At the Saraswati Shishu Mandir, a school run by the RSS in Noida’s Sector 12, hundreds of youngsters are learning the army crawl, rope-climbing and crossing hurdles apart from sword-figthing, landing karate kicks and using the nunchaku.
Amid perfecting these defence skills, slogans of ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ and ‘Vande mataram’ ring through the air. Welcome to the Bajrang Dal’s boot camp for ‘saving Indian culture’.
Nearly 400 participants in the 15-25 year age group are enrolled in the camp from cadres across Uttar Pradesh. Hailing from 16 different districts, they are being trained to become a “better and responsible Indian” who can “retaliate” and “survive” any threat to them and their fellow countrymen.
Hindustan Times was given exclusive access to the heart of the camp to report on the ‘right’ news.
Media was banned from entering the camp after an FIR was filed based on reports that alleged Muslims were showcased as terrorists during a drill.
The right-wing organisation holds a general mistrust of the media for they believe they are misrepresented as a terror group.
However, weapons training has always been a part of Indian culture, said Balraj Dungar, state convener, Bajrang Dal, Meerut zone.
“For God’s sake, who is going to use an air gun and a sword to fight a war? It is part of our culture. Have you people (media) ever seen Hola Mohalla (a Sikh festival in which they showcase fighting skills). This is the same thing. Every village has an akhara in India and it’s no crime in training with weapons, which are allowed for the civilians,” Dungar said, adding that they worked for the betterment of the country.
“I would like to request you to tell people the truth that we are not a terror group.”
Participants at the camp are dressed in t-shirts, sport shoes and traditional khaki shorts, the trademark of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). They undergo physical training in the morning and evening hours. During the rest of the day, ‘brainstorming’ sessions are held to turn them into better citizens, and more importantly, better Hindus.
During the half-hour long conversation, Dungar repeatedly mentions ‘parampara’ (tradition) and ‘sanskaar’ (Hindu values) as the basis of the camp. The training is aimed at conserving Indian traditions among younger generations.
“Nobody has the time to teach his child about the traditions we have. Youngsters are attracted to alcohol, drugs and crime. Our effort is to channelise their energy in the right direction, away from these bad habits,” he said.
Aside from values, the camp is also drilling into participants the dangers they will face in the outside world. These aren’t just the typical suspects, but also include poverty, pollution and rising population.
“Upcoming threats to India are not only terrorism. It is also crisis of water, pollution and rising population. The youngsters are given knowledge to save water as much as they can and also protect the environment.”
Shiv Giri, a saint from Hastinapur, is the food specialist at the camp. He said the youth are given quality Indian vegetarian food for better body, soul and mind. The menu is simple with pulses, rice, chapattis, green vegetables and ghee.
“Food is very precious. In our country, 40 crore people sleep hungry every day. We are teaching the students to eat only what is necessary for their body. Overeating and food wastage is prohibited,” said Giri.
Everybody at the camp is vegetarian.
As conversation turns to meat, Dungar gets visibly agitated, saying many of his ‘gaurakshaks’ were attacked, jailed and even killed for protecting the cow.
The fighting skills at the camp are meant to also help this cause.
“We are training them in self-defence so that they can protect themselves while protecting cows. Cows are the soul of India. Why (are) people behind a harmless animal which is also adored by crores of Hindus? We cannot tolerate attack on our gaurakshaks. This is our land, we pay the tax and the government will have to protect our rights,” said Dungar.
He further accused the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government of appeasement politics and vouched for a union civil code.
“The current government of UP is completely ignoring the interests of the Hindus. Their leader Azam Khan speaks against Hindus and cows time and again. We are preparing our youth to counter such people with wisdom and also physical power.”
The camp, which was started on May 21, concludes on May 28 and participants will go back to their homes. Though we were curious to hear from them too, efforts to speak to them were quickly blocked, saying they did not have permission to speak to the media.