After “ Abba Jan” jab in UP, It is “Land Jihad” in Uttarakhand

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Dehradun, 29 Sept.

 After the communal jab of “Abba Jan” by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the neighbouring state of Uttarakhand has come up with an order to target the minority community ahead of the crucial state assembly elections to be held in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand early next year. Although, the Uttarakhand state government has not termed it as a measure against “land jihad”, but the order clearly targets the Muslim community with an aim to create communal polarisation.

The government order said that there has been an “unprecedented” increase in population in some parts of Uttarakhand, by a certain community which has led to “members of a certain community” to migrate.

The state government ordered the police and administrative officers of all the districts to set up peace committees, track “illegal land deals” and prepare a list of outsiders with criminal antecedents.   A government press release on Friday evening said that “Due to unprecedented rise in population in certain areas of the state, the demography of those areas has been majorly affected. And due to this demographic change, members of a certain community are forced to migrate from those areas. Also, there are possibilities that the communal harmony in those areas may be disturbed.”

The state government said that due to this there is danger of communal harmony getting disturbed in some places and asked the DGP, all District Magistrates and district police chiefs to take precautionary measures and set up district level committees to give suggestions. The government also decided to set up peace committees in these areas and called for regular meetings of such committees. The district police chiefs have been asked to prepare list of all those persons who have come from other states and take strict action against those having criminal history.

The district authorities have been asked to keep a check on illegal land purchase deals and ensure that nobody sells his or her land under duress.  The district authorities have also been told to identify foreign nationals who are using forged voter identity cards and other government ID proofs.

Interestingly, all this started after a BJP leader having RSS background Ajendra Ajay wrote to the Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami in July this year pointing towards “Land Jihad” started by Muslims in the state. In his letter, he alleged that Muslims are not only purchasing land in bulk but building their places of worships and urged him to check it.

The order seemed flawed and aim to target the minuscule Muslim community residing in the hilly areas which has been at the receiving end of the wrath of the right wing groups. In the past more than four years since BJP came to power in the state after the state assembly elections in 2017, there had been nearly a dozen incidents where the community was targetted by RSS and BJP groups on one frivolous pretext or other.

A fake social media post, a murder, an alleged love affair or a criminal act by the member of the minority community has been enough excuse for right wing Hindu organizations to target innocent Muslim shopkeepers in several small towns and cities of Garhwal region during the period.

In the month of July, the holding of “Id-ul-Zuha” prayers by migratory Muslim laborers at an under-construction site in a room at Badrinath gave enough fuel to right wing groups to demand action. The media, particularly social media went even a step further to spread hatred by claiming that Muslims had held Eid prayers at Badrinath temple.

Even during Covid pandemic and Tablighi Jamaat Islamophobia, Mahendra Bhatt, a BJP legislator had advised Hindus to avoid the barber shops and beauty parlors owned by the minority community members.

 In April 2018, six shops belonging to Muslim shopkeepers were burnt in Augustmuni town of Rudraprayag district of Garhwal on mere rumors that were circulated on social media. The members of the right wing groups including those allegedly belonging to Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad  (ABVP) took out a procession and targeted six shops belonging to Muslim shopkeepers on the false rumors spread on social media that a Muslim youth has raped a minor girl. The protestors raised anti-Mulim slogans and burnt the shops in “anger” against the alleged rape which did not took place.  Interestingly, Rudraprayag District Magistrate in a statement said that it was a mere rumor which was spread on social media. In October 2017, Hindu groups attacked and ransacked Muslim shops and homes from Rishikesh to Haridwar, following a murder at Raiwala. The accused in the murder case were Muslims.

Interestingly, even small criminal acts allegedly indulged in by the members of the minority community are blown out of proportion by the right wing organizations. In another incident in September, 2017 , seven Muslim youths were charged with teasing girls and jailed in Chamba town of Tehri garhwal district as Hindu right wing group indulged in enforcing closure of the Chamba market creating tension.

Earlier on September 8, 2017, two Muslim boys from Kirtinagar town in Tehri Garhwal were caught roaming with two girls belonging to the majority community in Dehradun by the police. The police were prompt in reporting the matter to Kirtinagar, where members of the right-wing groups vandalized the shops belonging to the Muslim boys. The boys were sent to jail.

 In the month of July 2017, the right-wing members attacked Muslim shops at Satpuli town in Pauri Garhwal district after a Facebook post by a Muslim boy showing a photo of Kedarnath shrine in the background with a slipper having a slogan ‘not in my name. Another incident that led to a right-wing ruckus in the town against Muslims was allegedly unnatural sex by a Muslim with a cow in Satpuli.

 In July 2017, Kashmiri traders were targeted by the right-wing groups in the Hill station of Mussorie and given an ultimatum to pack up and leave Mussoorie by March 2018.  The first provocation was alleged raising of pro-Pakistan slogans after an Indi-Pakistan Champions Trophy match. Ironically, the Kashmiri traders who had been doing their business had nothing to do with it.

Going by the logic of the present state BJP government, there is small Muslim population staying in the hilly districts of  Garhwal, Apart from the native Garhwali Muslims, who have their villages in Nandprayag and Tehri Garhwal districts, some Muslims from neighbouring districts of Uttar Pradesh run vegetable, fruit shops, barber shops or indulge in small businesses.The Garhwali Muslims are living in the hills since ages. The plain districts of Dehradun, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar already have a sizeable Muslim population living in the areas before the formation of the state of Uttarakhand in 2000. The state of Uttarakhand has roughly ten-percent Muslim population concentrated in these three districts

The state government failed to give any concrete data on any alleged demographic change which they cited in the order. It also failed to specify the areas where such “worrisome” demographic changes have occurred.

The state government claim that such demographic changes had forced a particular community to migrate also looks frivolous. The state of Uttarakhand has been facing problem of migration due to economic and other reasons for the past one century. The tough geographical areas, lack of civic, health, education and employment opportunities had forced people from hills to migrate to the plains.  Former BJP Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat even set up a Migration commission to look into the details of the problem and suggest corrective measures. The Migration commission headed by S.S.Negi, a retired IFS officer which submitted its report to the BJP government did not mention any such reason of coercion or forcibly migration due to Muslims from the hilly areas.

There is no bar on checking the influx of any anti-social or criminal element but the checking the antecedents of all those coming from other states by the police and state authorities amount to communal and racial profiling.

Already opposition parties have termed the order as an attempt by the BJP to create communal polarisation ahead of the state assembly elections. Former Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Harish Rawat in his tweet has expressed his apprehensions on the order and hoped that no community is targeted.

Indresh Maikhuri, secretary of the Garhwal region of CPI(ML), who works in the region having ground to the ear dismisses these allegations. “ They have nothing to show to the people by way of development in education, health services or providing employment opportunity, so that are indulging in these blatant use of communal polarization. The Muslims from outside who are doing petty businesses in the towns and cities of Garhwal could be counted on fingers. The allegations of “land Jihad” are completely false and motivated,” he said.

Suryakant Dhasmana, Uttarakhand Congress Vice-president charged that the BJP has nothing else to show on the developmental front except changing Chief Ministers in the state and want to indulge in their strategy of communal polarisation to garner the votes of the majority community. “ They want to play on the fears of the majority community by either shouting ‘Taliban’, ‘Taliban’ or projecting the threat of  Muslims to polarise. It is a crude attempt and they will fail miserably,” he added.

Dr. Devender Bhasin, a senior BJP leader defending the decision said that such a move will identify the outsiders with doubtful credential and ensure communal harmony in the state.

Dr Mukesh Semwal, State Coordinator of Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) who works in the entire Garhwal region expressed surprise at the state government order. I had been working in the villages, towns and cities of entire Garhwal and never came across any case of “Land Jihad” or coercive land sales or migration due to Muslim influx. “ These are imaginary fears created by RSS and BJP to polarise the situation for political gains,” he added.

Razia Baig, a vice-president of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and a native Garhwali Muslim hailing from Tehri district expressed surprise at the order. “ The BJP could stoop to any low in their attempt to communally polarise the social fabric. The allegations are completely baseless and rather it is to the contrary. In the past five years, there had been more than a dozen cases where poor Muslims were targeted in Garhwal, their shops ransacked and they were forced to run away,” she charged.

When asked about the order, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami told media persons on Saturday that the order does not target any particular community.

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