The populous hilly region is perhaps the first Indian state wherein an influential and popular ethnic cleansing campaign has gathered ominous proportion: the expulsion of all Muslims from the region and it has the tacit support of those in power.
NEW DELHI — Several noticeable efforts, sometimes overtly state-sponsored, are afoot to turn Uttarakhand, the picturesque and mountainous state in northern India, into a Hindu ‘holy land.’ As such a campaign is underway to drive out Muslims from the state.
The populous hilly region is perhaps the first Indian state wherein an influential and popular ethnic cleansing campaign has gathered ominous proportion: expulsion of all Muslims from the region and it has the tacit support of those in power.
Efforts to drive Muslims out of the state have gathered pace despite the fact that the community had played a dominant role in the campaign for the creation of a separate hilly station in 1990s.
The alarming situation in the state has somehow escaped national attention. But the moves to get rid of Muslims from the state have lately reached dangerous levels.
Hindutva Watch, an initiative to monitor reports of attacks on members of religious minorities in the country, recently uploaded a video of a young Hindu priest, Dhirendra Krishna Shastri, popularly known as Bageshwar Dham Sarkar delivering a hate speech targeting Muslims. The video shows him saying openly that the construction of mosques wouldn’t be allowed in Uttarakhand. The priest, his supporters claim, heals the sick and cures people possessed by ghosts, goes on to add that Hindus won’t accept the presence of any other religion in India.
Communal tension, a norm in most of the north Indian states, has been significantly absent between Uttarakhand’s religious communities. The state probably has a higher proportion of Brahmins than any other state, estimated at around 20% of the population. The often-violent movement for the creation of a new Uttarakhand state in the 1990s was substantially sparked by the decision of the then Mulayam Singh government in Uttar Pradesh to extend reservations in government jobs to members of Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
Muslims constitute around 14% of the state’s population. The present canvassing for the ejection of the state’s Muslim population rests on three main factors: the pristine sacredness for Hindus of the hill state and the exclusive indigeneity of Hindus in this holy land, threatened by the surge of Muslim outsiders. The third is the conspiracy theory of Muslims involving in the battery of jihads – population jihad, love jihad, land jihad, mazaar (mausoleum) jihad and, most recently, vyapar (business) jihad, a Scroll.in report said this week.
These arguments, the report said, are propagated vigorously by an extensive network of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its Hindutva affiliates that have expanded to remote mountainous corners of the state. There are 1,400 RSS shakhas or branches in Uttarakhand and plans are underway to double the number in the next two years. Sangh workers explain that their work is cut out for them: they must warn the Hindu people of the dangers that Muslim residents of the state pose to the purity of their ‘holy land’.
Hatred against Muslims is fuelled and legitimised by Hindu religious leaders in saffron, who do not desist even from calls for mass rape and genocide. Their discourse is amplified exponentially by right-wing publications, the social media and a widely communalised local press. All of these get embedded into ruptured social and economic relations by calls for boycott, expulsion, and occasional acts of violence against Muslims, the report said.
There can be no doubt that the campaign to oust Muslims from the state has the blessings of those in power. For over three decades Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has been a dedicated RSS worker. Though a political lightweight then, he was catapulted to the post of the chief minister in 2021. Dhami is the eyes and ears of the RSS and it is not surprising that he was again elected chief minister even after losing his assembly seat in the state elections in 2022.
The chief minister regularly presses all the buttons that craft the toxic mythology of Muslims in the state of Uttarakhand as outsiders, jihadi, and enemies. Six months after he became chief minister, Hindutva protagonists at a Dharm Sansad in Hardwar exhorted the people to keep “sharpened swords” ready at home to kill “intruders”. Speaker after speaker gave calls for Hindus to be armed to fight the enemies of sanatan dharma. A speaker held up the Myanmar persecution of the Rohingya as a model for the state, and called for a “safai abhiyan”, or cleansing drive, in which the police, army and leaders would also take up arms against the enemy within.
Yet another speaker called for 100 soldiers to kill two million Muslims to “reduce their population”. But the state police dealt with these incendiary and patently criminal calls for genocide by looking the other way. Prominent among those who made hate speeches in the Dharma Sansad of 2021 were Prabodhanand and Darshan Bharti, who continue to freely spout hate and instigate violence in the state even today.
The campaign to expel Muslims from Uttarakhand is, in fact, of much older vintage. Madan Mohan Malviya, founder of the Hindu Mahasabha, had constituted Ganga Sabha in the early 1900s. It campaigned to restrict Muslim presence near Har ki Pauri in Haridwar. Ujjwal Pandit, an office-bearer of the Ganga Sabha was quoted by the Caravan as saying that even today the bye-laws of the Haridwar municipal council prohibit non-Hindus from running any business or buying a house, and from the sale of alcohol, cigarettes, and meat and eating meat within four kilometres north and south of Har Ki Pauri.
Hindutva leaders are belligerent and raucous in their call to expel Muslims from the state. Hindu priest Anandswaroop is pugnacious in his ranting: “If the entry of non-Hindus is not banned, then Hindu priests will take to the streets,” he threatened. “Members of the Muslim community are creating a ruckus here, spreading non-vegetarianism, throwing meat and cow meat in the Ganga to defile it. If we don’t take note, then it will become Kashmir. There should be one state for Hindus at least,” he was quoted as saying.
Ajendra Ajay, senior BJP leader, alleged that instances of “love jihad” and other crimes have increased in Uttarakhand because of an influx of people belonging to “a certain religious community”. This community, he claims, “secretly” constructs its places of worship which leads to communal tension, and this he describes as “land jihad”.