September 24, 2018

Why Arrest of 'Urban Naxals'?

Why Arrest of Dalit activists-‘Urban Naxals’? Ram Puniyani The violence in Bheema Koregon is still reverberating. We recall that on January 1st, thousands of dalits returning from Bheema Koregaon were beaten up. In that context the names of Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide cropped up as the instigators of violence. The probe is on. In the context of this earlier five activists, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Sudhir Dhawale, working for issues related to Adivasis and dalits were arrested. Now in the month of September there was an attempt to arrest Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bhardwaj, Warwar Rao, Vernon Gonslaves and Arun Ferreira were arrested while houses of Anand Teltumde and many others were raided. The charge as per police version is that all these activists were behind Bheema Koregaon violence, in the organizing of Elgar Parishad, where inflammatory speeches were delivered, leading to violence. In a surreal manner the police have succeeded in producing a letter ‘unearthing the conspiracy’ to kill the Prime Minster Mr. Narendra Modi. Interestingly the attempt to arrest these activists was halted due to the intervention of Supreme Court, which gave a sort of dressing down to the police, telling them that arresting these activists is like doing away with the safety valve of our democracy. These activists have been put under house arrest till further hearing. All through; different political individuals and organizations have affirmed that these arrests earlier and now are an attempt to intimidate the dalit activists, meant to instill fear among them, these are vindictive and arbitrary. Aakar Patel; Executive Director of Amnesty International “This is not the first time that activists working on Dalit and Adivasi rights have been arrested with little evidence,” “The government should protect people’s rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly instead of creating an atmosphere of fear.” Now European Union has taken a note of these arbitrary arrests by police and has condemned these arrests and raids. It is due to actions of state like this that India has been named as one of the offenders for 'alarming' level of harsh reprisals and intimidation against those who cooperate with the UN on human rights issues. The Supreme Court has been forthright in doubting the police action and prevented its attempt to arrest these activists and raid the houses of others. This phenomenon of reprisals against Human rights defenders is very disturbing and also points to the direction in which the present government’s Hindu nationalist agenda is leading the country. In Bheema Koregaon the blame is being put on Elgar Paraishad speeches. While most of these activists have nothing to do with organizing of Elgar Parishad, Retired Supreme Court Judge P. B. Sawant and Retired Justice Kolte Patil have stated that they were the Conveners of this meeting. So the question does arise as to why these activists have been arrested. It seems the major goal of this Government, guided by Hindutva agenda is to label every dissent as anti national, at the same time to suppress all attempts are on to snub those who are trying to help dalits assert their dignity and help demand their rights. Let’s remember that with this government coming to power the dalit assertion has been targeted all through. Starting with banning of Periyar Ambedkar study circle (IIT Madras) they went on to target the Ambedkar Students Association in Hyderabad Central University leading to institutional murder of Rohith Vemula. In the aftermath of Vemula’s suicide, massive upsurge of dalits all over the country did give rise to a dalit movement, with other social groups chipping in for support. As Hindutva agenda of Holy Cow-Beef unfolded; with targeting of Muslim community, an unexpected parallel to this came up in the form of four dalit youth being stripped and beaten mercilessly. All over the country the discontent of dalits started getting polarized in the form of agitations launched by another dalit young man, Jignesh Mevani, who successfully organized the protests around cow issue, to emerge as a powerful voice of dalits. He has tried to combine the dalit identity and dignity with issue of land, which is the core problem of dalits in the country. The present political agenda has tried to push the Muslim minorities into second class citizenship by picking up issues like Ram Temple, Cow-Beef, Love Jihad and Ghar Wapasi (Reconversion into Hinduism). Labeling Muslims and Christians as foreigners and in particular Muslims as anti National has been the plank of their politics. As far as dalits are concerned RSS combine has been doing multiple things to co-opt them into their fold. The first major attempt has been that of Samajik Samrasta Manch, (Social Harmony Forum) where the central theme has been to promote harmony between different castes, as RSS propagates that caste inequality is due to the Muslim invaders who tried to convert, leading to caste inequality. This has been backed up by social engineering where attempts have been made to co-opt dalits and even Adivasis into the ideology which hides inequality. Also many a dalit leaders like Ramvilas Paswan, Ramdas Athwaley and Udit Raj have been lured into the posts of power to get their support for Hindu nationalism. At cultural level they have modulated historical icons like Suhel Dev, as great Hindu warriors standing against the foreigners, the Muslims. Still the rebellion is spilling out; the unrest of dalits is on the streets. The question of equality and dignity of dalits remains undermined. It is in this light that Maharashtra police is desperately trying to implicate those activists/scholars who have stood their ground to help bring up the movement of rights for these marginalized groups. And so this attempts to implicate them with a conference, which was convened by two retired judges. The alert citizens like Romila Thapar have done a yeomen service in invoking the Supreme Court to save the democratic ethos by stopping the reckless police action. Supreme Court has yet again proved that it can protect the rights of the marginalized sections.

September 21, 2018

India: Violence against inter-caste couples exposes gap between law and reality (editorial, The Times of India)

The Times of India,September 21, 2018

Caste costs lives: Violence against inter-caste couples exposes gap between law and reality

The recent historic verdict of the Supreme Court decriminalising homosexuality was a recognition of the universal principle that love transcends gender, social norms and traditions. But two incidents from Telangana serve as a stark reminder of brutal ground realities. Both cases involve inter-caste marriages with the fathers of the women unable to accept the so-called lower caste status of their sons-in-law. In the first case, Amruta Varshini and Pranay Kumar – who had tied the knot at an Arya Samaj mandir in Hyderabad in January – became victims of a murderous plot hatched allegedly by Amruta’s father. The latter simply couldn’t come to terms with the fact that his daughter had married a Dalit, and is accused of hiring a contract killer to murder the young man.
On September 14, Pranay was killed outside a hospital right in front of his pregnant wife. The incident sparked protests and the police have now arrested seven people, including Amruta’s father. But the latter’s background as a real estate developer and reported political connections have raised concerns that justice may be subverted. Amruta herself is leading the charge to bring her husband’s killers, including her father, to book. As if this wasn’t shocking enough, just days later a man attacked his daughter and her husband in the middle of Hyderabad, again because the son-in-law was a Dalit. Although the couple escaped with their lives, the woman almost lost her forearm and the man received serious injuries in the attack.
So entrenched is caste in Indian society that it cuts across economic classes. Clearly, the country’s political leadership has been unsuccessful in mitigating caste prejudice. On the contrary, our netas find it convenient to cultivate caste vote banks. It’s also anybody’s guess whether caste-based reservations, as practised today, alleviate caste divisions in society or actually reinforce them.
Add to this a weak law and order machinery, and caste prejudice thrives in this climate of impunity. It doesn’t help when authorities rake up bogeys such as ‘love jihad’, meant to impede interfaith marriages. The solution lies in speedy prosecution in cases of caste violence and honour killing. The Supreme Court struck a blow for primacy of individual choice and freedom in its homosexuality ruling. The same principle should apply to inter-caste and inter-faith marriages. Indeed, such marriages may be the best antidote to toxic levels of caste and communal sentiment that are the bane of Indian society and politics today.

September 20, 2018

India - Where Hurt sentiment rules - Sikh group raises objections, the film censor board agrees, scenes deleted from film Manmarziyaan

Manmarziyaan controversy: From Anurag Kashyap’s apology to CBFC’s order to delete scenes, here’s all that happened

Anurag Kashyap's Manmarziyaan is facing rough waters after a Sikh group raised objections over its certain scenes, leading to a CBFC order to delete them. This has left Kashyap and its cast furious. Here is a timeline of the entire controversy.

India: Odisha Police Arrest Commentator for Satirical Video on Konark Monument (report in The Wire)

Journalist and security analyst Abhijit Iyer-Mitra was arrested by the Delhi police on Thursday for his remarks about the Sun Temple, after his video caused an uproar in the Odisha assembly. [ . . . ]


India: The man who allegedly hacked to death Muslim labourer in Rajasthan may run for a Parliamentary seat

Written by Sabrang India | Published on: September 20, 2018
Last year, Shambhulal Regar allegedly burned and hacked to death Mohammed Afrazul, 45, a Bengali migrant worker in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand, with a video of the incident going viral. Regar has been in jail since December 2017. Now, however, he may be contesting the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The Uttar Pradesh Navnirman Sena "has offered Regar a ticket and has also claimed that he has accepted the offer," News18 reported. [ . . . ]

Hindi article- Why arrest of 'Urban Naxals'

‘शहरी नक्सलियों’ की गिरफ्तारियां क्यों? -राम पुनियानी भीमा कोरेगांव में हुई हिंसा की यादें अभी ताज़ा हैं. इसी साल की पहली जनवरी को, भीमा कोरेगांव से लौट रहे हजारों दलितों को हिंसक हमलों का सामना करना पड़ा था. जांच में यह सामने आया कि मिलिंद इकबोटे और संभाजी भिड़े ने यह हिंसा भड़काई थी. प्रकरण की जांच अभी जारी है. इसी सिलसिले में, पहले पांच सामाजिक कार्यकर्ताओं - महेश राउत, रोना विल्सन, सुरेन्द्र गैडलिंग, शोमा सेन और सुधीर धावले - को गिरफ्तार किया गया था. ये सभी आदिवासियों और दलितों के लिए काम करते हैं. फिर, इस माह, गौतम नवलखा, सुधा भारद्वाज, वरवरा राव, वरनॉन गोंसाल्वेस व अरुण फरेरिया को गिरफ्तार करने का प्रयास किया गया और आनंद तेल्तुम्ड़े सहित कई कार्यकर्ताओं के घरों पर छापे डाले गए. पुलिस के अनुसार, ये सभी भीमा कोरेगांव हिंसा के पीछे थे. इन सभी ने उस एल्गार परिषद् का आयोजन किया था, जिसमें भड़काऊ भाषण दिए गए और जिनके नतीजे में हिंसा हुई. मानो जादू से, पुलिस ने एक पत्र भी ढूँढ निकाला, जिसमें प्रधानमंत्री नरेन्द्र मोदी की हत्या की साजिश की बात कही गयी थी. इन लोगों की गिरफ़्तारी पर उच्चतम न्यायालय ने रोक लगा दी और पुलिस को लगभग फटकारते हुए कहा कि उसकी यह कार्यवाही प्रजातंत्र के सेफ्टी वाल्व को समाप्त करने के सद्रश है. इन सभी लोगों को अदालत में सुनवाई समाप्त होने तक, उनके घरों में नज़रबंद रखा गया है. विभिन्न राजनैतिक दल और अन्य संगठन लगातार यह कह रहे हैं कि पिछली और ताज़ा गिरफ्तारियां, दलित कार्यकर्ताओं को आतंकित करने का प्रयास हैं. पुलिस की कार्यवाही मनमानी और प्रतिशोधात्मक है. एमनेस्टी इंटरनेशनल के निदेशक आकार पटेल ने कहा, “यह पहली बार नहीं है कि दलितों और आदिवासियों के अधिकारों के रक्षा के लिए काम करने वाले कार्यकर्ताओं को बिना किसी सुबूत के गिरफ्तार किया गया है. सरकार को देश में भय का वातावरण बनाने के बजाय, आमजनों की अभिव्यक्ति की आजादी और संघ बनाने और शांतिपूर्वक एकत्रित होने के उनके अधिकार की रक्षा करनी चाहिए.” यूरोपियन यूनियन ने भी इन गिरफ्तारियों और छापों की निंदा की है. राज्य की इसी तरह की कार्यवाहियों के चलते, मानवाधिकारों की रक्षा में संयुक्त राष्ट्र के साथ सहयोग करने वाले व्यक्तियों को डराने-धमकाने और उनके विरुद्ध बदले की कार्यवाही करने के लिए भारत को दोषी ठहराया गया है. भारत में इस तरह की कार्यवाहियों के स्तर को ‘चिंताजनक’ निरुपित किया गया है. उच्चतम न्यायालय ने पुलिस की कार्यवाही को संदेहास्पद मानते हुए, इन लोगों की गिरफ्तारियों और छापमारियों पर रोक लगा दी. मानवाधिकार कार्यकर्ताओं के विरुद्ध इस तरह की द्वेषपूर्ण कार्यवाहियां चिंताजनक हैं और बताती हैं कि वर्तमान सरकार का हिन्दू राष्ट्रवादी एजेंडा, देश को किस दिशा में ले जा रहा है. भीमा कोरेगांव में हुई हिंसा के लिए एल्गार परिषद् में दिए गए भाषणों को दोषी बताया जा रहा है. उच्चतम न्यायलय के पूर्व न्यायाधीशों पी.बी. सावंत और कोळते पाटिल ने कहा है कि वे इस कार्यक्रम के संयोजक थे. ऐसे में, यह प्रश्न उठाना स्वाभाविक है कि इन कार्यकर्ताओं को क्यों गिरफ्तार किया गया. ऐसा लगता है कि इस सरकार का लक्ष्य हर असहमति को राष्ट्रद्रोह करार देना और उन लोगों को कुचलना है जो दलितों की उनकी गरिमा और अधिकारों की लड़ाई में उनकी मदद कर रहे हैं. हमें यह याद रखना होगा कि इस सरकार ने सत्ता में आने के तुरंत बाद से, दलितों की आवाज़ को दबाने के प्रयास शुरू कर दिए थे. पहले पेरियार अम्बेडकर स्टडी सर्किल को प्रतिबंधित किया गया, फिर हैदराबाद केंद्रीय विश्वविद्यालय के अम्बेडकर स्टूडेंट्स एसोसिएशन को निशाना बनाया गया, जिसके नतीजे में रोहित वेमुला की संस्थागत हत्या हुई. इसके बाद से पूरे देश में दलित उठ खड़े हुए और एक विशाल दलित आन्दोलन प्रारंभ हो गया, जिसे कई अन्य सामाजिक संस्थाओं ने अपना समर्थन दिया. जहाँ हिन्दुत्वादी एजेंडे के तहत गाय और गौमांस के मुद्दे को लेकर मुसलमानों को निशाना बनाया गया, वहीं दलित भी गौरक्षकों के निशाने पर आ गए. जिग्नेश मेवानी नामक दलित युवक के नेतृत्व में गाय के मुद्दे पर एक बड़ा आन्दोलन हुआ. मेवानी ने दलितों की पहचान और गरिमा के प्रश्न को उनकी भूमिहीनता से जोड़ा, जो कि देश के दलितों की मूल समस्या है. वर्तमान सत्ताधारियों का लक्ष्य है राममंदिर, गाय, गौमांस, लव जिहाद और घर वापसी जैसे मुद्दे उठाकर, मुसलमानों को दूसरे दर्जे का नागरिक बना देना. वे मुसलमानों और ईसाईयों को विदेशी बताते हैं और मुसलमानों को देशद्रोही भी. जहाँ तक दलितों का प्रश्न है, संघ परिवार उन्हें अपने झंडे तले लाने के लिए कई स्तरों पर काम कर रहा है. पहला है सामाजिक समरसता मंच, जो विभिन्न जातियों के बीच समरसता बढ़ाने के लिए काम करता है. आरएसएस का मानना है कि देश में जातिगत असमानता के पीछे मुस्लिम आक्रान्ता हैं, जिनके हिन्दुओं को मुसलमान बनाने के प्रयासों के चलते, जातिगत विभेद उभरे. सोशल इंजीनियरिंग के ज़रिये दलितों और यहाँ तक कि आदिवासियों को भी, उस विचारधारा से जोड़ा जा रहा है, जो असमानता पर पर्दा डालती है. रामविलास पासवान, रामदास अठावले और उदित राज सहित अनेक दलित नेताओं को पद का लालच देकर हिन्दू राष्ट्रवाद के लिए उनका समर्थन हासिल करने का प्रयास किया जा रहा है. सांस्कृतिक स्तर पर, सुहेल देव जैसे नए ऐतिहासिक नायकों को गढ़ा जा रहा है और उन्हें ‘विदेशी’ मुसलमानों के विरुद्ध हिन्दुओं का योद्धा बताया जा रहा है. इस सब के बाद भी, विद्रोह के लपटें दिन-ब-दिन और ऊँची होती जा रहे हैं. दलित, सड़कों पर उतर आये हैं. उन्हें इस बात का एहसास है कि एक रणनीति के तहत, समानता और गरिमा की उनकी लड़ाई को कमज़ोर किया जा रहा है. महाराष्ट्र पुलिस की ऐसे कार्यकर्ताओं और लेखकों को, जो हाशिये पर पड़े इन वर्गों के आन्दोलन को समर्थन दे रहे हैं, को किसी भी तरह आपराधिक प्रकरण में फंसाने की कोशिश इसी रणनीति का हिस्सा है. उच्चतम न्यायालय के दो पूर्व न्यायाधीशों के संयोजन में आयोजित कार्यक्रम में भाग लेने वालों को हिंसा भड़काने के लिए दोषी ठहराना हास्यास्पद है. रोमिला थापर जैसे सजग नागरिकों ने उच्चतम न्यायालय में इस मामले में याचिका प्रस्तुत पर, देश के प्रजातान्त्रिक ढांचे की रक्षा की है और उच्चतम न्यायालय ने एक बार फिर यह साबित किया है कि वह वंचित नागरिकों के अधिकारों के रक्षा करने के प्रति प्रतिबद्ध और सजग है. (अंग्रेजी से हिन्दी रूपांतरण अमरीश हरदेनिया)

September 19, 2018

India: An account of everyday lives of the Bajrang Dal boys in Ahmedabad

Economic and Political Weekly
Vol. 53, Issue No. 4, 27 Jan, 2018

The Ordinary Life of Hindu Supremacy: In Conversation with a Bajrang Dal Activist

The author presents a personal, first-person, account of his experience of working with Bajrang Dal activists in Ahmedabad. He attempts to throw light on the everyday lives of the Bajrang Dal boys, especially in the context of increased reportage on right-wing vigilante groups and their attacks on minorities across India. In this three-part article, he argues that there is more to these groups than violence. In certain parts of India like Gujarat, these groups and activists are embedded in the everyday life of the neighbourhood, where they often act as problem solvers and intermediaries.

Moyukh Chatterjee (moyukhchatterjee[at]gmail.com) is at Azim Premji University, Bangalore.


In the middle of a long meandering walk in Ahmedabad on a cool February evening in 2010, we stopped before a mosque. “Just look at it now. You should have seen it when my boys and I burnt it down in 2002,” said Kunal. I looked up and saw a large pale green mosque covered in decorative lights. Eight years on, there were no signs of the destruction. But I stood in front of the mosque and tried to imagine the assault. It was hard to conjure the scene of a mob burning a mosque in the middle of a busy street packed with street vendors selling bangles, vegetables, and sweets.
Kunal, a Bajrang Dal activist and a long-time resident of Madhavpura, tells me that they had a surprise visitor during the attack.
“As we were breaking the lock of the mosque, the Police Inspector’s (PI) jeep came by and we all ran away. But he stopped his jeep near the mosque and shouted keep doing what you’re doing.”
The news and election cycles make men like Kunal flicker in and out of our lives, making it easy to dismiss them as part of the fringe. But what do these men do when the burning, looting, and stabbing is over? We conveniently look the other way when the riot is over, when the lynching is done, and when the elections are lost or won. For us, the fringe becomes visible only during moments of “exceptional” violence—lynchings, vigilante attacks, moral policing, and massacres. But the fringe is also a world view—Hindu supremacy—that resonates with the fears of common people, fuels the masculine fantasies of young men, becomes a tool to access the state, and a pragmatic mode to gain influence in the neighbourhood.
Kunal is short and stocky with a barrel chest, bulging biceps, small ears, and a floppy haircut. Most evenings, he sits outside his house on a cot with “his boys.” On Sunday mornings, they go together to a municipal gymnasium and attend cock fights. They are all members of the Bajrang Dal. Raj is a night shift security guard, Ajay sells religious photos outside courts, Sanjay sells fried snacks on a cart, and Jai, the most educated, is 22 years old and is student of accountancy.
To show me how he joined the Bajrang Dal, Kunal pulls out an old coverless photo album from underneath his mattress. It has colour photographs of many young men joining the Dal. We flip through pictures of men striking identical faux aggressive poses till we find a young Kunal. Irrespective of their built, they all strike the same pose—holding up shining trishuls in their hands, and a bright orange Bajrang Dal sash hanging loosely across their shoulders. In the background, there is a small temple and a map of Mother India on a tiger. Standing next to the men, a local Bajrang Dal leader smiles broadly at the camera like a principal distributing prizes to his best students.
Kunal strikes that same pose as soon as anyone approaches him; he stands very straight, stuffs both his hands in the pockets of his trousers, and thrusts his chest out. You can spot his house from the street because it is the only one with a red trident and Jai Shri Ram painted on it. And then you notice the dusty cot on which his parents sit all day, the broken windows of his dark, sunless one-room shack, and the ragged clothes of his neighbours. He says he is a Rajput from Rajasthan unlike his Dalit neighbours, whom he finds filthy.
“They are low caste, so when they call us for weddings, we don’t go. Forget about eating with them, we don’t even drink water in their house.”
Since 2010, I have been visiting Kunal and his boys in Ahmedabad to understand men who roam the streets to protect Hindu women from Muslim men, raid Muslim neighbourhoods to seize cows, vandalise cinema halls to protest movies like “My Name is Khan.” They are, of course, the foot soldiers, not the top command; the small fry who burn the mosque, not the big sahibs who make sure that the police do not disturb them. In 2002, my attempts to meet these Hindu activists in Gujarat were largely unsuccessful. When I walked across from a Muslim relief camp to the Hindu neighbourhood next to it, the streets were empty, and all I saw was a freshly painted wall with the message: “The Pride of 5 Crore Gujaratis, Narendra Modi.” Walking down the empty streets in the afternoon, I felt a hundred eyes on me as I desperately tried to find someone to talk to. Then a man beckoned me from his balcony with a wave.
“No one here will talk to you. Go back to Pakistan.”
So, when a friend introduced me to Kunal, I was surprised to meet an affable young man who tries to help his neighbours. Barely literate, with no stable job, Kunal is passionate about rescuing Hindu women from Muslim men and saving cows from Muslim butchers, but it is the idea of seva (service) that he finds attractive.
“They (Muslims) collect together and talk about their dharma. Why can’t we talk like that too? Why can’t we collect together and be strong? If any Hindu is hurt, I am very saddened, so I act. I try to help my neighbours people as much as possible. If I can’t help them then I talk to some people above me.”
One evening, a Hindu couple approaches him after their neighbours (also Hindus) file a police report against them. There is some dispute over a staircase and the neighbours have gone to the police. After listening to couple, Kunal accompanies them to the local police chowki, and helps them file a counter case against their neighbours. Kunal’s brother and I wait outside the small one-room chowki. Through the open door I see Kunal enter and shake hands with the policemen, seat the couple in front of a desk, and stand behind them. They are out in 10 minutes. He tells them, “we will pull them out of their [the neighbours] house if they make trouble.”


“The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal are different from the Sangh (RSS),” says former VHP leader Chandanbhai.
“The Sangh is not known to fight or send boys to begin a scuffle. They concentrate on laying the roots with physical exercises and patriotic songs.”
Swaying his grandson in his arms, Chandanbhai says that things have cooled down.
“It seems that the top leaders don’t want any activity from the Bajrang Dal and VHP. For several months now there have been no incidents, meetings and orders.”
Organisations like Bajrang Dal cycle through hot and cool phases. Elections are typically hot. And we often only hear about them when they pass through a hot phase.
But from the perspective of young men like Kunal, there is more to these Hindutva organisations than a cynical electoral strategy to polarise voters along religious lines and win elections. That is true and important, but it does not capture what these organisations do for them. In a life that promises no prospect of a stable job, or any kind of social and economic mobility, these organisations give many young men a chance to be part of something bigger and grander than their precarious everyday lives. It gives them influence with powerful state officials and institutions like the police. It gives them feelings of “manly” strength and power. It gives them something to rescue and something to destroy.
Ask Kunal what he does for a living and he tries to change the subject. “I buy and sell cloth. I buy cloth wholesale, give it to small vendors, and take a percent of the profits.” One day when he is away, his brother tells me something quite different. “He (Kunal) walks around neighbourhoods selling hosiery items. You know ladies’ stuff…” When Kunal asks for my cellphone number, he cannot type it himself because he is barely literate. With no formal education or skills, he has no prospect of securing a white-collar job or a traditional factory job, and belongs to the large and precarious informal sector in Ahmedabad. His father had moved to Gujarat from Rajasthan to work in Omex Mills, but the mills too closed down long ago. In Ahmedabad—where everyone has finer clothes, smarter phones, and better paying jobs—Kunal and his boys are proud of saving Hinduism from effete Hindus and treacherous Muslims.
“There is no Muslim in this neighbourhood who doesn’t know that we are from the VHP. We are kattar.”
Kattar (fanatic) here is not an insult, but a badge of distinction.
They build this reputation by intimidating anyone who comes in the way of their projects. When a Hindu neighbour protests against the building of a temple next to his house and threatens to call the police, Kunal collects his boys and gives him a thrashing. When the municipal corporation tries to remove an illegal temple to widen the street, they protest against it. The police arrive and take them to the station and let them go with a tip:
“Rebuild the temple, but do it at night.”
They build a bigger and grander temple on the widened road.
When a Muslim family buys a house adjoining his neighbourhood, Kunal feels it is “too dangerous.” He asks his neighbours to throw trash into the balcony to impede the new owner’s efforts to renovate it.
“Some of the neighbourhood women even burned some of their clothes hanging out to dry. When they (Muslims) tried to oppose us, I called the police and told them to come here quickly before a riot begins.”
For Kunal and his boys, the police are a malleable force that can be molded to fit their agenda of Hindu supremacy. This happens through persuasion and appeals to policemen to help protect shared Hindu interests or through connections with politicians. When a Hindu man protested against the building of an illegal temple next to his house, it was a Muslim policeman, according to Kunal, who asked the man, “What kind of Hindu are you?” What happens when the police don’t intervene in their favour? “We phone our leaders at Mahalaxmi (the Bajrang Dal office in Ahmedabad) and make them speak to the police.” Under “ideal” conditions, as in 2002, the state falls in line. But their work goes on.
Looking at 22-year-old Jai, quiet and bespectacled, it is hard to imagine him stealing into a slaughterhouse in the middle of the night with two friends and a camera.  Later, they send the footage to the local Member of the Legislative Assembly and the police commissioner. Standing back, his mouth swollen with red betel juice, Jai smiles when the boys show me signs of his other life: a thick, long brown lathi (stick) is tucked away discreetly on the side of his motorbike. He is a member of a civil defence committee.
“Two weeks ago, we saved a dozen calves from the Muslim neighbourhood opposite us. For us, the cow is like a mother, but for them she’s a meal. Have you seen a printing press? They have a blade that slices paper into two halves. They have automatic machines where the blade comes down and simply chops the head off. Then the carcass is cleaned up. If you see it, it will give you goosebumps.”
Before Bakrid, the boys make a gang and forcibly enter Muslim neighbourhoods to save calves. But they are not alone.
“During the raid, we kept calling the police control number.”
“But such rescue missions must be dangerous?”
“Of course, but we have police protection. The police support us because they know we are from the Dal and do this work.”
But the police also use Kunal. One evening, as Kunal and I sit on the cot outside his house admiring his new Samsung phone, I see two men arrive on a motorbike across the street and gesture towards us. Kunal hands me his phone and walks across to meet them. When the men leave, Kunal apologises.
“Plain clothes policemen. They help us a lot, so I make sure I chat with them.”
Kunal’s Muslim neighbours have bigger and better houses.
“We have thatched roofs and they have towers [multi-storied apartments]. When there is violence, they throw rocks and petrol bombs, but our stones don’t reach them.”
I peer into the buildings in the distance and my eyes settle on a distant tube light-lit room. I can see the outline of a person. I hear a thin voice next to me say “We are surrounded by Muslims.” It’s an old woman bent double on a walking stick looking up at me. She leaves without saying anything else. We continue our evening walk weaving in and out of tiny one-room houses. Kunal greets everyone with a loud “Jai Shri Ram!” People call us inside their homes to have a meal. A gang of small boys follow us around chanting his name. We stop at his aunt’s house and she wants to talk about the government houses that have been promised to slum dwellers who are displaced by the Sabarmati Riverfront. She waves an affidavit at him as we leave. “I will talk to Barot about it,” says Kunal.


Kunal, Jai, and I are “tripling” (three riders on a motorbike) down Ellis Bridge in Ahmedabad. Jai is weaving in and out of traffic at full speed. Kunal sits behind me nudging Jai to drive faster and catch up with a motorbike ahead of us. “Just look at her straddling the bike,” he points with his chin at a burqa-clad woman riding pillion on the bike. We catch up with them at a red light. Kunal stares at the woman and the shiny blue sports bike. When they roar past us, he nudges Jai to follow them. At some point, they get tired of following the woman and turn back to go home.
One day I notice Kunal is wearing a tight black t-shirt with Lajja Bachao (Protect Honour) in blue letters at the back and Nagrik Raksha Sangathan (Citizen’s Protection Committee) on the front. He says it is “an old organisation that works to protect women and their honour.” The t-shirt reminds him of a funny story.
“Recently I saw a boy and a girl traveling in an autorickshaw and the boy had his arm wrapped around the girl. I had my tika on the forehead and I stopped them.
What’s your name?
Who are you?
I am from the VHP. What’s your name?
Okay. And what’s your name?
Farooq, what are you doing with her?
She’s my friend.
Okay. Is this how you sit with your friend? With your arm around her? Is this the way you sit with your sister?
And then I thrashed him nicely. A crowd gathered and all the girls fled on their scooties.”
Kunal’s world is a peculiar mix of fear and fantasy. Kunal tells his boys to trap Muslim women. “Make them love you and then make them Hindu.” I ask him how that will happen and that his plan is like a scene from a bad Hindi movie.
“If while walking you spot a Muslim girl, you should give her the look so that she falls in love and then you make her Hindu. Understand?”
It would be a mistake to treat Kunal and his boys as an exceptional aspect of Hindu nationalism or even Indian politics. These men are part of a growing network of Hindu right-wing organisations that are trying to lay the groundwork to make Hindu supremacy mainstream. But violence alone is not enough to spread the word, recruit new supporters, enter new neighbourhoods, and win sympathisers. Their work often involves the most ordinary things, like helping a neighbour.
In February 2016, I was sitting and chatting with Kunal on the cot outside his house when a man wandered in looking for him. Kunal did not know the man. The man needed help. His house shared a wall with a neighbourhood mosque. The mosque authorities raised the height of the wall without the man’s consent and in the process, even cut a part of his tin roof. “I have a mud wall. What if it collapses when I am inside?”
Kunal was quick to point out that this was a situation where he must intervene because “a poor Hindu is being harassed by Muslims.” The man quietly nodded in agreement. “I will talk to them and if they don’t understand, we will file a complaint with the police.” The man turned around and walked back to his house, next to the same mosque that was burned down in 2002.