July 18, 2017

India: Vishwa Hindu Parishad to equip cow vigilantes and to appoint appoint "dharma yoddhas" [religious warriors] ?

The Telegraph

VHP will 'equip' gau rakshaks, says Togadia

Piyush Srivastava

Lucknow, July 17: Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia has said his organisation would "equip gau rakshaks to deal with cow slaughterers" and recruit "holy warriors", while demanding the Centre enact a law banning cow slaughter across the country.

His comments came on a day Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged that violence by "antisocial elements" in the name of cow protection was tarnishing the country's image and asked state governments to act against the menace.

"We shall equip gau rakshaks (cow protectors) to deal with cow slaughterers," Togadia, the VHP's international working president, was quoted in media reports as saying yesterday in Aligarh, 450km west of Lucknow. He didn't explain how his organisation would "equip" the cow protectors but a VHP official told The Telegraph that the gau rakshaks and the " dharma yoddhas" (holy warriors) would be imparted arms training.

Vigilante groups have attacked several Muslims and Dalits and killed some of them in the name of cow protection over the past two years.

"We cannot allow anybody to sacrifice our sacred cows at any cost. The VHP men assigned to protect cows shouldn't care about any criticism. We shall soon intensify our movement against cow slaughter," Togadia told his audience.

He made these comments at each of three meetings, two at the Saraswati Shishu Mandir and one at the Ramlila Ground, as he addressed VHP members from Uttar Pradesh at the end of a three-day event.

Togadia said the VHP would appoint "dharma yoddhas" in 600 of the 1,350 villages in Aligarh district (a fifth of whose population is Muslim, according to the 2011 census).

He added that the Bajrang Dal, a sister outfit often accused of hooliganism, would recruit 35,000 young men in the district by next month.

A VHP official in Lucknow, requesting anonymity, told this newspaper: "We already train our members to use arms. Equipping the gau rakshaks or appointing dharma yoddhas means imparting similar training and teaching them to protect cows and spread the Hindu religion. They will also learn how to deal with a mob in an adverse situation."

He added: "The first batch of the dharma yoddhas will be trained in Aligarh because we have a very good cadre base in the district. This experiment will be extended to the other districts of Uttar Pradesh in future."

The VHP official would not comment on allegations that the organisation was focusing on Uttar Pradesh, which has more Lok Sabha seats than any other state, to help the BJP win the 2019 general election.

"The Modi government has performed well on the economic front in the past three years," Togadia told reporters yesterday after addressing the meetings.

"Now the Centre should focus on Hindu issues like the construction of a Ram temple (in Ayodhya) through a law in Parliament. There should also be a tough law for the protection of cows."

Cow slaughter is already banned in most states.