Let's first zoom into Uttarkashi district's hill town of Purola.
May 26: Two men caught allegedly in a bid to abduct a minor Hindu girl. One was a Muslim, other a Hindu. Both were in the town for business.
This incident was given a communal spin.
Blame was immediately ascribed to "outsiders" and '"love jihad"- a baseless conspiracy theory that Muslims beguile Hindu women to forcefully convert them to Islam.
Easy to add two and two to understand what community was targeted.
Purola traders' union called for a rally and the closing down of shops in Purola market and demanded strict verification of "outsiders" [ ⚠️Dog-whistling alert].
During the rally, on May 29, shops of Muslims were vandalised.
While videos exist online, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate told us the rally was "peaceful" and he wasn't aware of any vandalism.
Police said the vandals were miscreants who infiltrated the peaceful rally and hadn't been identified [⚠️The 'Unknown Miscreant' Trick alert].
Since the rally, Muslims have kept their shops shut out of fear. Many have now fled Purola and vacated their shops.
But, local authorities told us that Muslim families hadn't left the town, Incredulously, they claimed, Muslims had merely gone away for the weekend.
When we @reporters_co questioned the authorities on June 5 and 6, they said everything was fine. That the fear amongst Muslims was a product of "media hype".
So, was Purola's Muslim community scared for no reason?
A few days after the rally that turned violent, posters appeared on the downed shutters of shops run by Muslims.
'Love Jihadis are informed to vacate their shops before the mahapanchayat on June 15. Time will decide the repercussions of not doing so.'
This poster was in the name of Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan.
The authorities said they couldn't identify people behind this organisation. We were told the call for mahapanchayat was not official and had appeared only on those posters.
But, a report in Amar Ujala said a person called Rakesh Tomar of Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan led people to a police station in the same district over a case similar to Purola’s.
This is not all.
A private Facebook group ‘Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan Founder (Swami Darshan Bharti) S,S,Rana’ exists online. Bharti has previously participated in events of hate speech against Muslims.
He is also reported to have convinced locals in Purola to evict Muslim tenants.
The threatening posters weren't the only reason to worry.
On the same day the posters appeared, Hindutva orgs VHP & Bajrang Dal submitted a letter to the administration of the adjacent Tehri Garhwal district.
It again targeted Muslims. With impunity.
Without naming the Muslim community, they called for their eviction from various belts of Uttarakhand by June 15.
They, along with Hindu Yuva Vahini and Traders’ Union of Tehri Garhwal, threatened to block the highway on June 20 if their demands are not met.
And the BJP had earlier announced a likely visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Uttarakhand. Some speculate it was being planned for June 20. We can't confirm now. Read TOI article here
Back to the open threats: Both the missives threatened unhealthy repercussions if a "particular community" did not vacate these areas.
The police, in a cop-out, filed a case against "unknown persons". No substantive action taken so far.
Is finding someone sitting (not hiding) in plain sight that hard for the police to identify and take action against?
But, Purola and the consequent ramp-up is not out of the blue. We mapped the rise of incidents given a communal colour, hate speeches and communal mass gatherings across the state. This is not an exhaustive map. But it's enough to tell you the story.
Prakash Kumar Dabral, district general secretary of BJP's SC Morcha met us in the middle of Purola's market.
He said: We will chase them out with love. We will cordially chuck them out of here. We will not let them do business here, will not let them open shops.
He said this to us at the shop of Brij Mohan Chauhan, the President of Purola's traders' union.
Previously, Chauhan had removed Muslim traders from the union's WhatsApp group.
Chauhan said he did it to protect Muslims from the provocative messages being sent on the group.
He also said that it would be difficult for Muslim traders to resume business till the anger of local people subsides.
Another BJP leader at Chauhan's shop said something similar.
Amit Chand Shah, ex President of BJP's district unit, said that he'd request Muslims to open their shops, no political party would obstruct them, but if public took charge, the situation might go beyond control.
Meanwhile, Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami has again called for stringent action against "love jihad".He and his gov't has constantly raised the bogey of love and land jihad, giving it credence. This is classic dog-whistle politics.
BJP's MLA from Purola, Durgeshwar Lal, didn't forego the opportunity to air his views targeting the Muslim community. Without evidence. In an interview to a local channel, he ascribed the Purola flare-up to "love jihad" and "land jihad" by a “particular community”.
We asked the Police about these accusations against the Muslim community. The Superintendent of Police, Uttarkashi refused to comment saying these terms were not defined by law. Police officials in Purola said the accusations did not have any substance.
In 2020, Union Minister of State Home Affairs, G. Kishan Reddy informed the Parliament that “The term ‘Love Jihad’ is not defined under the extant laws. No such case of ‘Love Jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies.”
But BJP leaders carry on.
This story was possible with the help of some journalists in Uttarakhand, especially an Uttarkashi-based journalist who was hesitant being named. We thank them for their valuable support and guidance.
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