There is concern being expressed in Uttarakhand about activities that are being termed as ‘love jihad’, ‘land jihad’, etc. An agitation is ongoing in Purola to protest against the abduction of a minor girl by a couple of ‘outsiders’. The government machinery on its part is taking steps to address the concern by demolishing illegal structures on its land, particularly the forests, and seeking ‘verification’ of people from other states residing in the hills. It may be recalled that Uttarakhand, from even before it became a state, has been a favourite hideaway for criminal elements from other states, and even terrorists from Punjab.
Care needs to be taken, however, that everything is done within the ambit of the law. The demand in certain places that ‘all’ those running businesses or providing services in the hills should be thrown out is obviously illegal and should be treated as such by the authorities. Apart from other factors, there probably are some vested interests operating that have no concern for the general good.
It is a fact that small communities, particularly in the hills, have a delicate social structure and vulnerabilities. This is why, for various reasons, the erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir and present day Himachal Pradesh were accorded constitutional protections with regard to land ownership, domicile and so on. Uttarakhand, too, has instituted some safeguards. It must be recognised, however, that these can also end up being liabilities – the states and the people are bereft, as a result, of economic growth and social transformation. It triggers out-migration, and people can become victim to a severe and divisive insularity, such as being seen in Manipur these days.
It is understandable that Uttarakhand should be concerned about illegal Bangladeshis or Rohingyas settling here without proper authorisation, but to declare it a ‘Devbhoomi’ that would be sullied by the presence of persons of other religions even though they are as much Indian as anybody in the state is unacceptable. Uttarakhand’s economy has opened up opportunities for growth that require human resources not available in the state. The people have to decide whether the state takes advantage of these opportunities or remains underdeveloped.
The answer to the dilemma is to make laws that address each specific challenge. Its enforcement of the law against ill-treatment of women should become a model for the country. It has an anti-conversion law directed against exploitation of the poor. All the people should be required to strictly abide by the law for which an appropriate culture needs to be developed through awareness generation and character building. That is the way to go.