The hills of Uttarakhand are echoing with communal cacophony. The process that had begun ahead of the state Assembly polls last year, continues with a multiplier effect of spread of hate against the minorities, particularly Muslims. Going by the indicators, this is all set to continue at least till the Lok Sabha polls next year.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government under Pushkar Singh Dhami has failed to curtail the spread of hate despite the Supreme Court observations and directives on hate speeches, the Opposition parties, mainly the Congress, have also failed in their duty to stand with the victims. What has been happening in the state is a big dampener on its reputation as being one of the most peace loving regions.

While the list of instances that are being referred to by the observers and concerned citizens as a plain spread of Islamophobia is pretty long, to which we will come later, the latest episode that has drawn attention is the developments in the town of Purola in Uttarkashi district.

Like in several earlier instances where any instances of alleged crime have been given communal colour, in Purola too an instance of a minor girl accompanying two youngsters, a Hindu and a Muslim, was quickly propagated as an instance of ‘Love Jihad’. The instance took place on May 26.

Despite the two being taken into custody, the matter was allowed to fester. The town saw processions and violent instances of Muslim properties being targeted and calls being given to throw the community members out.

There have been reports of shops belonging Muslims having been identified and marked, something that is being compared to what had happened in Nazi Germany in the past. There have been reports of some Muslim families having fled the area while others have sought protection from the authorities.

Sources disclosed that there have been diktats issued by Right Wing organisations and their leaders to throw out ‘outsiders’ and not give any property on rent to them. Those who have rented out their properties to Muslims are being told to get them vacated. There have been posters put across various places calling for such actions before a ‘Mahapanchayat’ that has been called on June 15.

It has been reported that around 30 Muslims engaged in small businesses had left the town by May 30 while nine had been asked by their landlords to vacate their shops. There are videos being circulated of mobs targeting Muslim business establishments where they are seen damaging the signboards out the shops or hitting the shutters while chanting slogans.

There has been Police deployment in the area and cases have reportedly been registered against those who put up posters or marked the properties belonging to the minority community. But hate continues to be spread with impunity.

The ruling party members including Dhami have continued spinning yarns on forcible conversions, implementation of uniform civil code, ‘land jihad’, ‘love jihad’ and ‘Mazaar jihad’ over the last year and a half. In the face of the communal polarisation, the opposition has failed to counter such narratives among the people while also failing to instil confidence among the victims who have been largely left to fend for themselves.

The Congress leaders at large have maintained a stoic silence on Purola developments while talking in a cosmetic manner of issues like ‘Mazaar Jihad’.

At the same time there have been claims that the government is not against any particular religion.

The civil society and concerned citizens have been doing their bit by raising this issue at various platforms while also coming out with appeals to the people not to fall in the trap of the communal rhetoric but a much more concerted effort, mainly at political level with intervention from other institutions is the need of the hour.

A reflection of the developments in Uttarakhand is also being now witnessed in the neighbouring Himachal Pradesh where a Muslim doctor in Una is being hounded by the Right Wing elements over the last two weeks over an alleged social media post that is being circulated under his name.

There have been processions taken out against him with a lot of venom being spewed against the minority community that hardly has any presence in the state. Those from the civil society and the rational domain who tried to stand up for him have been threatened with social boycotts and are also being targeted with hate .

The result is that the people are even scared to give a representation to the Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu or other authorities under their name. Here too hate is being spread with impunity.

Incidentally, Una is the home turf of Deputy Chief Minister Mukesh Agnihotri and efforts to reach him proved futile.

“It is a screenshot that is being circulated and something that can be easily morphed. I have been given anticipatory bail by the Himachal Pradesh High Court. Their entire effort is to ensure that I wind up my practice in Mehatpur.

“I am told by my friends that there were efforts to target me by using my social media handle on two occasions before also. I have been practising medicine in Una and Mehatpur for more than two decades and an overwhelming majority of my patients and staff are from the majority community, “Dr Nadeem Akhtar told The Citizen.

Sources on the ground vouch for Dr Akhtar and his wife’s contribution to the social causes in Una. The people say that it is high time the Congress government in the state tackles the situation with a firm hand to prevent a repetition of what is happening in Uttarakhand in its neighbourhood.

Coming back to Uttarakhand, in a latest move several organisations have submitted a memorandum to the state Governor Lieutenant Governor Gurmit Singh with copies to Dhami and the Director General of Police Ashok Kumar pointing at the threat to the rule of law and the Constitution.

The organisations that submitted the memorandum included left parties like CPI, CPM, CPI(ML) along with Chetna Andolan, Uttarakhand Mahila Manch, Uttarakhand Parivartan Party, Insaniyat Manch, Sarvodaya etc. where apart from the instances at Purola they drew the attention towards the communal incidents in the past that have taken place.

The memorandum stated, “The manner in which incidents of mob violence and communal frenzy are happening in a systematic manner in Uttarakhand is highly regrettable. What is more reprehensible is the role of the state and the administrative machinery, which in no way tries to stop such rampage and frenzy, aimed at the minorities living in the state.”

Referring to the Purola episode, the document said that the ‘self-styled contractors’ of religion have got an opportunity to openly do politics by spreading frenzy. “It has been half a month since the incident and the proceedings related to it. But despite that, efforts are on to maintain an atmosphere of tension in Purola and the entire Yamuna Valley.

“Despite there being no defence to the accused, continuous agitation and keeping various markets closed seem to be a part of a well-planned action, whose target is also the minority community, who have not committed any crime. Pasting of eviction posters on all minority shops is unconstitutional, illegal and a criminal act. This should be stopped immediately.”

Those who have submitted the memorandum pointed out, “Even before this, the attitude of the Uttarakhand government, administration and police has been very weak in dealing with incidents of mob and communal violence.

“Honourable Supreme Court has ordered that police should take suo motu action in case of hate speech. Despite the Supreme Court's order being reminded to the Director General of Police, no action was taken on the hate speeches given at the Dharma Sabha held in Hanol on April 20. Even after the Purola incident, there were actions and calls for damage to the property of minorities, statements to this effect are also being published in newspapers along with names.

“Calls are also being made publicly not to give houses to minorities and to drive them away. But here also the attitude of the Police is not to take action. This is open contempt of the orders of the Supreme Court.

“Incidents of mob violence, hate speeches and communal frenzy are continuously spreading in the state. Even after disobeying the order of the Supreme Court, the government, administration and the Police do not want to take effective measures to stop them.

“This is a big threat to the rule of law and the Constitution. Legal action should be taken against anyone who commits a crime. But the crime should not be decided on the basis of religion in any case, nor should organisations formed on the basis of religion, propagating religious hatred be given the right to decide. Verification or any other administrative work should also not be done on religious grounds.”

It has been sought that concrete measures be taken immediately to restore normalcy in Purola and to protect the innocent minorities. No one should be allowed to spread mob violence and hatred. In addition to this it has been sought that targeting a particular community in the name of removal of encroachments and making this a tool for communal division should be stopped immediately.

“To prevent mob violence, the instructions of the Supreme Court to appoint nodal officers at the state and district level should be ensured to be implemented effectively immediately,” the memorandum added.

It is interesting to note the demography of this largely hill state where there is a minuscule minority population to be seen in the hill districts. “There are two categories of Muslims in the hill districts. While the first are the Muslims who have been living in these areas right from the pre-independence era as subjects of the different princely states and also British administered parts, the second is a category of those who have migrated in the recent decades in search of livelihood.

“The former stand completely assimilated in the local ethos, speaking Garhwali and Kumaoni while practising all the local customs. They have been subjects of the Tehri kingdom right up to Askot in the east.

“The second category largely comprises the poor who have been into small vocations like vegetable sellers, junk dealers, barbers and the like. They have largely migrated from districts like Bijnor, Saharanpur and Muzaffarnagar to the areas falling in Garhwal division. Similarly some of them have migrated from Rampur, Moradabad and Bareilley to the hilly areas of Kumaon,” explained S.M.A Kazmi who has been chronicling the state right from its inception and has a good understanding of the surrounding areas as well.

It needs to be pointed out that not only the minorities, even Dalits are present in a very microscopic number in the hill districts. This reporter has been a witness to the extreme shortage of people in the hill areas of the state when it comes to vocations like rag picking etc that are largely associated with the marginalised sections including Dalits.

Political observers say that with the hill districts largely having an upper caste demographic profile, this state has always been looked at as an ideal destination for Right Wing politics. With the only regional force Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) having lost steam quickly after the state came into being, it has mainly been the battleground for the BJP and the Congress.

Just like its neighbouring Himachal Pradesh, it had witnessed an alternative government under these two parties till last year when the BJP managed to repeat its government.

Talking about the state being a fertile ground for Right Wing politics right from the beginning, old timers point out that initially an attempt had been made to declare the politically reserved seats for Assembly and Parliamentary polls in districts in the plains where there was a substantial Muslim population in pockets.

It was only after a representation was made to the then Chief Election Commissioner James Michael Lyngdoh by some concerned citizens who had pointed at the denial being inflicted on both the Muslims as well as the Scheduled Castes residing in the hills that some of the reserved seats were shifted to the hill districts.

Talking about the political dimension of the communal wave that has hit the state, observers say that the pace has picked up since 2017. Routine developments were given a communal colour, whether it was the targeting of Kashmiri Muslims in Mussoorie for allegedly supporting Pakistani team in a cricket match; targeting Kashmiri students in the aftermath of Pulwama incident ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, or targeting of Muslim kiosks between Haridwar and Rishikesh over some frivolous allegations.

“It gathered further momentum ahead of the last assembly polls when the BJP was in hot soup having been compelled to change three chief ministers in five years and was faced with heavy anti-incumbency. There was news spread across social media as well as word of mouth about Congress leader Harish Rawat having promised a Muslim University in the state.

“His picture was morphed as that of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who had set up Aligarh Muslim University. The communal narrative was taken to an all time high by the senior party leadership in the last leg of the poll campaign that had otherwise been largely curtailed on account of Covid 19 guidelines.

“The result was the BJP emphatically coming back to power. The Right Wing keeping the communal tempo high for achieving desired political outcome is the main reason for the things being allowed to fester in a particular direction. Otherwise there is no other reason that supports the absolute inefficiency and will of the authorities to act on these issues,” pointed an observer.

It is interesting to note that in the run up to the polls the BJP had promised uniform civil code in the state and Dhami was quick to appoint a commission looking at its implementation after coming to power.

The narrative on the same has been kept alive all this while. The committee under Retired Supreme Court Judge Ranjana Desai has five members.

In a communiqué to the committee late last month political and social activist Indresh Maikhuri while opposing the move of the government had laid stress on equality and not uniformity.

“Uniform Civil Code is mentioned in Article 44 under Directive Principles of State Policy in Part IV of the Constitution of India. Everyone is aware of the legal status of this part of the Constitution.

“Article 44 of the Constitution of India states that ‘The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.’ Its meaning is clear that if the need is felt to make a uniform civil code, it will be for the whole country. The word 'state' in this does not even mean a province or region, it is a nation state.

“Therefore, the exercise of making a uniform civil code at the level of a state is meaningless. It is also not according to the Constitution. Hence, this whole exercise is nothing more than extravagance of public money to fulfil a specific political objective.”

Social activist Yusuf Tewari placed the ongoing developments in the state into another perspective. “The state has witnessed a massive unrest among the youth over the last few months over scandals related to leakage of examination papers for recruitment, scams related to jobs and murder of a girl who was employed at a resort owned by the ward of a BJP leader.

“This unrest was visible through mass demonstrations and marches across the state. The unique thing about this phenomenon was that this was but under the banner of any political party or organisation.

“The anger was spilling on the roads instantaneously. This was a clear indication that the youth was getting weaned away from the ruling party. The Right Wing organisations that are often termed as ‘fringe’ have got down to deflecting the anger of the youth once again by initially targeting the minuscule population of Dalits in the hills and now the Muslims.”

In the hill towns the Muslims are not only sparse in number but they also lack awareness and ability to organise themselves and speak out against the harsh treatment being meted out to them.