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"When the mob chanted slogans outside our house, my children asked me, 'Papa, why are they abusing us?' I didn't know what to tell them. I had no response," says Mohammad Ikhlaq*, a shopkeeper in Uttarakhand's Purola.
Ikhlaq claims that when Hindutva supporters carried out a march in Purola, they stopped in front of his house for 15-20 minutes and chanted anti-Muslim slogans.
"They were saying things like 'Devbhoomi Mein Muslamano Ka Kya Kaam Hai?' ("Why should there be Muslims in Devbhoomi?") Devbhoomi - meaning the Land of the Gods - is the title given to Uttarakhand, a state with several prominent Hindu shrines.
Ikhlaq claims that two days before this incident, on 27 May, police officials came to his shop and told him to shut it down.
"They said 'there's a protest going on, and you never know what will happen,'" he narrated.
Ikhlaq is now planning to leave Purola for good in a few days, with his family and all their belongings, leaving a place that had been their family's home since over four decades. Many Muslim traders, including a BJP district minority cell office bearer Mohammad Zahid, have already left.
Ikhlaq's father had moved to Purola from Bijnor in 1978 and constructed a house in 1986. At that time, Purola was part of Uttar Pradesh.
"We are in our third generation here. My children were born here. I was born here. Where will a person go after living at a place for 45 years?"Mohammad Ikhlaq, trader based in Purola
In Purola, Muslims own 40-45 shops, including clothing stores, salons and motorcycle repair shops. Around 300 Muslims live in the town, the majority of whom moved here some decades ago from regions in Western Uttar Pradesh such as Saharanpur, Bijnor, and Aligarh.
According to Ikhlaq, it's not just Hindutva organisations but also the Vyapar Mandal or traders' guild, that is targeting them.
The Sequence of Events
On 26 May, communal tensions erupted in Purola when two men were allegedly found with a juvenile girl by some local residents. One of the two men was a Muslim, prompting accusations of 'Love Jihad'.
The two men, Ubaid Khan (24) and Jitendra Saini (23), were charged under sections 363 (kidnapping) and 366A (procuration of minor girl) of the Indian Penal Code, as well as under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) and remain in judicial custody, SHO Khajan Singh Chauhan of Purola Police Station told The Quint.
However, as per a report in The Indian Express, an investigating officer in the case denied this having to do anything with ‘love jihad’. “The girl did not know these people… There is no love jihad angle,” the officer is quoted as saying.
A day after the incident, Hindu right-wing groups, the local Vyapar Mandal and some residents held a protest rally attended by several hundred people, during which the hoardings and flex boards of Muslim-owned shops were vandalised by rally-goers.
On 29 May, another protest march was held in Purola, which turned violent after some of the agitators attacked Muslim-owned shops and establishments. On 3 June, almost 900 people attended a similar rally organised by Yamuna Ghati Hindu Jagriti Sangathan.
Rallies against Muslims were also held in other parts of Uttarkashi, including the towns of Barkot and Chinyalisaur, as well as the villages of Naugaon, Damta, Barnigad, Netwar, and Bhatwari.
'Owners Pressuring Us': Muslim Traders
The Quint verified that four Muslim families, had left town as of 12 June.
Shoaib* left Purola with his family of four on the morning of 28 May for Dehradun, returning only on the evening of 10 June to vacate his rented garment shop. "The owner was pressuring me. He, too, has negative feelings towards Muslims."
Following the 26 May incident, posters demanding that Muslim businessmen in Purola, Uttarakhand, vacate their shops immediately were pasted. One such poster was also pasted on Shoaib's shop.
Shoaib's father moved to Purola from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh 35 years ago. He constructed a house and started a garment business.
He is now looking for someone to buy his house. "What's the point of staying here? We cannot do business here."
A Muslim-owned shop being vacated in Uttarakhand's Purola.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)
Shoaib claimed that he was threatened by at least two-three locals while clearing out his shop. "You people do bad things, which is why you're being forced to leave," they told Shoaib.
He is guarded by 12 police officers. "I called the SHO for protection yesterday. They (policemen) will remain here till I vacate the shop."
'Vacate Shops' - Threats Posted Outside Muslim Enterprises
The posters, which warned of grave repercussions if the demands were not met, have been taken down by the police.
"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 Quint has found anti-Muslim posters from the protests. Here are some of them.
“Jihadiyon ko dega sharan, unki behn betiyon ka hoga haran (Those who will give protection to Jihadis, will kidnap their daughters and sisters), one poster read.
“Hindoun ko jagana hoga, Jihadiyon ko bhagana hoga (Hindus need to be awakened, Jihadis need to be chased away)," read another poster.
An anti-Muslim poster during a protest against 'Love Jihad' in Uttarakhand's Barkot.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)
"We have taken action against the poster incident," Arpan Yaduvanshi, Superintendent of Police, Uttarkashi, told The Quint.
An FIR has been filed under Section 153 A (Promoting animosity between different communities).
"We are trying to identify those responsible," he said.
Targeted Because of Taraweeh Prayers During Ramadan?
Ikhlaq has stopped his children from leaving the house for the past two weeks.
"It feels like we're being watched," he says.
On 5 June, he delivered a letter to Uttarkashi SDM Devanand Sharma requesting police protection. Circle Officer (CO) Barkot SS Bhandari assured him that the police are there to protect them.
Later that day, Ikhlaq was allegedly summoned by the SHO. "He said that because people are against us, we are not to open our shops."
According to Ikhlaq, the SHO informed him that they were being targeted by the locals because they held Taraweeh prayers at their homes during Ramadan.
However, the SP told The Quint that the police told the shopkeepers to open their shops.
"We told them they could open shops and that the police would protect them. I'm on my way to Purola to meet with the communities again," SP Arpan Yaduvanshi told The Quint.
'Social Boycott' of Accused Men: Vyapar Mandal
According to Brij Mohan Chauhan, president of the Purola Vyapar Mandal, both accused men's membership in the trade association has been revoked. "We're not going to let them stay. For something like this, they’ll be boycotted by the society.”
"Nobody is leaving," he said when asked why Muslims are leaving the town. "People who are incorrect are leaving."
Chauhan proposed a "verification drive" of all traders and shopkeepers, with those deemed delinquent barred from the town.
Around 3-4 June, Ikhlaq and the other Muslim traders were removed from the Vyapar Mandal WhatsApp group.
The Muslim shopkeepers say they are being targeted even though they had nothing whatsoever to do with the case that sparked the tensions.
"Some of my Hindu friends have told me that they make negative comments about us on social media. They plan against us on WhatsApp," said Ikhlaq.
'Live in Uttarakhand After Verification': Uttarakhand CM Dhami
Following huge demonstrations in Purola, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami met with senior police personnel on 9 June to discuss curbing 'Love Jihad' incidences. "People will be able to live in Uttarakhand after verification," Dhami said, according to The Hindu.
“The incidents of love jihad have increased only recently. This is also because awareness has also increased. People have started coming forward against this crime which is part of a well-thought-out strategy,” he claimed while speaking to reporters.
Meanwhile, the VHP and Bajrang Dal have issued an ultimatum to Muslims to leave certain areas of Uttarakhand.
(*Names changed to protect identity)