduct a minor Hindu girl. Both the boys were arrested a few hours later but news spread in no time that an incident of ‘love jihad’ had occurred.

One elderly victim shared with us that they have been staying in Purola since 1978. They have never faced any religious discrimination prior to this incident. No objection had ever been made earlier about holding Namaaz prayers. Muslim tenants in the town have never faced any restraint from landlords in offering Namaaz. However, after this incident, the practice of offering Namaz in a gathering has become a contentious issue. In their view, it is primarily an attack on their livelihood and economic activities.

On the day of the incident, many people from right-wing Hindu organizations took out a rally and hurled abuses outside the houses of Muslims and threatened them to leave Purola. However, the district administration and the police didn’t intervene or make any attempt to stop this provocative rally or control the excited mob. There were many people in the rally who were from outside Purola. The police were present throughout and watched passively, even when shops owned by Muslims were stoned.

The next day, notices were put up on shops owned by Muslims warning them to leave Purola before June 15. The communal tension that started from here and the incident of the previous day became national news.

When some representatives of the Muslim community appealed to the SDM for protection and security measures, the SDM did not seem to give any importance and passed on the appeal to his subordinates. However, the Circle Officer (CO) present in the chowki gave instructions to those under his authority that no shop will be closed and PAC and police forces should be sent to stand guard in the market. After issuing instructions, when the CO left for Barkote, the chowki-in-charge called some people from the Muslim community and intimidated them. Since then, shops belonging to the Muslim community remained shut for 22 days.

While the shops owned by Muslims were shut out of fear, the right-wing Hindutva groups who have come under the leadership of Swami Darshan Bharti of Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan called for a mahapanchayat on 15 June. Posters were put up in Purola threatening  owners of Muslim owned shops to vacate before the mahapanchayat. This increased communal tension not only in Purola but over the entire state of Uttarakhand. After it became national news, and as a result of pressure from several quarters, the administration was forced to stop this mahapanchayat. The team observed that the Muslim community in Purola continues to be in the grip of fear and insecurity.

Regarding the alleged attempt of abducting the minor girl, most people the team interacted with said that the incident has been deliberately communalised.

Discussions with local women elicited mixed responses. Many said that incidents of girl trafficking have always occurred in the region but no political or social force has ever organized such a communally provocative rally to protest against violence on women. No political party or political leader came out to protest during the Ankita Bhandari case; it was only women like them who took out a candle-lit march in protest of her murder.

Those in Purola and a few people with whom the team talked to on the way to Purola seemed to have been influenced by the systematic spread of anti-Muslim propaganda and rumours on social media as is happening all across the country.

At the local level, some baseless assertions are gaining ground that the identity and the economic opportunities of local people are in danger by those coming from outside.

The secretary of the traders’ association said that there is growing insecurity as far as business is concerned. In the view of the team, this anxiety seems to have targeted a specific minority community. When we discussed the question of land ownership rights with them, they too agreed that there is a need for a Land ownership Act to restrain the land mafia and real estate builders from buying land in the region. They brought up the issue of verification of those coming from outside. They also said that they would have discussed the demand for a Land ownership Act in the 15 June mahapanchayat. Many people who we met emphasized on the need for a Land ownership Act similar to the one in Himachal Pradesh.

Uttarakhand Mahila Manch firmly believes that those who have been living for more than 15 years prior to the formation of the Uttarakhand state are all citizens of Uttarakhand. The emergence of the new state of Uttarakhand was to ensure that all its own people have the right and control over the jal, jangal and zameen of the region. It is alarming at the rate at which land is being purchased and transferred to private players often from outside the state. The state government has failed to enact any legislation to protect the land of Uttarakhand.

Some people said that those who come from outside are able to purchase shops and land at higher rates. This affects the prospects of the local trading community. The insecurity engendered by business uncertainties is resulting in the targeting of the minority Muslim community.

Uttarakhand Mahila Manch also believes that some forces are communalizing and politicizing the competition in trade among local people, unemployment and increasing poverty. This is giving rise to increasing unrest and disharmony across the mountainous state. A politics of hatred is being bred against the minority communities.

The team visited the office of the Zilla Panchayat but the officials were not present at that time. We attempted to connect with the uncle of the minor girl who said that he is not meeting anyone given the prevalent tense situation.

The team met the SDM, Purola the next day on  27 June. He categorically said that the area has been in peace earlier and even now. He also said that any inquiry into the incident is the responsibility of the police, the police is doing its work and that he himself has no role in this situation. Actually the SDM heads the administration of the area under his jurisdiction and this also includes the maintenance  of law and order.

As Uttarakhand Mahila Manch, we submitted to him a written appeal demanding an inquiry into the events, to ensure punishment for those found guilty, assure protection to the Muslim community and undertake concrete steps to avoid any such communal flareup in the immediate future. He passed it on to the SHO in our presence.

The SDM informed us that the ABVP is taking out a rally on that very day. It is concerning how the ABVP has been allowed to carry out a rally given the tense situation still persisting and that Section 144 has been lifted only a week back in Purola.

Uttarakhand Mahila Manch demands the enactment of the Land ownership Act; strict action to be taken against those spreading communal tension and violence; punitive action against those spreading communal hatred through social media; and concrete security measures to be taken by the administration for the protection of the minority community. 


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