New Delhi: Pointing to several incidents of “hate-fuelled mob violence” in Uttarakhand over the past five years of BJP rule in the state, a large number of senior lawyers and legal professionals have in an open letter to chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami charged that the “state government appears to not be enforcing the law uniformly in such incidents.” Instead, they have stated, “there seems to be a pattern of favouring those close to the ruling party’s ideology.”
The 42 signatories of the letter – among who are senior advocates Anjana Prakash, Sanjay Parikh, Prashant Bhushan, N.D. Pancholi, Raju Ramachandran, Kamini Jaiswal, Gopal Sankaranarayanan and Chander Uday Singh – cautioned that such acts of protecting the accused “will have the effect of encouraging further hatred and violence, with lasting effects on the lives and rights of citizens as well as the future of the State.”
The members of the legal fraternity also stated that at a time when the state government has been making several public statements regarding instituting a Uniform Civil Code, it was “vital that the government ensure the uniform application of criminal law, in accordance with the constitution.” Otherwise, they said, “such other exercises appear to be aimed at intimidating sections of the citizenry rather than ensuring respect for equal rights.”
Citing 19 articles in various newspapers and news portals, including four in The Wire, the letter went on to point out important instances where there was an “apparent lack of uniform enforcement of law in Uttarakhand”.
‘No effort to get Narsinghanand’s bail cancelled for violation of conditions’
In this regard, it first raised the issue of how “in December (2021), a program was held in Haridwar at which open calls for the ethnic cleansing and mass killing of Muslims were made.” The said this event was denounced by retired chiefs of the Army and Navy; by former directors general of police of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Kerala and other states; by 76 six lawyers, and by numerous other eminent persons as a threat to the lives of citizens and to national security.
However, it lamented that despite such calls against the programme, which was a “direct incitement to violence”, only two of the organisers were eventually arrested that too after a three-week delay. Stating that both of them have since secured bail, the letter said the bail condition for one of the accused, Yati Narsinghanand, laid out on February 7, 2022 includes that he would not join in any programme prejudicial to social harmony.
But, the lawyers highlighted that Narsinghanand has “given similar speeches on April 3rd in Delhi” and also “over social media”. Due to this, they said, one FIR was registered against him for his speech on April 3 and another on June 9 for statements made over social media. “Yet, despite these flagrant violations of bail conditions, till date it appears that no effort has been made to seek cancellation of his bail.”
‘Several incidents of violence against minorities since 2017’
The letter also referred to “a series of incidents that have taken place all over the state since 2017” and which had prompted civil society groups, including senior retired police officers to write in January this year to state that “Uttarakhand has never seen violence on this scale before.”
This letter had noted that there had been “thirteen such incidents in 2017 and 2018 (specifically, in Satpuli, Mussoorie, Araghar (Dehradun), Kirtinagar, Haridwar, Raiwala, Kotdwar, Chamba, Augustyamuni, Doiwala, Ghansali, Ramnagar, and an attack on the CPM’s office in Dehradun)”, and that in the most recent incident of October 3, 2021, a church in Roorkee was vandalised in broad daylight and four people beaten and seriously injured.
In connection with the October 2017 attack on CPI(M)’s office and the October 2021 Roorkee incident, the latest letter said “it appears, at least from the public record, that no one was even arrested despite the attacks taking place in the presence of many witnesses. Similarly, it added, “as the retired police officers note, no action appears to have been taken against the office bearers of the organisations that openly called for violence in several of these incidents.”
‘Uttarakhand government took no steps to prevent incitement, inflammatory calls’
The members of the legal fraternity also wrote to Dhami saying that following the violent incidents on April 16 in Haridwar, the government took no steps to prevent incitement and inflammatory calls for a “mahapanchayat” in the same village, until a bench of the Supreme Court directed on April 26 that the chief secretary place on record that no hate speech or violent incidents would take place.
The letter said the apex court had to ask the state government to state that it would uphold its responsibilities under the constitution. It added that “this simple direction from the court resulted in the administration overnight banning the mahapanchayat demonstrating that the government was perfectly aware of what the results of this event would have been, and yet it still chose to take no action until the court intervened.”
Averring to the seriousness of the issue, the letter said “among those who purportedly planned to speak at this event were Shri Anand Swaroop and others who describe themselves as part of the ‘core committee’ of the December program, further demonstrating a direct link between repeated efforts to incite violence in the state – and the repeated failure of the administration to act against such elements.”
CM Dhami, other officials accused of making partisan statements
The letter also accused Dhami and other senior elected officials of making remarks since last year that the state has seen “demographic change”.
They said an order was issued by the Uttarakhand government on September 24, 2021 stating that “due to this demographic change, members of a certain community are forced to migrate from those areas”.
However, the letter said, “from what we are aware, there has been no location cited till date in which such migration has occurred. More recently, statements have been made promising “strict action” against “illegal encroachments by mazars (and other religious institutions of the minority community).”
The letter noted that “religious establishments of all communities have been accused of occupying government land across India” and that “such partisan statements, made without evidence, lead to the creation of a sense of fear and insecurity, leading some to fear their fellow citizens and others to fear that they will be targeted.”
Finally, the lawyers also raised the issue of the demolition in Rudrapur of the house and godown of Salman, who was accused in a murder case. They said, “it bears mentioning that as per available information no such action has been taken against any accused of any other community, and there is no reference to any due process of law being followed.”
Dhami government urged to enforce laws without discrimination
In view of all these instances, the letter urged the BJP government in Uttarakhand led by Dhami to “ensure that it consistently and uniformly enforces the law without discrimination” and to “act against all those who are seeking to promote hatred and spread mob violence in the state.”
It also demanded that the government ensures “full implementation” of the July 2018 directions of the Supreme Court relating to mob violence in the state and to “immediately proceed against all the organisers of the December programme as well as any other organisations or individuals who have engaged in open calls for violence under all applicable sections of the law”.
The Dhami government has also been asked to “publicly state that your government will ensure the security of the lives and property of all those residing in the state” and to “immediately seek the cancellation of the bail granted to anyone who has violated their bail conditions by inciting and encouraging violence.”