The ongoing communal tensions in Purola town in Uttarkashi stems from allegations that two men allegedly tried to kidnap a 14-year-old Hindu girl last month. Jitendra Saini and Ubed Khan were and booked under the POCSO Act.
Soon after, local Hindutva groups alleged this was a case of “love jihad”. After they led out a rally, ransacked shops, and told Muslim shop owners to leave, at least 41 Muslim families left the town.
But the minor girl’s uncle Rakesh told Newslaundry the Hindutva organisations deliberately gave the incident “communal colour” and manufactured claims of “love jihad”.
Rakesh also blamed a “local journalist” for manufacturing the “love jihad” angle in the first place. He claimed this journalist urged them to file a “fake complaint” with the police alleging his niece had been a victim of “love jihad”. This alleged fake complaint also said only Khan was involved, not the other accused Saini.
The journalist then purportedly “leaked” the “love jihad” angle on his news website, and that’s how Hindutva groups picked it up.
Here’s what happened.
The abduction attempt
The 14-year-old minor’s parents died when she was young. She lives in Purola with her maternal uncle Rakesh* and his wife. Rakesh is a government teacher; locals call him Masterji. When Newslaundry visited his home, he was initially reluctant to speak – he said “everything happening in Purola today is because of the media”.
He later relented.
“Journalists and Hindutva organisations have made my life difficult,” he said. “I haven’t been able to leave the house in a month. The police are doing their job properly but still Hindu-Muslim is being played by placing a gun on my shoulder.”
Rakesh said he received a phone call at 3 pm on May 26. “Someone called saying two people were trying to abduct my niece to Naugaon,” he said. “I wasn’t there at the time so I immediately called my friend Ajay* and asked him to quickly reach the spot.”
Rakesh arrived soon after and saw a “crowd” that included people from the “BJP, Bajrang Dal and VHP”. When he arrived, he saw his niece. Khan and Saini, whom he knew by sight, were “running away”.
“They have a shop in Purola Bazaar. We went to the shop with my niece,” said Rakesh. “I told them, ‘Whatever you have done, apologise for it, there will be no complaint to the police.’ Ubed and Jitendra were taking my niece with the intention of kidnapping her. But still, I would have forgiven them because I know Ubed and used to buy goods from his shop.”
However, both men “didn’t apologise and were arrogant”.
So, Rakesh decided to file a police complaint and went to the Purola police station.
Enter the ‘journalist’
At the police station, Rakesh was allegedly accosted by a local journalist named Anil Aswal. Anil allegedly gave him a “fake complaint letter to give the incident a ‘love jihad’ angle”. This “fake” letter only named Khan, not Saini, and alleged the “abduction” was due to “prostitution” and “love jihad”.
Rakesh said Anil runs a – which has nothing to do with the British Broadcasting Corporation – and has allegedly worked with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.
Anil told Newslaundry he did not press Rakesh to file a “fake complaint”. Yet he provided Newslaundry with a copy of this fake complaint. It said, in Hindi:
“[Khan] had been stalking the niece of the applicant for many days and was trying to abscond on the pretext of marriage. The opposite party is a very cunning person and the aim of the opposite party is to abscond with the minor girl and push her into flesh trade. The opposite party is so clever that the opposition has been deceiving the said victim girl by claiming his name as Ankit. It seems to be an attempt of executing a big incident by coaxing the niece of the applicant, and it is necessary that the opposite party must be accused of love jihad and the conspiracy to involve the minor girl in illegal trade by coercing and seducing her and to take strict legal action and immediately arrest him, and register a case under necessary sections.”
Rakesh said he “refused” to sign this letter or use it as his police complaint. “When there is no such case, then why is the ‘love jihad’ angle being introduced?...Why was the name of the other accused, Jitendra Saini, not mentioned?”
Khajan Singh Chauhan, the station house officer of Purola, told Newslaundry he had allegedly witnessed this “journalist” trying to coax Rakesh into using his fake complaint letter.
“The incident was not related to ‘love jihad’,” he said. “In the fake complaint, ‘love jihad’ was written and it said that Ubed Khan used to talk to the victim as Ankit. But this is a lie.”
The letter was then “torn up” – it’s unclear by whom. Rakesh then wrote his own complaint letter on the basis of which an FIR was filed, and Saini and Khan were arrested.
The journalist’s website, and a timeline of events
Rakesh alleged Anil then went a step further and published news stories on BBC Khabar about purported “love jihad” in Uttarkashi.
We found some of these news stories on his website. said two were arrested in a “love jihad case” and “Hindu organisations” are “on the boil”.
Newslaundry learned Anil “forwarded these news stories on local WhatsApp groups too”. We could not verify these claims.
The news was then picked up by a number of high-profile people in Purola, including VHP’s Virendra Singh Rawat, BJP’s Pawan Nautiyal, Yuva Morcha Mandal’s Diwakar Uniyal, and Purola Vyapar Mandal office bearers Brijmohan Chauhan and Deepak Nautiyal. On May 27, Chauhan allegedly removed Muslims from a WhatsApp group of Purola traders. Chauhan is also associated with the BJP.
The news then found its way to nearby villages. On May 28, the president of the Purola Gram Pradhan Sangathan – headed by Ankit Singh Rawat, who has ties with the BJP – issued a letter to village pradhans urging them to close Purola market on May 29 and hold a demonstration against the Muslim community.
The letter issued by the Purola Gram Pradhan Sangathan.
The Purola Vyapar Mandal also issued a statement appealing to people to participate in the demonstration.
Meanwhile, BBC Khabar published on a “demonstration against ‘love jihad’ in Purola”.
The May 29 protest, families depart
What followed was widely reported in the media.
The May 29 demonstration saw an angry mob ransacking shops run by Muslims. Slogans were shouted.
On June 4, Hindutva leader Darshan Bharti, who runs the Darshan Bharti Devbhoomi Abhiyan, visited Purola. He’s known for his anti-Muslim views and attended the in Haridwar in December 2021.
Bharti and his companions stayed at the Sarutal hotel in Purola. That night at 9 pm, posters were put up across Purola, warning Muslim traders to leave the town by June 15. Bharti’s organisation’s name is on the bottom of these posters.
The posters put up in Purola.
When Newslaundry asked him about the posters, he said, “I didn’t put these posters up. But if someone has put them up in the name of my organisation, I will not refuse.”
Hindutva groups also proposed holding a “mahapanchayat” on June 15.
Panic soon spread. Newslaundry estimated that 41 Muslim families left Purola by June 14. Meanwhile, the police refused permission for the mahapanchayat and imposed section 144 across Purola from June 14 to June 19.
Rakesh is despondent. “It was a case of kidnapping in which the police are working well,” he said. “I believe in the law. The Hindu-Muslim rift never arose in Purola. But Hindutva organisations made this matter so big that Muslims had to leave – which is wrong. The law is taking action against the guilty. I want those who left Purola to come back.”
*Names changed to protect identities.
This report was translated from Hindi to English by Shardool Katyayan,
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