Uttarakhand: Muslim Leaders Call for Mahapanchayat to Protest Targeting of Community
Residents of Haldwani protest. Image Courtesy: Twitter/@zoo_bear
New Delhi: In response to what they perceive as an "increasing targeting" of their community, Muslim religious leaders in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, have announced plans to hold a "mahapanchayat" on June 18. This comes after recent incidents in which Muslim traders in Uttarkashi were asked to shut down their shops and leave the state due to communal tensions. According to a report in The Hindustan Times, the root of the interfaith tensions can be traced back to an alleged abduction attempt involving a Muslim and a Hindu on May 26, which some locals claimed to be a case of 'love jihad.'
Although the two accused individuals were arrested, Right-wing groups seized upon the incident and initiated protests in several areas, resulting in attacks on Muslim shops and houses. Adding to the tensions, posters threatening Muslim traders to leave the state by June 15 appeared in Uttarkashi's Purola market on June 5. These developments have forced Muslims to keep their shops closed and have led some families to leave the area, say multiple news reports.
To address the prevailing animosity against Muslims in Uttarakhand, Muslim religious leaders convened a meeting chaired by Dehradun's Shehar Qazi Mohammad Ahmad Qasmi. They decided to hold a mahapanchayat on June 18, inviting participants from across the state, including Dehradun, Haridwar, Udham Singh Nagar, and Haldwani. Waseem Ahmed, the media in charge of Muslim Seva Sangathan, an organisation working for the rights of Muslims, emphasised the importance of the gathering.
“A meeting of Muslim religious leaders was chaired by Dehradun’s Shehar Qazi Mohammad Ahmad Qasmi on Saturday to discuss the current atmosphere of hatred against Muslims across Uttarakhand. A mahapanchayat of Muslim religious leaders will be held on June 18. People from across the state, including Dehradun, Haridwar, Udham Singh Nagar, and Haldwani, will participate,” Waseem Ahmed said, as quoted by HT.
According to the report, Dehradun's Shehar Qazi condemned the "forceful eviction of innocent Muslims" and called for a focus on punishing the individuals responsible for the crime rather than targeting the entire community. The intention behind the mahapanchayat is to appeal for justice while urging against the punishment of the innocent, he added.
He said, “In the hills, innocent Muslims are being forced out. Those who have committed the crime should be punished. The whole community should not be targeted and rendered unemployed because of one person.”
The recent events unfolding in Uttarakhand are concerning, with hate speech and fear-mongering based on religious identity gaining traction. The state police must crack down on such instances, particularly since the Supreme Court's April order directed states, including Uttarakhand, to prosecute hate speech cases even without a formal complaint. However, right-wing organisations have stated their opposition to the planned mahapanchayat by Muslims and announced their own gathering on June 15 in Purola.
The situation in Purola, Uttarkashi district, has escalated, leading to the eviction of Muslim shopkeepers and attacks on their establishments. Following protests, demonstrations, and ultimatums from right-wing Hindu organisations, one Muslim shopkeeper has already vacated his shop, while others face similar pressure. The tensions in Purola originated from an alleged attempt by two youths, one Muslim and one Hindu, to abduct a local Hindu girl. This incident, deemed a case of 'Love Jihad' by Right-wing Hindu bodies, triggered protests, bandhs, and demonstrations in various towns across the district.
Posters demanding the evacuation of minority-owned shops by June 15, 2023, appeared in Purola, accompanied by marked crosses symbolising elimination. According to a report in The Statesman, locals claim that nine shop owners asked their Muslim tenants to vacate their premises under the influence of right-wing Hindu leader Swami Darshan Bharati, who has been outspoken against the minority community. Although the police have registered a case against unidentified individuals for attempting to disrupt communal harmony, the Muslim-owned shops have remained closed since May 28. Muslim shopkeepers have sought protection to reopen their businesses, but their pleas have gone unanswered.
To maintain peace and security, the local police and Provincial Armed Constabulary have deployed forces in Purola. Superintendent of Police Arpan Yaduvanshi has assured the Muslim community of their safety through increased police presence. Nonetheless, the situation remains tense, highlighting the need for dialogue and concerted efforts to foster regional harmony.
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