Mahwish Asim, TwoCircles.net
“Humko nahi lagta ab hum kabhi waha wapas ja payenge (We don’t think we can go back there again),” says Mohammed Zahid, a shopkeeper in Uttarakhand’s Purola.
Zahid is the district president of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) minority cell in Uttarkashi. The lives of approximately 200 Muslims in Purola changed overnight on 26 May.
They became the target of anti-Muslim hate after the alleged ‘abduction’ of a minor Hindu girl by two men — a Hindu and a Muslim — on May 26, which prompted accusations of ‘love jihad,’ a conspiracy theory pushed by the Hindu right-wing in which Muslim men seduce Hindu women and convert them to Islam.
Zahid, his wife, and their two children fled the town on June 7, a place that was his home for the past 35 years. He is currently residing in Dehradun and intends to never return.
BJP Muslim Leader Flees Purola
“If a BJP leader is not safe, who is,” Zahid told TCN.
Zahid, who has been associated with the BJP for the past 7-8 years, was elected as the president of the BJP’s district minority cell this year, having previously served as a Sanyojak (convener) for three years and as Mahamantri (general secretary) for another three years within the party.
Zahid had thought that his party would support and protect him, but he was disappointed when that did not happen.
Three Anti-Muslim Rallies in a Week
Following the 26 May incident, various Hindu right-wing groups, along with the local Vyapar Mandal (trader’s guild) and certain residents, organized a protest rally on 27 May which was attended by several hundred people. The protesters resorted to vandalism. Several hoardings and flex boards of shops owned by Muslims were torn down.
Two days later, on 29 May, another protest march took place in Purola, which also turned violent. On 3 June, a rally was organized by the Yamuna Ghati Hindu Jagriti Sangathan, which was attended by over 900 people.
These gatherings were specifically directed against Muslims, exacerbating tensions and creating an atmosphere of fear and insecurity.
Rallies against Muslims were not limited to Purola. Similar demonstrations were held in other areas of Uttarkashi, including Barkot and Chinyalisaur, as well as the villages of Naugaon, Damta, Barnigad, Netwar, and Bhatwari.
‘Asked to Vacate’ the Shop: Muslim Traders in Purola
“After running a garment shop for several years, I was asked by the shop owner to vacate the premises,” Mohammed Salim, another trader told TCN.
The owner told Salim that right-wing groups were pressuring him to get the shop vacated.
Some of Salim’s friends advised him to leave the town to avoid targeting by Hindu right-wing groups. “I made the difficult decision to relocate with my wife and three children. I’m heartbroken leaving my home,” Salim said.
“Even if we were to return, resuming our business seems unlikely. It feels futile to consider going back to a place where our lives are constantly in danger,” Salim explained.
The events of the past two weeks have left Salim with a substantial financial loss running in lakhs.
Call for a Mahapanchayat and Threatening Posters
“Threatening posters were pasted on my shop,” Salim told TCN.
“Love jihadis are informed that they must vacate the shops prior to the June 15 mahapanchayat. If you don’t do this, only time will tell what will happen,” the posters read.
The posters were taken down by the police.
On June 15, Hindu right-wing groups called for a mahapanchayat, the permission for which was denied by the police. Section 144 (unlawful assembly) has been imposed in the town from June 14 to June 19, and several hundred police personnel.
‘Burn Their Shops’: A Local Threatened Zahid’s Family
Zahid recounted an incident on 5 June involving a man named Prakash Jabral from a neighboring village. According to Zahid, Jabral threatened his son and relatives, explicitly saying, “‘Burn their shops.'” Zahid promptly contacted a police officer and the president of the Vyapar Mandal, Brij Mohan Chauhan.
They arrived and stood by Zahid and his family as they vacated their shop. Zahid claimed that he tried to call Khajan Singh, the Station House Officer (SHO) of Purola Police Station but his phone went unanswered.
TCN tried contacting Arpan Yaduvanshi, Superintendent of Police, Uttarkashi, and SHO Khajan Singh over the phone and WhatsApp several times but didn’t receive a response. This story will be updated if and when we receive a response.
Muslim Organisations Demand a Ban on ‘Mahapanchat’
Nayyar Kazmi, the President of Uttarakhand All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), wrote a letter to the Director General of Police (DGP) in Dehradun, urging immediate action against the ongoing violence in Purola and other parts of Uttarakhand.
The letter states, “Members of the Muslim community in the Purola region and neighbouring areas are facing attacks, threats, and harassment under the pretext of so-called ‘love jihad,’ compelling them to leave the area. In light of these events, I request you to take decisive action against those individuals who are attempting to disrupt the communal harmony of Uttarakhand.”
Even AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi has called for a ban on the mahapanchayat scheduled for June 15. He also emphasized the need to ensure the safe return of the citizens who have fled Purola.
Mahwish Asim is an independent reporter based in Uttar Pradesh