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The People Who Sparked Communal Frenzy in Uttarakhand, One Hate Speech At a Time

A campaign to drive Muslims out of Uttarakhand is being led by Hindutva groups for the last few months.

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“We are here to warn the Jihadis … You people do Love Jihad, Land Jihad … Do you think we will stay silent?” Rakesh Tomar Uttarakhandi, founder of the Hindutva organisation Rudra Sena said on 20 April during a ‘dharm sabha’ in Chakrata in Uttarakhand, about 125 kilometre from Purola – the epicentre of anti-Muslim hatred in Uttarakhand since 26 May. 

Tomar is a self-proclaimed saviour of Hindu women, disciple of Darshan Bharti, founder of the Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan. 

The 20 April event was attended by Tomar, Swami Prabodhanand, the president of the Hindu Raksha Sena and several hundred other Hindutva supporters.

Fast-forward to 19 May, Bharti said, "We are becoming victims of 'Love Jihad' and 'Land Jihad'. The Pauri Garhwal chairman... is inviting Muslims to his daughter's wedding. What a shame."

Bharti was talking about the Uttarakhand's Bharatiya Janata Party leader Yashpal Benam. A day after Bharti's speech, Benam cancelled his daughter's marriage to a Muslim man after the pictures of invitation card went viral on social media and people including Bharti called for his boycott.

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"Will you protest against this man? Raise your hands," said Bharti and almost everyone in the crowd cheered and raised their hands.

A few days later, on 26 May, an alleged 'abduction' of a Hindu girl by a Hindu and a Muslim man in Uttarkashi’s Purola town evolved into claims of 'Love Jihad' and has now escalated into a full-fledged campaign to drive Muslims out of Uttarakhand, also known as Devbhoomi – the land of the gods. 

In the last two weeks, the town and nearby areas have seen a forced exodus of Muslim families, three large anti-Muslim rallies, attacks on Muslim-owned businesses, anti-Muslim slogans in front of Muslim houses, hate speeches on social media, and a Mahapanchayat which was foiled by the administration.

Similar Toolkit, Repeat Offenders at Purola

What is common between the events that unfolded in Purola recently and earlier anti-Muslim incidents and campaigns is the modus operandi.

The Quint examined more than three dozen Facebook profiles and pages, hundreds of videos and posts and comments to piece together the hate speeches and interviews that led to the campaign to drive Muslims out of Uttarakhand, as well as the Hindutva priests, BJP politicians and activists behind it.

The most frequently used term in these speeches, posts, and interviews was 'jihadi,' and the 'toolkit' involved three Hindu right-wing conspiracy theories – Love Jihad, Land Jihad, and Vyapar (business) Jihad – with the third leading to a concerted effort to economically oppress Muslims. 

The main leaders of the recent campaign in Uttarakhand are serial offenders and have previously been involved in explicit calls for the mass murder of Muslims at speeches given at the infamous Haridwar Dharma Sansad (religious parliament) of 2021.

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The common leader between the Dharma Sansad of 2021 and the recent hate campaigns is Prabodhanand and Darshan Bharti, founder of the Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan.

During the Dharm Sansad, Prabodhanand had said that “every Hindu must pick up weapons and we will have to conduct this cleanliness drive (safai abhiyan). There is no solution other than this.” Bharti, on the other hand, spoke about the “Islamic activities in Devbhoomi.”

Hate Speeches of 'Vyapar Jihad'

Here is a rundown of the hate speeches, videos, and interviews of serial offenders calling for an economic boycott of Muslims in Uttarakhand:

In a speech at the 20 April 'dharm sabha' Prabodhanand had said: "Non-Hindus who come to Uttarakhand to do business should be given a limited-time permit."

Prabodhanand stated that Muslims will cause an economic crisis for Hindus in Uttarakhand, and he advocated for an economic boycott of Muslims. 

"The business of Uttarakhand is no longer in our hands. A Kashmiri company... a terrorist has taken over the Char Dham Yatra contract... Some have salons, others have flower stores, and still others have eateries.  And, you know, they don't provide you food unless they urinate and spit on the food. It is part of their jihad," he explained.

Prabodhanand admitted to the press that he recently drove a Muslim barber out of a village called Kangri.

"There are no Muslims in Kangri village. You'll be shocked to know that they've rented a barber shop in front of Balaji Dham for 2,000 rupees per month... When I found out, I called the shop owner and told him he had two hours to get the shop vacated or else I'd have him leave," he told reporters.

The Quint found Prabodhanand's photos with prominent politicians including one with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and one with CM Pushkar Singh Dhami.

  • Swami Prabodhanand with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in a post on Facebook from 2017.

    (Photo: swamiprabodhanand.giri/Facebook)

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On 27 May, Tomar did a Facebook Live about the Purola incident, "It saddens me that in a place as peaceful as Purola, people have rented their properties to Jihadis," he said. The video has been viewed over 4,400 times.

In another video from 7 June, he stated that Muslims should vacate shops before 15 June. "We will have a huge mahapanchayat here and discuss who will live here and who will not."

In July 2022, he had demanded suspension of the recognition of a school in Dehradun for declaring Friday a holiday and called for its boycott. The Quint found a recent photo of him with CM Dhami.

A campaign to drive Muslims out of Uttarakhand is being led by Hindutva groups for the last few months.

Rakesh Tomar with Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami in a recent post on Facebook.

(Photo: rakeshtomar1380/Facebook)

In another video, Bharti could be heard calling for a boycott of Muslims and saying that they should not be allowed to trade.

"They (Muslims) should not be permitted to trade. They have eyes on our daughters, land, and business. We ask every responsible Uttarakhand resident to boycott them,” he alleged.

Bharti even had issues with a halal meat business. "Previously, there was no halal meat in Uttarakhand; now, 90 percent of halal meat is sold in Uttarakhand. There are halal meat outlets near our Dhams," he said in an interview.

Another right-wing activist who has been pushing for driving out Muslims from Uttarakhand is Radha Semwal Dhoni whose Facebook profile is rife with anti-Muslim posts and she claims to be the protector of Uttarakhand.

In March, she recorded a video where she pointed cameras at Muslim vendors and asked them their names and their Aadhaar card as well. 

She claims that they present themselves as Hindus and that they have come from Lucknow. Just like Prabodhanand, she claims that the vendors in her region lie and spit on the vegetables they sell.

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She asked them, “Why do you come here? Why don’t you carry an Aadhaar card? Do you want to sell us vegetables that have been spat on?" To this, one of the vendors says, “It’s not true, we are not spitting on vegetables.”

Durgeshwar Lal, a BJP legislator from Purola, spoke out against Muslim traders in a recent Facebook video interview that was viewed over 126,000 times.

"There is a plot... There are agencies that fund them... The native people can't afford to pay 3,000 and 5,000 rupees, but these people who come make fancy shops, can pay 'pagdi' (lease) and can pay 20-25,000 rupees rent," he claimed.

Hate Speeches of 'Love Jihad'

Prabodhanand addressed a press meeting on 5 June about the growing 'Love Jihad' incidents in Uttarakhand.

"Love jihad incidents are on the rise in Dehradun as well. Their goal is to make Devbhoomi look like Kashmir... To prevent this from happening, each of us must take action. The Jihadis have crossed the border and are now targeting Hindu women," he said.

"I had written to the chief minister requesting that people coming here to do business be verified," he claimed

In a speech at the Hare Ram Ashram in Haridwar on the same day, Prabodhanand asked Sanatanis to protect Sanatan (eternal) ‘Sanskriti’. “People come and insult our wives and daughters and we just watch," he said.

Prabodhanand stated in another video shared on his very active Facebook account that there is an international plot against Devbhoomi. "Protecting sisters and wives in Devbhoomi has become harder... This is not a single girl's story. Many girls are being targeted in Uttarakhand," he said.

When asked about the role of a Hindu man in the purported 'abduction' case in Purola, Prabodhanand stated, "It was the Hindu boy's folly. He should have not supported him.

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Prabodhanand in a video posted on 9 June, lauded many Hindu right-wing activists including Tomar.

"Rakesh Uttarakhandi's team has done brave work in rescuing minor girls kidnapped by Jihadis. I commend him and his team," he said.

Tomar and his team stopped two Muslim men who were allegedly travelling with a minor Hindu girl in Jaunsar Bawar, Garhwal district, on 31 May. He shared a video of the incident in which he can be seen threatening the two Muslim men. The video has been seen over 200,000 times. 

Garhwal Tak, a local news portal, also shared a video of the incident. "Apne inki khatardari ki? (Did you beat them up)," Tomar was seen asking the Patwari.

He urged Hindu women to remain safe and Hindus to have Muslim barbers leave their shops.

"I want to tell my Hindu sisters to be cautious. That Kerala man worked at a hair salon in Vikasnagar, and these jihadis also work in a hair salon. Stay vigilant and immediately evict these barbers and these people from their shops," he urged.

Munna Singh Chauhan, a BJP legislator from Uttarakhand, spoke during a press conference about rising ‘Love Jihad’ cases in the state. 

"I've given the police very clear instructions that not only those involved in this conspiracy and crime, but also those who gave them space, protection, and helped them, should be investigated and prosecuted," Chauhan stated.

The Quint came across a video of Reema Chauhan, a Hindu right-wing politician from Roorkee, Uttarakhand, on Facebook. In the video, Chauhan spoke about a Muslim man stabbing to death a 16-year-old girl in Delhi's Shahbad Dairy area and "requested" that the people of Uttarkhand protect their girls from "jihadis."

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"Through this video, I want to request the people of Uttarakhand to wake up before something like this occurs to our daughters in Uttarakhand... These jihadis disguise themselves as barbers, carpenters, vegetable dealers, or scrappers and infiltrate Uttarakhand. They entice our daughters and then either kill or abduct them."

Chauhan’s video was watched over 100,000 times on Facebook.

Pawan Nautiyal, the BJP's general secretary in Uttarkashi, was seen addressing the demonstrators in a video. He talked about 'Love Jihad' and asked people to watch The Kerala Story, a controverial movie that claims to tell the story of Malayali women who joined ISIS. On Facebook, the video was seen over 260,000 times.

Hate Speeches of 'Land Jihad'

"The authorities will not tell us what we will say or where we will go... There is an international conspiracy to make Devbhoomi hell," Prabodhanand stated in his speech on 20 April.

On 5 June, in a press meeting, Prabodhanand praised Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami for being 'vigilant' and stressed the need for 'verification of outsiders.' "There is a growing jihadi population in Uttarakhand... Every person who lives here must be verified."

Prabodhanand told Aaj Tak, News 24, and other media outlets on June 7 that "people are helping them (Muslims). We'll find out… when the truth comes out about how long they've been here, who brought them here... who helped them get fake Aadhaar cards."

He stated in another video shared on his very active Facebook account that the 15 June mahapanchayat was organised to "discuss how to protect Uttarakhand from jihadis."

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"They even attempted to desecrate our holy pilgrimage sites. They even attempted to hold namaz (Muslim prayer) there," he said.

When asked about the exodus of Muslims from Purola, he stated, "The reason is simple – Chor ki dadhi mein tinka (A speck in a thief's beard) ... They are involved in jihadi activities. They are fleeing because they are afraid of being caught eventually. No Hindu has asked them to leave their homes or businesses."

In a video on 9 June posted on his Facebook account, he says, "I request that you all continue this abhiyan (mission) as long as there is even one Jihadi in Uttarakhand." We need to teach all Jihadis in Uttarakhand a lesson... only then will Devbhomi be saved."

Tomar was seen in multiple videos wearing a saffron scarf and giving interviews to media while in Purola during the communal unrest. "This is Devbhoomi. In one video, Tomar told a reporter, "This is not the bhoomi of mullahs and maulvis."

"Jail jaana pade koi baat nahi hai par pahadon se jihad ko samanpt karke rahenge (Even if I go to jail, I have no problem, but I will wipe out jihad from the mountains)," he declared in the video.

The Quint found a private Facebook group called ‘Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan Founder (Swami Darshan Bharti) S,S,Rana’. The group has over 3,800 members. The threatening posters also had the name of the group. 

Bharti delivered a speech at a protest in Purola on 5 June. "This is the land of gods, there is no place for Islam here," he said and the audience applauded.

In another video posted on 6 June by a local Facebook page, Bharti is heard imploring Hindus to sacrifice, though he does not specify what that sacrifice entails.

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"To protect religion, sacrifice is required. I ask the people of Purola not to let the voice against jihadis die down, even if it means giving big sacrifice ... Do you want Devbhoomi to be the land of gods or the land of shrines and mosques?" he asked them.

In a video interview with a local media organisation, he stated that Muslims are changing Uttarakhand's demography. "One Muslim came. They then brought relatives from Meerut, Muzzafarnagar, and Rampur with them. They are now 400. There are almost 8,000 Muslims in Uttarkhashi alone,” he claimed.

Members of Bharti's organisation, Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan, reportedly distributed 1.5 lakh posters in 2019 inciting Hindus to stand up against alleged changes in the demography of the state because of Muslims.  Following this, Bharti was briefly imprisoned on grounds of inciting communal violence against minorities when cases of looting and arson of minority-owned businesses were linked to his Facebook remarks.

Statements such as the ones made by Bharti, Prabodhanand, Tomar, and others add to the current divisive and polarised environment in Uttarakhand, and even have the potential of inciting the Hindus, and pose a danger to Muslims.

Even after the Supreme Court directed the governments of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Delhi in October 2022 to lodge FIRs against hate speeches, Hindu priests, BJP leaders and hindutva activists continue to gather for hate events across the country.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Muslims   Uttarakhand   Communalism 

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