Posted On June 19, 2023
In a representation to Dr DY Chandrachud, Chief Justice of India (CJI), the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), pointing towards “alarming rise of hate speech, vigilantism, and targeted communal violence against the minority Muslim community in Uttarakhand”, has said that freedom of speech and expression does not extend to the ‘advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’.
Citing Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in this context, in their petition to CJI, Kavita Srivastava, president, and V Suresh, general secretary, PUCL, said, campaigns by local Hindutva groups using terms like “Vyapar Jihad” (Business Jihad), “Love Jihad,” and “Land Jihad” are meant to “instigate fear and hatred” among Muslims.
Seeking CJI’s urgent intervention to protect the Muslims, they add, “Homes and shops belonginghe to Muslims have been marked with an ‘X’, and long standing residents including a BJP Minority Cell leader (Mohammed Zaid), have been forced to flee their homes due to the threat of violence.”
We are writing this letter as People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) to bring to your attention the alarming rise of hate speech, vigilantism, and targeted communal violence against the minority Muslim community in Uttarakhand in the last few days.
We are a civil liberties and human rights organisation formed in 1976 by Sh. Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Kriplani, Krishna Kant and others. Justice V.M. Tarkunde, Justice Rajindar Sachar, Rajni Kothari, K.G. Kannabiran and other legal luminaries. PUCL has been at the forefront of the defence of the freedom of speech and expression in its work ever since its inception.
However, as per human rights standards both internationally as well as in the Indian Constitution, the freedom of speech and expression does not extend to the ‘advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’ as per Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 19 (2) envisages a restriction of the freedom of speech and expression on the ground of ‘incitement of an offence’. It is precisely this dangerous transgression of the limits of free speech which threatens the life, liberty and property of an entire constitutionally protected grouping, in Uttarakhand that we wish to bring to your kind attention.
We submit this petition to draw your immediate attention to the alarming rise of hate speech, vigilantism, and targeted communal violence against the minority Muslim community in Uttarakhand and to request you to kindly direct the state government of Uttarakhand and the concerned authorities to take immediate measures to redress violent hate campaign, incitement to violence, increased insecurity in the minority community which is resulting in many being coerced into leaving their homes.
A multi-layered discriminatory public campaign led by certain groups such as Bajrang Dal, VHP for the last few months and continuing till date have been systematically targeting the Muslim community. During the course of these campaign they has used terms like “Vyapar Jihad” (Business Jihad), “Love Jihad,” and “Land Jihad” to instigate fear and hatred among the majority community which has created an atmosphere of violence and insecurity against the Muslims living in the region, causing an exodus
The situation threatens to escalate by June 15, 2023 in Purola in the district Uttarkashi, where a ‘Mahapanchayat’ (a mega assembly) is being planned by several groups who have come under the leadership of Swami Darshan Bharti of Debhoomi Raksha Abhiyan. The Hindustan Times has reported that posters have been put up in Purola threatening owners of Muslim owned shops to vacate before the Mahapanchayat. The link to the report can be found here – https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/posters-asking-muslim-traders-to-leave-surface-in-uttarakhand-101685991761377.html
Papers like Amar Ujala and Hindustan have reported that a letter has been sent by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to the Tehri District Magistrate giving an ultimatum to members of the Muslims Community to leave the Jaunpur valley and in particular the towns of Nainbagh, Jakhar, Nagtibba, Thatyur, Saklana, Damta, Purola, Barkot and Uttarkashi. The threat specifies that if Muslims don’t respond to their ultimatum of leaving the areas themselves, these organizations will organise a chakka jam in Tehri on 20.06.2023. The report of Hindustan, a Hindi newspaper detailing the contents of this letter can be found here.
The continuous barrage of hate filled campaigning has already led to the exodus of numerous Muslim families. It will also provoke an already volatile situation into systemic communal violence on a large scale, unless the state takes immediate and urgent proactive measures to stop both the hate campaigns as also to prevent violent attacks to take place.
The campaign was based on an incident of alleged abduction of a Hindu minor girl in Purola by two accused (belonging to both Hindu and Muslim communities) and has been escalated as proof of ‘love jihad’. It should be noted that no governmental organisation or data has ever substantiated the existence of ‘love jihad’, or forcible conversions in the guise of fraudulent romantic relationships, but that the concept has been used to buttress hate-speech against Muslims across the country in recent times. The current situation in Uttarakhand is playing out similarly.
The Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan is an organisation operating in the area, which issued posters demanding that Muslims in the area flee their residences on threat of violence. They were joined by local community leaders like Swami Darshan Bharti and Rakesh Uttarakhandi, who also called for the forced eviction of Muslims while making hate-speech against the community. Evidence of these speeches are available in videos currently seeing wide circulation, and are contributing to the deterioration of communal harmony in the area.
Local press has also reported that homes and shops belonging to Muslims have been marked with an ‘X’, and long standing residents including a BJP Minority Cell leader (Mohammed Zaid), have been forced to flee their homes due to the threat of violence.
The threats were consolidated and escalated on May 29, when a rally organised by groups of the majority Hindu communities of the ruling BJP parties with the support of trade unions, turned violent, with mob violence against home and shops in the area. Reports suggest senior leaders of the ruling party have been involved with these rallies, with the District General Secretary of ruling party, Prakash Kumar Dabral, saying, “We will not let them do business here, will not let them open shops. Then they will leave on their own.”
These demands go against the spirit of the Preamble which rests on the spirit of the fraternity. These consistent hate speeches attack the dignity of the individuals, threatens not only their livelihood but also their life based on their religious identity i.e. Muslims. It reduces the Muslim citizens to second class citizenship and creates both institutional and popular sentiment to view them as lesser than. As ground situation shows, it does not stop with seeing Muslims as lesser than but goes on to instigate targeted violence against them, their property and a series of their fundamental rights. The violent targeting of a religious group with the intent of removing them from a geography, holds alarming similarities to genocidal tactics.
This is not an exaggeration, as the primary leaders of this campaign have also previously been involved in explicit calls for the mass-murder of Muslims, at speeches given at the Haridwar Dharma Sansad of 2022. The common leader between the Dharam Sansad of 2022 and the hate campaigns now is Swami Prabodhanand Giri Mahamandaleshwar who is a repeat offender. This court has critically intervened when it came to the hate speeches made in Dharam Sansad and directed the state to register FIRs against the accused. A brief profile of the antecedents of Swami Prabodhanand Giri Mahamandaleshwar can be found here.
This also follows from the incitement to genocide on April 20 2023, at a Dharma Sabha in Uttarakhand organised by the fundamentalist group, the Rudra Sena, where calls for an economic boycott of minorities & and a ban on the settlement of “non-Sanatanis” in the state were made.
They declared that “peace cannot prevail in the world unless every ‘jihadi’ is eliminated.” The leader of the Rudra Sena, one Rakesh Tomar Uttarakhandi, has previously made speeches calling for the Van Gujjar community (a primarily Muslim tribal group) to evict the area on threat of violence.
Swami Darshan Bharti, mentioned above in paragraph 4 is leading the call for mass evictions. He was among those making hate speeches at the Dharma Sansad. His group, Uttarakhand Raksha Abhiyan, has previously circulated 1.5 lakh pamphlets inciting Hindus to stand up against alleged changes in the demography of Uttarakhand because of Muslims in 2019. He has been previously jailed after his hate-speech inspired physical attacks on Muslims.
All of these speeches, posts, fall squarely within the understanding of hate speech that this very court has provided in Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v Union of India. As the Supreme Court observed:
“7. Hate speech is an effort to marginalise individuals based on their membership in a group. Using expression that exposes the group to hatred, hate speech seeks to delegitimise group members in the eyes of the majority, reducing their social standing and acceptance within society. Hate speech, therefore, rises beyond causing distress to individual group members. It can have a societal impact. Hate speech lays the groundwork for later, broad attacks on vulnerable that can range from discrimination, to ostracism, segregation, deportation, violence and, in the most extreme cases, to genocide.”
The situation in Uttarakhand of fear amongst the Muslims, the exodus and threat of violence are the visible harms of hate speech in action as noted by this Supreme Court. More so, the reality presents alarming similarities to the ground work before a genocide.
In such a situation the state’s failure to take adequate action is notable given that this was brought to their attention in an open letter dated May 30, written by the Lawyers of the Supreme Court of India to the Governor of Uttarakhand. The letter also noted specifically the actions of the previously mentioned entities in relation to hate-speech and past communal violence.
This is despite this honourable Supreme Court in W.P. No.940 of 2022 directing the state of Uttarakhand vide its order dated 21.10.22 “to ensure that immediately as and when any speech or any action takes place which attracts offences such as section 153A, 153B and 295A and 505 of the IPC etc., suo motto action will be taken to register cases even if no complaint is forthcoming and proceed against the offenders in accordance with law.”
It is important to note that the Hon’ble Supreme Court has been deeply concerned at the rise of hate speech and mob violence in the country and in Uttarakhand in particular. On 17.07.2018, in its judgement in Tehseen Poonawalla vs. Union of India and Ors., the Court directed all State governments to proactively act against hate speech and mob violence.
Further, as per the Court’s 21.10.2022 order in Shaheen Abdullah vs. Union of India (WP(C) 940/2022), the states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi were specifically directed to “ensure that immediately as and when any speech or any action takes place which attracts offences such as Sections 153A, 153B and 295A and 505 of the IPC etc., suo moto action will be taken to register cases even if no complaint is forthcoming and proceed against the offenders in accordance with law,”. Despite this till date no FIR’s have been registered by the police.
Given the grave threat to the lives and property of minorities and the dereliction of constitutional duty of the State, in Uttarakhand we urge the Hon’ble Supreme Court:
To urgently intervene by directing the Chief Secretary, Government of Uttarakhand and the Director General of Police to personally ensure that the Mahapanchayat scheduled to take place at Purola on 15.06.2023 and the rally and chakka jam programme on Tehri on 20.06.2023 are denied permissions based on the harm caused by the continuing hate campaigns to the constitutional fabric of the State.
The Chief Secretary and DGP, Uttarakhand should be held accountable for the dereliction of their constitutional duty to protect all citizens and ensure law and order in the State.
To direct the concerned authorities to immediately register FIR’s under the relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 against Swami Prabodhanand Giri Mahamandaleshwar, Swami Darshan Bharti, Rakesh Uttarakhandi and Prakash Kumar Dabral, amongst others who threatening the right to life, livelihood and residence of Muslim population in the State of Uttarakhand.
To ensure initiation of a thorough investigation regarding the role of organisations such as Rudra Sena, Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal among others, into the incidents of hate speech, vigilantism, and violence targeting the minority community in Uttarakhand taking place in an unabated manner with the full and tacit support of the state administration and police.
Ensure the implementation of Supreme Court orders regarding hate speech and mob violence, including the appointment of nodal officers to eradicate hostile environments against targeted communities as spelt out by this court in Tehseen Poonawala case and Shaheen Abdulla cases.
Provision of adequate protection to the minority community and individuals, both in their residence as also in their shops and business areas, who are at risk due to the ongoing campaign of hatred.
Issuance of clear directives to the state government and law enforcement agencies to maintain law and order, protect minority rights, and prevent any further incidents of violence.
We firmly believe that the judiciary, as the guardian of justice and protector of citizens’ rights, has the power and responsibility to uphold the constitutional values of equality, secularism, and social harmony. By addressing this petition, your Lordship would not only ensure justice for the affected communities but also uphold the principles of our democratic society.
We earnestly request your urgent attention to this matter.
Courtesy : Counterview