A case of land jihad has come to light in Uttrakhand near Tehri Dam. As per the reports, an illegal mosque was built during the early 2000s at a site in Khand-Khala Koti Colony, which was in close proximity of the dam, and since then, Hindu organizations have tried multiple times to get it removed. Recently, in the first week of September 2021, a group of local Hindus started fresh protests against the mosque and paced up the efforts to get over 150 square meters of land freed from illegal possession.
OpIndia reached out to Akshat Biljwan, the person leading the protests, to know more about the case. On September 6, Akshat and other members of the Hindu community of the Khand-Khala Koti Colony area started protests against the illegal mosque that has been built near the Tehri Dam by encroaching the land allocated to the tourist department.
Notably, several buildings, farmlands and religious structures were removed when the Tehri Dam was built. All legal owners of the properties were displaced to other locations, and the authorities paid them compensation and/or provided alternate land. During the construction, the company (JP) that was building the dam built a temporary mosque for the Muslim workers. After the completion of the project, the company and the workers went away, but the temporary mosque was not removed.
As time passed by, several Hindu organizations, including Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and even local BJP leaders, tried to get the mosque removed. Still, no concrete action was taken by the administration. Akshat said that just a few meters from the mosque, there is a CISF base that protects the dam from any danger. However, no one took action against the encroachers.
Akshat added, “Every Friday, hundreds of Muslims come here to offer prayers. After offering prayers, most of them sit on the road. There is a college nearby, and women from the locality often pass through this road. There have been countless cases of harassment in the region, especially on Friday, where there are over hundred Muslims sitting on the roadside. We have complained several times, but no one is ready to take any action.”
While talking about the person administering the mosque, Akshat said, “Those who come to the mosque are not locals. It is a small locality, and we can identify people by their faces. It is not hard to identify locals as everyone has IDs. But those who visit this mosque are not locals, and it is almost impossible to track them. The Maulvi (Mohammad Usmaan) who manages the mosque also lives far from the mosque. It is absurd that this illegal structure is still standing though everyone knows that it is illegal.”
Protests of September 6 against illegal mosque
On September 6, Akshat and others sat on the protest and raised slogans to remove the mosque built on illegally encroached land and ensure the security of the dam. In a video shared by Akshat on Facebook, he said, “When the dam was being built, the company gave temporary space to the Muslims to offer prayer. Now the company and the workers have left the area. The land has been transferred to the Tourist Department. Officials from Tourist Department, District administration and Police, were present at the scene. During the inspection, they found that the mosque is illegal.”
While talking to senior officials, Akshat also pointed out that some cases of love jihad also emerged in the region where Muslim men identified themselves by Hindu names and tried to lure Hindu girls. He said if the locals found out anyone was trying to lure the local girls and women or trying to harass them, they would take action themselves. He said, “This is not the first case. We are facing such problems daily. The mountain area we live in is supposed to be a calm place. We cannot tolerate such incidents anymore. We will have to take action if Police and administration fail to do so.”
As per the two documents shared by Akshat with OpIndia, on September 6, a joint survey took place around the mosque in which the administration found out that the mosque was illegal. There were some other structures that included some shops etc., which were also built on encroached land. Maulvi Mohammad Usmaan, who manages the mosque, was present at the spot. He was informed by the administration that the mosque was illegal and it had to be removed. Similar instructions were given to the temporary shops built around the mosque.
While talking about the instructions given by the administration, Akshat said that the administration took stern action against the temporary shops around the mosque and removed them. “They make sure to remove any temporary shop in the area swiftly, which is a good thing. However, when it comes to the mosque, everyone is shifting the blame to someone else, and no one is ready to take any action,” he said.
The administrator of the mosque demanded they should be provided with an alternate land to rebuilt the mosque. Akshat said, “We have a strong objection against the demand. When the structure has been deemed illegal by the administration, why they should get an alternate land, that means to get back the encroached land; the government would give them legal possession of a piece of land. This is unacceptable.”
Seeing the situation going against the mosque, the mosque administrator submitted a plea to the state minority commission. Interestingly, the minority commission took cognizance of the case immediately. It further delayed the process of removing the illegal structure. Akshat said, “I am amazed that the minority commission got involved in the case. They know that the structure is illegal. How can they ask the administration to provide an alternate land for the mosque? This is a mockery of the system.”
The incident of September 25
The administration had given 15-days time to the administrator of the mosque to remove the structure that ended on September 21. However, the mosque still stands on the land. On September 25, Akshat and others decided to revisit the area and hold protests against the administration. The officials from the local administration and police reached the spot. During the discussion, one of the officers got into an argument with Akshat, after which the situation almost went out of hand. The officer asked Akshat to lower down his volume that further irked Akshat.
He said, “The officer was new in the area. We do not know him, and he does not know the problems we are facing. When he asked me to lower down my volume, I did not understand what I said wrong.” He, along with his associates who were protesting at the site, tried to march towards the mosque. Police stopped them and pushed them back. Akshat and his associates kept asking the police present at the scene to call SDM as they wanted to know what action was taken by the administration.
SDM assured the mosque will be removed
Finally, when the SDM Apurva Singh reached the spot, she explained the current situation. Akshat shared the video with OpIndia in which the discussion with SDM can be seen. She said, “At this point, those who were administering the mosque have approached minority commission. As per the law, we have to answer them and take further steps, which is taking time.” She assured everyone present at the scene that for the administration, the mosque was on encroached land, it would be removed. “I cannot promise that it will be removed in a day, a week or a month, but I can assure you that it will be removed,” she said.
While talking about the incidents of harassment of women, SDM asked the locals to bring such incidents to the notice of the Police department. She also instructed Police to increase security on Fridays so that such incidents could be stopped. She said, “I am requesting you not to mix the issue of encroachment and eve-teasing. I have asked the Police to increase the security on Friday so that such incidents can be controlled. We will remove the illegal structure, but we have to follow the law.”
She further said that everyone has the right to approach courts, but that does not mean they would get to stay. There are guidelines in place issued by the Supreme Court to remove encroachments on the roadside. “Administration has the guidelines, and we can remove the structure, but we have to follow the procedure. You have to trust us. I understand there is a problem of mistrust, but I am assuring you that the structure will be removed,” she added.
The issue was raised in January
This is not the first time the issue has been raised. In January 2021, Dhan Singh Negi, BJP MLA Tehri, had raised the issue. While talking to OpIndia Hindi, he said that he had approached Tehri Hydro Development Corporation Limited (THDC) several times, but no one paid heed to his plea. The mosque that was located in the region was removed during the construction of the dam. However, this illegal structure was raised during the construction on a temporary basis. The company that was constructed the dam moved out, but the mosque stayed, which is causing a lot of trouble for the locals.
Reaction on social media
A part of the clip from Saturday was shared on Twitter by netizen Gopal Goswami who demanded the mosque should be removed. Several netizens echoed the demand.
टिहरी डैम पर अवैध बना दी गयी मस्जिद को हटाने की माँग करते स्थानीय युवा, पुष्कर धामी जी देवभूमि को दानव ग्रसित कर रहा है, अधिकारियों पर दबाव बनाइये। pic.twitter.com/HZGurgWgNw— Gopal Goswami (@igopalgoswami) September 26, 2021
Journalist Abhijit Majumdar said, “Are your Uttarakhand police defending the illegal masjid near Tehri lake, @pushkardhami, despite locals’ demands to stop demographic takeover?”
Columnist and Lawyer Divya Kumar Soti said, “Amazing! There are so many restrictions imposed around Tehri Dam, but still, a mosque was constructed!”
कमाल है! जिस टिहरी डैम के आस-पास इतने restrictions हैं वहां मस्जिद बन गई! https://t.co/xxTxDyM2Ey— Divya Kumar Soti (@DivyaSoti) September 26, 2021
OpIndia tried reaching out to the SDM but could not talk in detail about the case.
The problem of land jihad
This is not the first case of land jihad that has come to light. Recently, cases from Surat and other cities of Gujarat were detailed in one of our reports. In the shocking incident, the Disturbed Areas Act was circumvented and permission to construct a building was obtained through seemingly deceitful means. In Surat’s Adajan area, permission to construct a building was obtained by one Raihan Heights project, next to a temple by ‘temporarily’ bringing up a Hindu partner in a Muslim owned enterprise in what appears to be a bid to hoodwink the law.
Several incidents of illegal mosques and Mazars also came to light in recent times. In June, the UP government had demolished one illegal mosque in Hardoi. In March, UP Police arrested a Muslim man in Imartpur Udho village of Mainather District, Uttar Pradesh, where he tried to build a Mazar on land that belonged to a Hindu.