Hindu Men Who Provoked Mob Against Muslim Shopkeepers In Himachal Are Still Out, Spreading Islamophobia

Kaushik Raj
02 Jul 2024 16 min read  Share

Five days after a 400-500 strong mob looted the shops of Muslim shopkeepers in southern Himachal Pradesh over false allegations of cow slaughter, three men who incited the Hindus spoke with Article 14, spreading Islamophobia and threatening violence if Muslim “outsiders” came to the state. Even though there is a video of the men inciting the mob before the attack on Muslim shops on 19 June, the police had not arrested them at the time of publication. The Muslim shopkeepers who fled have lost their livelihood and the place they called home. The threats of violence were repeated at a gathering of Hindus on 26 June.

A mob looting shops in Chhota Chowk, Nahan in Uttarakhand, on 19th June/ SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Delhi: Two days after fleeing for his life from Nahan town in southern Himachal Pradesh, Savej Qureshi, a 32-year-old Muslim garments shopkeeper, said that his heart was broken.

“We were thinking of changing the address on our Aadhar card to Nahan. We have fallen in love with Nahan and its people all these years. But my heart is broken now,” said Qureshi, speaking from his village in western Uttar Pradesh, which borders Himachal Pradesh. 

“When you are physically attacked, blood is visible. But when your heart is attacked, it gives invisible wounds,” he said. 

A WhatsApp status message of his younger brother, Javed Qureshi, showed Javed slaughtering an animal on Eid, triggering rumours that he had killed a cow. 

In a video of the incident on 19 June, a 400-500-strong Hindu mob was seen looting Qureshi’s garments shop in the Chotta Chowk market in Nahan in front of the police while chanting “Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Ram” and “Shoot the traitors.

Savej moved to Nahan in 2009 from Jalalabad, his village in UP’s Shamli district, to work in a garment shop run by his relative. He later took over the garment shop. 

Javed, 30, a father of three children who ran a garment shop in Hamirpur, moved to Nahan six months ago and opened a jeans shop. 

Savej, a father of two children, said clothes worth five to six lakh rupees were looted from both shops.

Savej loaded the remaining items and brought them back to his village in Shamli with a heavy heart. 

The Congress Party returned to power in Himachal Pradesh in December 2022. For the past 30 years, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have governed the state alternatively. The Hindutva organisation, Hindu Jagran Manch, is active in the state. On 17 June, they posted a video in which vigilantes seized two trucks in Mandi in central Himachal Pradesh, alleging cows were smuggled in them.

People living in Nahan told Article 14 that about 15 to 16 “outsider” Muslims had left, referring to Muslims who had come from across the border districts of western UP and set up their shops in Himachal Pradesh. It was the UP Muslims that the local right-wing leaders incited the mob against. 

Rajkumar, the deputy sarpanch of village Banethi, who the police case said was responsible for gathering the mob, is still out.  Two other men, Dinesh Aggarwal and Shiv Kumar Garg, who we identified from a video of people inciting the mob on 19 June, are also out. 

The videos of the three men calling for the expulsion of “outsiders” from Himachal Pradesh and threatening violence can be seen here and here. 

Rajkumar and Aggarwal spoke with Article 14 on 24 June. Garg spoke with Article 14 on 1 July.

“Muslim population, especially from Saharanpur, have captured Nahan,” Rajkumar told us.  “Our law does not say that outsiders should be evicted. But some things have to be done outside the system. We can also take up arms to defend our religion.”

Saharanpur is a district in western UP. Javed and the other Muslims whose shops were looted,  however, were not from Saharanpur but from the neighbouring Shamli district. 

While insisting that his problem was with “outsider Muslims”, Rajkumar also spoke badly of Muslims. 

“I have worked with Muslims when I was at my job. Then, I realised what kind of people they are and how we live with them,” he said. “They don’t say India is their country.”

When asked why Rajkumar had not been arrested despite his role being mentioned in the first information report (FIR), the station house officer of the Nahan police station, Rajvinder Singh, said, "The matter is under investigation. Yes, the FIR mentions that Rajkumar called the people to gather. We can take action only after the investigation."

When asked whether the police investigated the two other men, Singh said, "We are seeing all videos. Only after investigation can everyone's responsibility be fixed."

Singh denied that Muslim shopkeepers were leaving. 

“Situation is peaceful,” he said.  “We have registered an FIR against those who looted the shops and will take action.”

Article 14 spoke with SHO Singh on 26 June, the same day that Rajkumar was addressing a meeting of Hindus in Nahan, where he threatened violence. 

 “Every religion teaches that we should defend our religion, and for that, even if you have to take up weapons, then you should,” he said. “If there is any danger to the Hindu religion, we will take up arms if needed.”

Rajkumar said a landlord should verify the identity of anyone who wants to rent and assess whether that person is “worthy” of renting. The landlord is also responsible if the person on rent does something wrong.

Article 14 reached out to Sirmaur district’s senior police officers, the superintendent of police, the deputy superintendent of police, and the additional superintendent of police via phone, text, and email. We asked them what action was taken against the men in the video and whether it was true that 15-16 Muslim shopkeepers from “outside” (out of the state) had left Nathan. This story will be updated if and when they respond. 

‘Under the leadership of Rajkumar’

Himachal Pradesh police registered an FIR against unknown persons for the looting of shops belonging to Javed, Savej and five others from UP, booking them under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, for unlawful assembly, rioting, house trespass, mischief causing damage of more than 50 rupees, and criminal intimidation. 

The FIR, registered on the complaint of SHO Singh, said that they received a complaint that Javed had uploaded a status on WhatsApp in which he was slaughtering a cow. Rajkumar, the deputy sarpanch, gave a call for the people to gather on 19th June at Bada Chowk in Nahan. 

“Under the leadership of Rajkumar, 400-500 people gathered where Rajkumar and others addressed the crowd. They told the crowd about Javed’s Whatsapp status depicting photos of cow slaughter, after which the crowd got provoked and started moving towards the shop of Javed and his brother Savej. They broke the locks of their shop as well as of five other shopkeepers from Uttar Pradesh and threw their clothes away on the roads.”

The police in Sirmaur condemned Rajkumar’s efforts to provoke the people a day before, on 18 Jun, through a Facebook post. “Rajkumar has given a call for the people to gather on 19 June at Bada Chowk, Nahan,” he said. “We refute his statements and would like to clarify that no such unwanted activity has occurred in Nahan.”

The slaughter took place in Shamli when Javed went back to his village for Eid on 17 June. The matter was investigated by the UP police, which has been under a BJP government since 2017.  

On 22 June, the police said that Javed had not slaughtered any protected animal, but since the photo posted by Javed was “gruesome,” a case for promoting enmity between groups was registered against him.  

Javed was arrested by the UP police, who said they would hand him over to Himachal Pradesh police after they had completed formalities. His family is trying to find a lawyer. 

Driving Out Muslims 

Article 14 spoke to 40-year-old Rajkumar, a former grocery store salesman who fought the village election in Banethi and was elected the deputy sarpanch in 2021.

Speaking over the phone on 24 June from Banethi, a village close to Nahan town, Rajkumar said he was the vice president of the BJP Nahan youth wing. He updated his Facebook status to say he was given this position in September 2023.

Recounting the events that led to the 19 June looting and Muslims leaving, Rajkumar said he was sitting at a shop at Bada Chowk, a market in Nahan, when the neighbouring shopkeepers showed him Javed’s Whatsapp status. 

“From the photo, I could see that it was a cow. It didn’t look like a buffalo from any angle. The blood in the photo struck me, and then you know how things are done in anger,” said Rajkumar. “I called some men, and seven-eight of us were the first to reach Javed’s shop and inform the whole market about this incident. Gradually, 50-60 people gathered there, and we announced that we would not tolerate any outsider.”

Rajkumar, the man named in the FIR, addressing a press conference on 18th June/ SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

“Then I held a press conference and asked everyone to gather at Nahan Bada Chowk on 19 June. I was the first person to highlight this incident,” he said.

In the press conference on 18 June, he said, “Cow is our mother. And if somebody does this to our mother, we will not spare them. Do you all agree with me?”

“I want to give an ultimatum from Vyapar Mandal from Hindu Jagran Manch, Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad that any shop owner who has rented his shop to people from Saharanpur must vacate their shops or they will be responsible for whatever happens in the future,” Rajkumar said, referring to three radical Hindutva groups.  

“Himachal is only for the people of Himachal,” Rajkumar said. “We have no problem if someone wants to rent to Muslims from Nahan or Himachal. But if someone if found from outside in the future, then we can do anything with the shopkeeper and the shopowner.” 

“From tomorrow, the shopowners who have rented shops to outsiders must evict them or we will do it after two or three days,” he said. 

Rajkumar addressing the crowd on 19th June just before the mob went and looted the shops in Chhota Chowk, Nahan/ SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

In a speech on 19 June, just before the mob moved towards the shops to ransack them, Rajkumar said, “People who have come from Saharanpur, I want to give an open threat to them that we won’t tolerate you. We will not spare you.”

“We don’t have any problem with the local Muslims of Himachal Pradesh. We only have problems with the Muslims of Saharanpur who are slaughtering our mother cow,” he said. “If any outsider is found, we can do anything with that shopkeeper and owner. All the shop owners must evict the outsiders within two days, or we will evict them after that.”

Speaking with Article 14, Rajkumar said that he called Javed’s landlord, Shyam Lal Khindri, and asked him to evict Javed.

Rajkumar said he was proud of the meeting he had held with the landlords of Chotta Chowk and Bada Chowk markets and asked them to evict “outsider Muslims” and that his efforts have led to Muslim shopkeepers leaving Nahan.

“To respect people’s emotions, we broke the locks of the shops and threw away all the stuff,” he said. 

Rajkumar said 14 to 15 shopkeepers had left. 

Rajkumar said that the BJP is supporting their “campaign” on the ground.

Himachal Pradesh’s BJP president and the former MLA from Nahan assembly, Rajeev Bindal, told the media on 19 June, “A young man who works in Nahan went to some other place and slaughtered a cow, and then he uploaded its photos. This raises questions as to why he played with the emotions of Hindus and what was the intention behind uploading those photos. Himachal Pradesh Police should take strict action against the culprit.”

‘People Coming From Outside Are Religious Fundamentalists’ 

After Rajkumar’s speech on 19 June, Shyam Lal Khindri, who owned the shops run by Javed, said he would evict him that day. 

Article 14 identified the other two speakers from 19 June by speaking with people from Nahan.

Shiv Kumar Garg addressing the crowd on 19th June just before the mob went and looted the shops in Chhota Chowk, Nahan/ SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

One speaker, Shiv Kumar Garg, was seen in the video saying, “We will get the shop vacated today.” 

“We have told landlords to evict people from outside. Now it depends on them if they are greedy for the rent money or evict them, but Hindu society is awakened and won’t keep quiet,” said Garg. “People who have employed outsiders in Nahan, I want to warn them by saying that you will have to give employment to locals, not outsiders.”

When the mob started shouting, “We will get the shop vacated today”, Khindri was heard saying, “Why are you taking the law into your hands?” 

Garg, a 45-year-old chartered accountant, told Article 14 that he was currently the convenor of the BJP chartered account cell in Himachal Pradesh, and had been a member of the “sangh”—the Hindu right-wing since his childhood.

Recalling the events on 18 June, Garg said he was at his office when he saw people going towards Javed’s shop, and he followed them.  

“There is an attempt to change the demography of Nahan. People are coming from outside, and they are all religious fundamentalists. Javed was from Shamli,” said Garg.  “There are three big places near him—Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and Saharanpur. Why did he not work there and instead chose to come to a small city like Nahan? Is there a conspiracy in this?” 

Dinesh Aggarwal addressing the crowd on 19th June just before the mob went and looted the shops in Chhota Chowk, Nahan/ SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

‘Our Next Target Is’

Another speaker, Dinesh Aggarwal, a municipal ward councillor in the neighbouring Kala Amb town, was seen in the video saying, “We will set fire to the items in his shop.” 

“Since the Congress government was formed in Himachal, these jihadis have become very bold, but Hindus are drowning in shame. When will the time come when Hindus will beat these people with a Jihadi mentality and throw them out.”

“If any Muslim comes to your place to sell vegetables or stuff, first check his Aadhar card and ask him to get verification from the police station,” he said. “Nicely ask Muslims from outside living in your homes to leave, but if they don’t leave, then thrash them and evict them from here.”

Aggarwal told Article 14 that he had been “sanghi” since he was 12 years old and ran a team of 20-25 cow vigilantes. 

“Cow slaughter is increasing. Till when will we tolerate it?” he said.

“It is written in our shastras (Hindu code) that we can take up weapons for the protection of cows, women, religion, and country,” he said. “I am just following that. Our next target is Kala Amb. Bangladeshi infiltrators are increasing there.”

“If they return, we will take up sticks,” said Aggarwal, referring to the Muslims who had left. 

Even though the Shamli police said that Javed “had not slaughtered any prohibited animal”,  Aggarwal and Rajkumar insisted it was a cow.

Rajkumar said the UP police were trying to hide the fact that it was a cow so that riots don't break out.

Another Hindutva organisation, Hindu Jagran Manch, also called the people to gather on 19 June. 

Driving Muslims Out

“We will start the roko, toko, aur thoko campaign,” they wrote on Facebook. 

The group’s leader, Kamal Gautam, a primary school teacher in the Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh, was suspended in 2023. No reason was given by the Senior Secondary School, Gwalmuthani. His organisation said was suspended by the Congress government for “opposing Jihadi activities” in the state.

On 19 June, Gautam wrote a Facebook post congratulating the mob that looted the shops. “Whoever will do wrong will be thrashed,” he wrote

Gautam had also called for an economic boycott of Muslims in July 2023. 

Hindu Jagran Manch’s leaders went to meet the deputy commissioner of the Siramur district. One told the media, “These acts should stop, or we might take big action one day. Then, this will become like Uttarakhand’s Purola.” 

In Purola, seven Muslim shopkeepers had to leave in June 2023 after an anti-Muslim campaign by Hindutva leader Darshan Bharti and his organisation Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan against “Love Jihad”, a baseless conspiracy theory alleging that Muslim men trap Hindu women to convert and marry them. 

A mob ransacking and looting shops in Chhota Chowk, Nahan, on 19th June/ SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

‘I Feel Like My Train Has Suddenly Derailed’

Bobby Ahmed, the Nahan president of the Anjuman Islamia Committee, a local Muslim organisation, said 14-15 Muslim shopkeepers had left since 19 June. 

Article 14 spoke to four Muslim shopkeepers whose shops were looted and who returned to western UP. They had little to no land in their villages and had migrated to make a livelihood across the border in states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. 

Mohammad Sameer, 19,  returned to his home in Shamli on 20 June after his garment shop and the shops of four of his relatives were looted. They alleged that clothes worth 15 lakh rupees and cash worth 2.5 lakh rupees were stolen.

Sameer moved to Nahan in 2020 from Vikas Nagar, a town in Dehradun in western Uttarakhand, where he used to work at a garments shop.

Sameer said that one Himanshu, who ran a ration shop in the same market, also joined in the looting. 

“This broke my heart because I used to purchase things from his shop, and I was on good terms with him,” he said. “I feel like my train has suddenly derailed. I want to go back. Who will protect me if a mob comes again?”

Tasleem Salmani, 42, who opened a salon in Nahan in 1998 and did not leave after the events of 19 June, said that he was scared.

“I’m scared in the place I have been calling home for the last 26 years,” said Salmani. “I can’t even open a salon anywhere else because you have to earn customers from an early age in the salon business. You can’t set up a salon at this age.”

While speaking to Article 14, Aggarwal spoke of an “economic boycott” of Muslims and said, “All the barbers in Nahan are mullahs. We aim to get a Hindu barber in Nahan. The only way left is to boycott them economically.”

Hindus Who Stood Against The Mob

Nahan Vyapar Mandal, an association of local businessmen, decided on 21 June that it would not rent any of its shops to “outsider Muslims”. 

However, not everyone in the Vyapar Mandal agreed with this. 

“Even if Javed did anything wrong, will you punish the whole community?” said Monty Kumar, 41, a garment and shoe shop owner. 

Kumar said he questioned the other shopkeepers when Javed’s WhatsApp status message went viral. 

“I asked them how can you be sure it’s a cow. They labelled me a Muslim sympathiser. Now Yogi ji’s police are saying it was not a cow. Were they lying?” he said.

Shahnawaz Qureshi, 32, who went to Nahan 20 years ago from Shamli with his brother Irfan Qureshi to open a shoe shop, said he was thankful to a Sikh shopkeeper who stood against the mob and saved his shop from being looted. 

Shahnawaz returned to his village on 21 June. 

“I have not eaten for the last 24 hours since I returned. My heart is breaking. My neighbouring shopkeepers were also crying when we were loading our stuff,” he said. 

Savej, Javed’s brother, said  that men wielding knives came to threaten him when he was in his shop on 19 June.

“I immediately called Bobby Bhai (Ahmed from the Anjuman Islamia Committee), who saved me. Neighbouring shopkeepers, including Hindus, also helped me because they know the truth that we sacrifice buffaloes,” said Savej. “They still call us and express their support.”

Article 14 spoke to one Hindu shopkeeper who saved Savej from the mob that day. 

Requesting anonymity, this shopkeeper said, “Will you not defend your brother if a mob attacks him? That’s what I did,” he said. “Threats increased so much that I had to publicly say that what happened with these Muslim shopkeepers was correct. But I stay in touch with them over the phone.”

The four Muslim shopkeepers we spoke with after they returned to their villages in UP said they were grieving the loss of the place they called home more than the financial loss. 

“I keep missing my daily routine in Nahan,” said Shahnawaz Qureshi. 

“This feels like a personal betrayal that I don’t think I will ever overcome.” 

(Kaushik Raj is a freelance journalist based in Delhi.)

Get exclusive access to new databases, expert analyses, weekly newsletters, book excerpts and new ideas on democracy, law and society in India. Subscribe to Article 14.