Posters warning Muslim traders to shut down their shops surfaced in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi town on Monday, the Hindustan Times reported, citing the police. The warning was issued amid tensions following an alleged attempt to kidnap a 14-year-old Hindu girl in Purola area by two men – one Muslim and the other Hindu.

The alleged kidnappers – Ubed Khan (24), a local shopkeeper, and Jitender Saini (23), a motorcycle mechanic – were arrested on May 27, a day after the alleged kidnapping bid, reported The Times of India.

However, local Hindutva groups alleged it to be a case “love jihad” – a debunked conspiracy theory according to which Muslim men lure Hindu women into romantic relationships in order to convert them to Islam.

Two days after the arrests, Hindutva bodies held a protest march that turned violent after some demonstrators allegedly attacked shops belonging to Muslims. Another protest attended by nearly 900 people was organised on Saturday under the banner of Yamuna Ghati Hindu Jagriti Sangathan.

Following the protests, the majority of Muslims shopkeepers left the town, according to The Times of India. There are about 30-40 shops run by the Muslims.

On Monday, the posters surfaced in Uttarkashi’s Purola main market warning the Muslim traders to vacate their shops before a mahapanchayat is held on June 15.

“Love jihadis are informed that they should vacate the shops prior to a mahapanchayat on June 15,” read the posters printed in Hindi. The posters were printed by a body called Devbhoomi Raksha Abhiyan.

Posters put up in Uttarkashi. (Photo courtesy: Debashish Sarkar)

Uttarkashi Superintendent of Police Arpan Yaduvanshi said that the posters had been removed the day they were put up. He added that the police were trying to identify those who pasted them.

Vishva Hindu Parishad leader Virender Rana claimed that the posters were put by residents who want members of a “particular community to leave the town to ensure peace and communal harmony”.

“They [the Muslims] came here on the pretext of doing business but are targeting girls and women from our community,” Rana alleged, reported the Hindustan Times.

The protests have resulted in Muslims shutting down their shops or even fleeing.

“We are living in constant fear and cannot return to Purola in such an atmosphere,” Saleem, an owner of a garment shop, told the Hindustan Times. “If they want us to leave the hills, authorities should compensate us for the property owned by us.”

Another unidentified Muslim shopkeeper told the newspaper: “We condemn the abduction bid and demand strict action against the culprits. We don’t support people who indulge in criminal and illegal activities.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, a few Muslim families submitted a memorandum to the Purolo sub-divisional magistrate about the financial crisis they are facing and have sought security to reopen their businesses. The memorandum said the administration would be held responsible if any untoward happens to the Muslims.

The Hindu protestors also submitted a memorandum to the sub-divisional magistrate seeking the verification of the credentials of the traders coming into town.

“In the garb of doing businesses in the town, some people from a particular community have been indulging in immoral activities... thereby, polluting the atmosphere,” the memorandum said, according to the Hindustan Times.

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