Uttar Pradesh police officials on Wednesday denied reports that an organisation called the “Hindu Swabhiman” was training hundreds of children to use firearms in a bid to wage a war against Islamic State.
Their reaction came close on the heels of media reports saying nearly 50 such training camps were spread across communally sensitive western UP, including two at Rori and Bamheta villages in Ghaziabad on the outskirts of the national capital.
“As of now, we have found that information in the reports, about training children on regular and organised basis with firearms, are fabricated and baseless,” said Dharmendra Singh, senior superintendent of police (SSP) at Ghaziabad. “We inquired through our officials and also spoke to villagers and pradhans at Bamheta and Rori. Intelligence officials also deny any instances of firearms training being given to children.”
The official added that cases would be registered if any such development came to light.
“We have also received a report from the superintendent of police (intelligence) at Meerut, which says the information was ‘baseless and exaggerated’,” the SSP said. “The person quoted in the report, Narsinghanand Saraswati, as heading the outfit is publicly known as a staunch religious follower. But there is no known instance of the group training children with firearms.”
Traditionally, the villages of Bamheta and Rori are known for producing famous wrestlers. Another village, Johri in Baghpat, is home to a clutch of renowned female shooters, including sisters-in-law Chandro and Prakashi Tomar.
When contacted by HT, Saraswati, who runs the ancient Devi Mandir at Dasna in Ghaziabad, denied the media reports.
“These are not training camps but akharas (places of practice) where we teach children and others traditional sports like wrestling, kabaddi, archery and even shooting. These sports are common in villages and remote areas,” he said.
“I am against IS ideology. We are urging people to fight the ideology by becoming strong and also trying to spread Hindutva. The reports suggest that I am preparing people to fight a civil war and raising a ‘Dharm Sena’. This is incorrect. I am also not against Islam.”
Chetna Sharma, a lawyer from Meerut and national president of the Hindu Swabhiman, said their organisation only trains Hindu men, women and children at the akharas.
“There is absolutely no firearm training at our akharas. We also have girls and women who are taught karate for self-defence. 50 such akharas are spread across western UP at Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, etc,” Sharma said.
The Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband, meanwhile, condemned the formation of a “Dharm Sena”. Its spokesperson, Ashraf Usmani, said the organisation condemned acts that it believes are against a particular community.
“Such discriminatory acts could threaten peace in society,” said Usmani, who demanded that the government initiate action against those involved in such deeds. “Their aim is not to unite but to divide the country on the basis of religion.”
(With inputs from S Raju in Meerut)