Gulbahar Qureshi lives barely 10 km from Ved Niketan Ashram in Uttarakhand’s Haridwar, where hundreds of Hindu supremacists gathered for a three-day conclave in December and speaker after speaker called for Muslims to be killed. Videos of the hate speeches soon went viral.
“After I heard these men speak my instant reaction was that the Constitution, its spirit, was under attack,” Qureshi said. “I felt like if I don’t do something about it then these people would only get more emboldened.”
Qureshi is a 25-year-old final-year law student.
On the evening of December 23, he walked into the Kotwali police station in Haridwar with two friends and handed over a complaint and a pen-drive to the police. On the pen-drive were videos of the event where Sadhvi Annapurna of the Hindu Mahasabha could be heard saying, “If 100 of us are ready to kill 20 lakh of them, then we will be victorious.”
Another Hindu monk, Dharamdas Maharaj, called for the assassination of former prime minister Manmohan Singh, while one of the organisers of the event, Yati Narsinghanand, promised Rs 1 crore to anyone willing to become a Prabhakaran or a Bhindranwale to target Muslims.
Qureshi knew that filing a complaint against the hate speech-makers was an act of courage. Uttarakhand is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which endorses the ideology of Hindu supremacy. Hours after the videos went viral, photographs surfaced showing the chief minister reverentially touching the feet of one of the organisers of the Haridwar conclave.
“I did feel fear, I won’t deny that,” said Qureshi. “I have doubts too, but then I tell myself what I am doing is much bigger than fear. I am protecting the constitution of my country. Someone had to muster up the courage to register a formal complaint with the police station.”
Yet, the first information report that the Uttarakhand Police filed based on Qureshi’s complaint initially named just one person: Wasim Rizvi, who had converted to Hinduism on December 6 in a ceremony officiated by Narsinghanand and had adopted the name Jitendra Tyagi since.
It took the police a few days to add four more names to the FIR: Sadhvi Annapurna, Dharamdas Maharaj, Narsinghanand, Sagar Sindhuraj Maharaj. The offence in the FIR was initially limited to promoting enmity between groups (Section 153-A), an act punishable with upto three years of imprisonment or with fine or both. Subsequently, the police added the charge of outraging religious feelings “with deliberate and malicious intention” (Section 295-A), which also has the punishment of upto three years of imprisonment or fine or both.
But as Qureshi pointed out, “Not one person has been arrested.”
‘We follow the ideology of Ambedkar and Gandhi’
Growing up in a neighbourhood of Haridwar, where his family has lived for generations, Qureshi said he was always drawn to social work. At the age of 20, he started volunteering with an organisation that helps poor children access education. In 2020, after the coronavirus pandemic struck, Qureshi founded an initiative called Khidmat-e-Khalq, or service to humanity, with the aim of supporting the local community’s healthcare needs.
His involvement with social work brought him in contact with others in public life. And so, when he went to the police station to file a complaint, he was accompanied by Vishal Pradhan, 26, president of the Bhim Army in Haridwar, and Ashish Rajoor, 28, member of the Bharatiya Valmiki Dharam Samaj. Both organisations work with Dalit communities.
“They are also social workers like I am,” Qureshi said, “and I have known them for about five years.”
He added that it was a conversation with them that crystallised his decision to file the complaint. “We were all sitting and talking in my office when the conversation about doing something against this event began,” he recalled. “They also firmly felt that the constitution was under threat and that we have always lived in harmony.”
Both Vishal Pradhan and Ashish Rajoor told Scroll.in that they did not think much before accompanying Qureshi to the police station.
“We do not believe in violence. We follow the ideology of Ambedkar ji and Mahatma Gandhi,” Pradhan said. “What happened was not a religious parliament, it was a terror parliament. Our constitution categorically states that one cannot use such foul language against another religion.”
While Pradhan’s family has a small business making and distributing brooms in Haridwar, Rajoor runs a rental taxi service in the city. “In Haridwar, people have always lived peacefully,” Rajoor said. “We cannot let that change here.”
For Qureshi, it was disturbing to see his hometown featured in newspapers across the world as the site of hate speeches. “Internationally, the image of the country took a beating,” he said. “We must protect the image of our country.”
His family, though, is concerned about his safety. On January 2, when Qureshi received a call from the investigating officer who asked him to come to the police station the next day, his family grew worried. “My father says you have filed the complaint. That is enough. Now just sit back,” Qureshi said. “My siblings also keep telling me that I should move ahead carefully.”
But Qureshi said as the main complainant, he was keen to be a part of the investigation: “I will definitely go.”