‘Business Jihad’: The Plot to Drive Out Religious Minorities in India

As Hindu nationalism continues to rise in India, the country’s minorities, particularly Muslims, find it more challenging to keep up with their lives due to increasing sectarian violence and tensions between Hindus and other religious communities.

With the persistent spread of hate crimes against Muslims in India, since the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party assumed power in 2014, a small town in the northern state of Uttarakhand has recently become a new focal point in continuing tensions between Muslims and Hindus in India.

It all started when two men, Ubaid, and Jitender Saini, allegedly kidnapped a 14-year-old Hindu girl in the town of Purola in India’s Uttarkashi district on May 26th. The town’s residents captured the abductors. They were handed over to the police, where they were charged with violating the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and other related laws.

What led to communal rifts between Muslims and Hindus was the fact that one of the suspects was a 24-year-old Muslim man, sparking new tensions between the communities and reviving the conspiracy of “love jihad,” where Muslim men allegedly marry Hindu women to convert them to Islam, despite little evidence of it happening. Even the BJP denies the existence of such reports.

Nevertheless, allegations of “love jihad” led to the creation of a new conspiracy involving jihad called “vyapar jihad” or “business jihad.” The May 26 incident in Purola also provided an opportunity for right-wing Hindutva groups like Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, to reinvigorate their movement of kicking Muslims out of the Himalayan state that borders China’s Tibet and turn it into a “devbhoomi” or land of the gods.

Uttarakhand is famous in India for its temple towns and several Hindu pilgrimage sites. While the state is composed chiefly of Hindus, a significant minority of Muslims also live there, with about 13.95% of Uttarakhand’s residents identifying as Muslims. Around 400 to 500 Muslims live in Purola, where they own businesses and shops.

A day after the kidnapping incident, government officials allegedly asked Muslim shop owners to close down their businesses due to a planned protest by Hindu groups against the attempted abduction of the Hindu girl. The tensions escalated further last May 29th when Hindu groups and their supporters organized a new rally, demanding that Muslims in Purola leave the town.

As a result, many Muslims left the town, including business owners. Mobs vandalized and attacked any Muslim-owned shop in sight, and an “X” mark was even seen in one shop in Barkot, a town 30 km (19 miles) away from Purola. A video also circulated on social media, where a Hindu mob was seen attacking a Muslim-owned business in Purola, hitting the doors of the business. Hindutva groups also gave an ultimatum to Muslims to leave the town, or they will institute a state-wide road blockade on June 20th.

Some of the Muslims that left Purola include a Muslim member of the BJP, Zahid Malik, who has been living in the town for over 30 years.

I had no option but to leave because there were clear threats that we will be harmed if we don’t leave before June 15,” Zahid Malik, who also serves as the president of the BJP’s minority wing in Uttarakhand, said regarding the expulsion. “Even though I am associated with the ruling party, sadly, I did not get any help from the administration,” he added.

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