Driving Muslims out of “Devbhoomi”

The Sangh’s quest for a Hindu holy land

Shops in Dehradun all coloured a bright saffron. In the imagination of the Sangh Parivar, Uttarakhand is the natural home for a Hindu holy land, a Dev Bhoomi in which the movement and settlement of Muslims will be restricted. Photograph by Alishan Jafri


ON A LATE NIGHT in June, the hills of Uttarakhand were tranquil and the small town of Purola asleep, but Mohammad Ashraf was awake. He paced around his house, looking out of the window frequently. Were people roaming outside? Was an attack imminent? He kept watch all night, deliberating whether to flee the town that had been his home for nearly 40 years. “I was very afraid, my kids were crying,” Ashraf told us.

Days earlier, on 5 June, posters had appeared on his shop and the shops of Muslims across Purola warning “all Love Jihadis” to leave the town, signed by a Hindu outfit called the Dev Bhoomi Raksha Abhiyan. This was shortly after a massive rally led by Hindu organisations had taken place, to protest what they claimed was an increasing pattern of “love jihad” in the region—a Hindu nationalist concoction that claims Muslim men are luring Hindu women into relationships with the goal of converting them to Islam. Two men, Ubed Khan and Jitendra Saini, one Muslim and one Hindu, had been accused of attempting to kidnap a minor Hindu girl in Purola. The duo was arrested, but it became the basis of a campaign against Muslims—an opportunity the Hindu Right grabbed to launch a public agitation on its long-standing conspiracy theory.

On 29 May, hundreds had gathered for the Hindu rally. They marched across town, chanting “Jai Shri Ram.” The town’s markets had been shut down—including Ashraf’s three-generation-old clothing business. Ashraf said the rally intentionally passed by his home, his family being one of the oldest and most well established Muslim families in Purola. His father had settled there in 1978 and Ashraf was born there. “They came in front of my gate and hurled abuses,” he said. He listed the slogans the crowd chanted during the rally, “Drive away the love jihadis. Drive away the Muslims. Muslim rule won’t be tolerated.” But one slogan stood out, “Muslim mukt Uttarakhand chahiye”—We want a Muslim-free Uttarakhand. Ashraf’s three young children witnessed the demonstration from his window. “After they left, my children were asking me, ‘Papa, why were they abusing us?’ I had no answer. My nine-year-old asked me, ‘Papa, have you done something?’”

तुशा मित्तल कोडा-कारवां फेलो हैं. आपने राजनीति, विकास, महिला और सामाजिक न्याय पर लिखा है. आब का काम तहलका, अल जज़ीरा और वॉशिंगटन पोस्ट सहित अन्य प्रकाशनों में प्रकाशित है.
अलीशान जाफ़री स्वतंत्र पत्रकार हैं और नई दिल्ली में रहते हैं. आप विभिन्न राष्ट्रीय और अंतर्राष्ट्रीय पत्रकारिता मंचों में योगदान करते हैं. आप मानवाधिकार, मीडिया, गलत सूचना और भारत में चरमपंथी राजनीति के उदय पर लिखते हैं.