Hindutva warriors: Hard- liners in UP redraw communal lines
From training a class 9 student in sword-fighting so he can ‘fight the ISIS’ to ‘saving girls from Love Jihad’: The Dadri beef lynching incident has shifted the spotlight to Hindu hard- line groups in Western Uttar Pradesh that are redefining communalism in the region.
Bhupendra Singh Tomar alias Pinki is a busy man. Sitting in his office in Ghaziabad’s Mohan Nagar area, he is making phone calls, asking members of Hindu Kranti Dal - an organisation he heads - to participate in a protest planned for the following day, outside the Gautam Buddha Nagar district magistrate’s office.
A young Hindu man committed suicide in Dadri’s Bisada village, 10 days after a mob lynched 55-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq following rumours that he stored and consumed cow meat in the village.
“Akhlaq was treated like a martyr. What was the need to give any compensation to someone who was killed for cow slaughter? He deserved death. And if the government wants to give compensation, what about this man, who was a Hindu? Is he less equal?” Tomar says.
Five members of his organisation were arrested for violating Section 144 by addressing villagers and giving inflammatory speeches in Bisada following Akhlaq’s death.
Tomar belongs to a mushrooming force of vigilante groups in western Uttar Pradesh - spanning Ghaziabad to Saharanpur - that share a hardline Hindutva ideology but are different from each other in terms of modus operandi, strength and composition. Most of these groups galvanise youngsters aged 18 to 30 who are proficient in using social media to propagate their cause and mobilise like-minded people. Working on ‘cow protection’, ‘love jihad’ and ‘ghar waapsi’, such groups keep the atmosphere in the region communally charged.
While members of some of these groups boast close proximity to the BJP leadership at the Centre, or hope to get noticed by the party, others say they are working for the cause of the Hindu nation, which is greater than the BJP. The party maintains a neutral stand on such camps.
Tomar’s group and two more - the Rashtravadi Pratap Sena and the Samadhan Sena - came onto the radar of the local administration for alleged discourses around cow protection that may have set the stage for the Dadri lynching. Tomar says his organisation has about 10,000 members in western UP and across seven other states, and has also been working to help the Hindu victims of the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. “I support what Sangeet Som said. We will fight and resort to all means, including killing. We did it in Muzaffarnagar, and we will do it again,” he says, referring to the recent visit of the BJP legislator to Bisada, during which he blamed the state government for ‘appeasing minorities’.
Founders of such groups take ideological inspiration from traditional Hindu organisations but follow a different path.
In Rori village, 30 km north of Ghaziabad town, a patch of land surrounded by sugarcane fields is where Sooraj Arya, 15, has been honing his sword-fighting skills for about a year. A Class 9 student, he says he wants to graduate to guns soon, “so that I can fight ISIS, which is a big threat to India’. “ISIS has announced that it will take over India by 2020. This is why all of us need to learn to fight,” says the son of a daily wage earner, as his peers in the group Hindu Swabhiman applaud.
According to Sooraj’s mentor, Parminder Arya, who served in the Indian Army for 15 years before founding the group last year, every Hindu family in India should keep arms, traditional or modern, as Hindus across the country will have to “fight for survival” in the years to come. The threat, Arya says, is from non-Hindus in India and abroad.
Arya belongs to a landowning family in the village and has been an active member of the VHP and Bajrang Dal. “The VHP would want me to demand my right and fight for my Hindu brothers legally. I believe that we cannot move court on every occasion. There are times when we cannot rely on the system and have to take matters into our own hands. This is how we gained independence from the British,” Arya says.
Bhupendra Singh Tomar echoes this sentiment. Tomar worked with the Bajrang Dal and RSS in different capacities for more than a decade before floating the Hindu Kranti Dal. “When there is a need to fight, we will fight. This is the fundamental difference between our organisation and traditional bodies,” he says.
Badri Narayan Tiwari, professor at the Allahabad-based GB Pant Social Science Institute, says that RSS and VHP worked in western UP to build a communal consensus and now these groups are carrying forward the agenda. “Such groups are made up of communally active public. They act as nuclei for mobilising communal activities,” Tiwari says.
Disenchantment with the BJP is apparent among members of such groups. While they end up helping the BJP politically wherever they are active, they say, but party does not acknowledge their presence or help them in their hours of crisis.
“We have no option but make peace with it. Anyway, our agenda is not to make BJP win election. That may be a by-product. Our work is for Hindu religion,” says Arun Pratap Singh, 34, Muzaffarnagar district president of Hindu Shakti Dal, a registered body active in more than 100 districts in UP since 1978. His organisation is one of the oldest in the region working for ‘cow protection’. Members of his Dal believe that to remain pure Hindus, no Muslim should be allowed entry into one’s home.
Rahul Thakur, 33, city president of the Meerut-based Krishna Gau Raksha Dal, says he has been attacked thrice this year by those trading in cow meat. Having worked for the BJP Yuva Morcha, Thakur says he is disgruntled. “No one is coming forward to help me,” he says. His group’s Facebook page features pictures of him with former chief minister Kalyan Singh and BJP legislator Lakashmikant Bajpayee, among other party leaders.
Bajpayee, also BJP state president, denies that the party had any role in grooming such groups. “Such organisations are bound to emerge because the state government has failed to implement rule of law,” he says.
The emergence of these groups is often cited as a reaction to the ruling Samajwadi Party government’s ‘politics of appeasement towards minorities’. "The current government exists only for the minorities. This was apparent in way it handled the Muzaffarnagar riots and now the incident in Dadri. Hindus have no option but to prepare their defence. Every action has a reaction,” says Manvendra Singh Chauhan, Saharanpur district convener of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, an organisation founded by BJP’s firebrand MP Yogi Adityanath.
“For more than a decade, the BSP and SP groomed Muslim leadership in western UP by providing election tickets, and they won as a result. In the process, Hindus feel that they are not getting political representation,” says Sudhir Panwar, president of the Kisan Jagriti Manch and member of UP state planning commission. “Every action taken by the state government after communal incidents is blown by the BJP and fringes as action against Hindus. It works as a chain reaction,” he adds.
Samadhan Sena, Dadri
Thirty three years old Govind Chaudhary, a resident of Veerpura village, around 10 kms from Dadri, is happy to have interacted with more than a dozen journalists from regional, national and international media, in the past fortnight. At the same time, Choudhary, son of a former village head, is furious over the coverage he has been getting. Samadhan Sena, an organisation he founded, came under the radar of the Gautam Buddh Nagar administration for allegedly mobilising people around cow protection in Basada and other villages in Dadri, where a mob lynched Mohammad Akhlaq over the rumour that he was consuming cow meat. “Yes, I and people in my organisation are concerned about cow protection. Cows have been vanishing from the area and we keep raising this with the authorities. But Sena has no role in the Dadri incident. We have never held any meeting in Bisada,” said Chaudhary, sitting at his spatial house in the village.
According to him, the administration is unhappy with the Sena as it has been demanding solution to civic issue such as power cuts and supply of gas cylinders. Associating the name of his organisation with the Dadri incident is how his ‘enemies’ want to malign him, he said.
Holding Master’s degrees in history and politics, Chaudhary is a former RSS pracharak and brags about his involvement in BJP’s Baghpat unit during municipal, assembly and parliamentary polls since 2007. “I am a social engineer and keep my ear to the ground. This is why BJP leaders from UP to Delhi are fond of me, said Chaudhary.
Responding to Dadri incident, Chaudhary said, “It was as bad as any other death but the government and media made an issue out of it. What about people killing thousands of cows every day?” he asked.
Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Ekta Dal, Muzaffarnagar
Pankaj Gupta, 45 years old founder of cultural organisation, Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Ekta Dal, is skeptical talking to HT. A week before our meeting with him at his residence in Muzaffarnagar’s Lakshmi Nagar area, an online portal aired sting operation showing how numerous splinter groups of VHP and RSS in Uttar Pradesh falsely implicate Muslim men in Love Jihad cases. “Around a year ago, a girl interviewed members of Hindu organisations saying it was for her PhD thesis. And now this expose, You cannot trust anyone these days,” says Gupta, who recently wrapped up his cable TV business due to losses and now wants to devote all his time to ‘samaaj seva’, working for cow protection, Love Jihad and every issue of concern to his community. Gupta worked with a group called Hindu Kranti Dal for five years and went on to become its Muzaffarnagar district president before floating his own organisation as “internal differences” made it difficult for him to continue working with that group.
Gupta claims that due to his strong network with like minded people and experience of working with different splinter groups, he can gather around 300 people through one phone call to conduct a protest or any event for the cause of Hindutva.
Twenty three year old Kashish Goyal, district secretary of the organisation, is one of its youngest members. His batchmates at the management college in Muzaffarnagar from where he is pursuing MBA, often ask him why he asserts his religious identity a lot more than others. He tells them that people of the Hindu community ought to remain conscious of their culture and stay united so that no non-Hindu can threaten them. “I was always inclined towards my religion from childhood, but Muzaffarnagar riots left a deep impact on me. Government openly supported minorities. I realised that we could no more rely on the administration for our safety,” says Goyal, adding, “The region is passing through a transition phase. We cannot become mere spectators.”
Akhand Hindustan Morcha, Meerut
Chetna Sharma has been practising law in a district court in Meerut since 2002. But it is the work she does for Hindu girls that what gives her satisfaction. Sharma, Meerut zonal convener of Akhand Hindustan Morcha, a nationalist political outfit founded by MP BL Sharma, former BJP parliamentarian from Delhi, is worried about girls from the Hindu community falling prey to ‘Love Jihad’, a term used to describe Muslims boys allegedly luring young non Muslim girls into love with an aim to convert them to Islam. “Life is becomes a living hell for such girls. They lose all their rights in such marriages. Those who escape these alliances are never accepted by the Hindu community. They belong nowhere,” says Sharma, a mother of two daughters, who claims to have been giving legal aid to at least 10 such girls every year.
Sharma worked with the Shiv Sena, Hindu Mahasabha and Durga Vahini before joining Akhand Hindustan Morcha.
Outside the confines of court premises, she conducts village panchayats across western Uttar Pradesh to warn girls against Love Jihad. She says she is called to villages where reports of girls ‘disappearing’ pour in.
Sharma argues that off late, increasing number of such cases are coming to light because of different cultures getting assimilated on the pretext of modernism. “Lines are getting blurred. This is a serious issue. We need to know the differences between religions if we want to retain our daughters,” says Sharma.
In August last week, she camped in Muzaffarnagar where she held village panchayats telling people from her community that they should ‘accept’ Muslims who convert to Hinduism as they were originally Hindus, returning to their faith through conversion. “They are our brothers who embraced Islam out of fear during the Mughal rule in India,” she says.