As the general assembly elections in four states dawn on us next year, the Vishva Hindu Parishad is set to embark on a countrywide journey as part of their Shaurya Jagran Yatra. The yatra will tackle “love-jihad” and issues of conversion, amidst other supposed issues, states Hindustan Times and Indian Express. Starting November 2023, four states, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram go to the polls. These yatras are ostensibly preparatory mobilisations for the inauguration of the famed Ram temple in Faizabad-Ayodhya in January 2024..
Scheduled to run from September 30 to October 15, Indian Express reported that this tour aims to raise awareness and also mobilise groups of, what the VHP calls, Dharma Yoddhas (literally, religious warriors) to monitor activities perceived as against Dharma. Senior RSS Leaders have been in talks with the VHP for a while as VHP seems to be given the responsibility of organising the yatras across the country.
This initiative has raised significant alarms and concern as it aligns with the upcoming inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya which is planned for January 2024 which then also he Lok Sabha polls which arrive (if on schedule) next summer.
The VHP’s spokesperson, Vinod Bansal stated to the media, “We will awaken people against the menace of conversion and love jihad through these tours. We are also raising groups of dharma yoddhas (religious warriors) who will keep an eye on anti-religious activities, prevent conversion and organise ghar wapsi (return to the fold) programmes. A comprehensive plan has been devised which will be carried out through the length and breadth of the country.” Given the aggressive track record of the VHP and its affiliates like the Bajrang Dal, intimidatory and threatening speeches –apart from hate crimes—accompany such processions or constitute their fallout.
Two days after the initial announcements, when widespread concern was expressed by independent media (on the deployment of “religious warriors” today on September 14, the VHP released a Twitter statement that they will not be involving the participation of Dharma Yodhas.
The news report in a section of the media that the VHP shall enrol Dharm Yoddhas during the upcoming Shaurya Yatras of the Bajrang Dal is wholly incorrect. The VHP has no plans to enrol Dharm Yoddhas.
The Shaurya Yatras are undertaken for awakening the Hindu Society, offering…
— Vishva Hindu Parishad -VHP (@VHPDigital) September 12, 2023
The RSS and its affiliate, the VHP, have been involved in meetings earlier this year. In fact, there is a schedule of meetings at the RSS’ headquarters that is slated to examine this issue beginning today, according to the Indian Express. This particular set of meetings will involve each of RSS’ affiliates and their senior leaders. About 266 key members have confirmed their attendance at the 3-day meeting. Some of the attendees include the BJP, Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Vidhya Bharti, Saksham, Seva Bharti, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and other affiliated organisations.
It has been reported that VHP’s mobilisation for the Shaurya Yatra is going to be discussed as a key event. The meetings will also feature senior BJP leaders such as JP Nadda and BL Santosh. The clear politicisation of politico-socio-religious outfits is evident. According to the Indian Express, certain religious leaders will travel on foot, as part of a padyatra, and visit homes, especially Dalit homes, , and talk about the Ram Mandir. RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat and Dattatreya Hosabale will reportedly chair the forthcoming meeting.
Earlier this month too, the VHP had held meetings with the officials of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, UP. Senior RSS leaders such Dattatreya Hosabale and Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi, too, attended the event. Reports state also that international vice president of the VHP, Champat Rai, was also present at the meeting.
Shaurya Yatra routes: what do we know so far?
The rallies have begun. One particular rally from Alirajour to Umrauli in Madhya Pradesh was taken out with over a 100 participants, according to local news portal Jhabua Live. Apart from this, yatras has reportedly already been conducted in 10 districts of Madhya Pradesh, which include Morena, Itarsi, Alirajpur, Panna, Betul, Harda, Neemuch, Rajgarh, Dewas, Vidisha. Similarly the Shaurya Jagran Yatra will be taken out at the block level from September 29 to October 8, in Jharkhand.
There is also news of a huge rally being organised in Noida on October 1. About 25,000 “Bajrangis” are claimed to attend the event according to a poster released by the VHP. . Apart from Noida, there will be a Yatra in three regions of Uttar Pradesh. Rajathsan will have a Yatra running through four of its districts. At Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh a Yatra is to be held today, September 14.
According to India Live, the VHP is set to hold Shaurya Yatra in Telangana, a poll bound state, from September 30 to October 15 this year.
According to ETV Live, the Shaurya Yatra in Uttarakhand is slated to start from Badrinath on September 17, 2023. It will pass through 13 districts and finally, culminate in Haridwar on October 6, 2023: about 20 big public meetings will be organised, and about 180 small public meetings in various districts. Anuj Baliyan of Vishwa Hindu Parishad has mentioned that these rallies will be against Land Jihad, drugs, and other grave issues pertaining to Uttarakhand. Starting from September 19 in Uttarakhand, this Yatra will conclude in Haridwar on October 6. According to media reports, all the state’s 13 districts will be traversed during this yatra.
Reputed Hindi newspaper Prabhat Khabar reports about the two-day national meeting of Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, that concluded on Sunday at Digambar Jain Bhawan near the Gaushala on Harmu Road, Ranchi (September 10).
Addressing the workers in the concluding session, Union General Secretary of Vishwa Hindu Parishad Milind Parande said that the completion of 60 years of Vishwa Hindu Parishad is going to begin on the holy day of Krishna Janmashtami on September 7.. Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s target is to expand the organisation to 1 lakh villages in the next one year, while Bajrang Dal’s national convenor Neeraj Doneria said that from September 30 to October 14, Shaurya Jagran Yatra will be taken out by Bajrang Dal in the entire country. Major yatras will be taken out from 300 places in the country and more than 2,000 meetings will be held. There is a plan to make one lakh Bajrang Dal coordinators in the country. 20 thousand weekly meeting centres and 25 thousand Balopasna centres will be run.
Bajrang Dal’s national convenor Neeraj Doneria said that in the present context, organising the society is the only option to counter Christianity and Muslim jihadi mentality. Shaurya Jagran Yatra will be taken out by Bajrang Dal workers across the country from September 30 to October 14. In this, major yatras will be taken out from 300 places in the country and more than 2,000 meetings will be held. He said that there is a plan to make one lakh Bajrang Dal coordinators in the entire country: 20,000 weekly meeting centres and 25,000 Balopasna centres will be run by the organisation, it was also announced.
Who is the VHP?
The VHP is a full fledged organisation entrenched in various institutions and has wings of its own. One of its more famous wings is the international wing of the VHP based in the USA. According to its website, the VHP was established on August 29, 1964. The RSS also counts the organisation under its wing, and celebrates its inception in 1964 on the RSS’ timeline, as one of its founders includes M S Golwalkar.
The primary goals of the VHP, as published on its website are “to unite the Hindu community, safeguard the Hindu religion, and engage in social service.” The VHP is organised as an influential organisation across countless Indian villages and towns. The website further notes that it provides over “4277 social services” for the people which spans from fields like healthcare, education, and empowerment and their council has been running schools, hostels, and several other facilities. Including this, the VHP also claims one of its goals to be stopping the conversion of Janjatis, by which they refer to the indigenous population of India to Christianity or Islam.
But, what does the VHP actually do?
VHP’s history of violence
Recently, VHP’s Vinod Bansal had spoken to the media about how during excavation at the Ram Mandir site in Ayodhya the remains of an ancient temple have been unearthed. It is no surprise that the VHP intends to conduct this really. They have been known to engage in anti-minority violence and incidents.
Lately, in Gujarat as well as in Madhya Pradesh, there were swords witnessed at a rally by VHP, according to a report by Sabrang India. Thus, the VHP seems no stranger to violence. In fact, their association with anti-Muslim violence is not new. They have been brazen and unapologetic in their association. For instance, in response to the accusations of participating in the Gujarat 2002 massacre, the VHP is claimed to have said they are “proud” of the violence. During Gujarat violence, VHP leader Pravin Togadia was also arrested for participation in inciting people and for distributing tridents to people in Ajmer.
A rally carried out by VHP on April 16, 2022 on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanthi had turned violent last year. The rally saw swords, bats, hockey sticks brandished at the religious procession. Country made pistols were similarly brandished. Witnesses also allege that objectionable songs and slogans also rang through the rally.
The third rally, led by Bajrang Dal, saw a violent turn when it passed by a mosque where Ramadan prayers were reportedly taking place, according to NewsClick. People reportedly also tried to enter the mosque and plant a saffron flag. The people inside the mosque subsequently objected and endeavoured to drive them out of the mosque. Following this, a stampede and stone pelting occurred by both groups. Reports also suggest that certain areas where poor Muslims reside were deliberately targeted by these organisations.
Uttarakhand has, in June 2023, seen a rise in hate speeches, calling for the socio-economic boycott of Muslims, violence and the destruction of Muslims religious spaces. In June 2023 the Supreme Court of India took note of violent mobilisations around the Mahapanchayat in Uttarakhand after fears of widespread violence arose. A petition filed by scholars Ashok Vajpeyi and Apoorvanand, along with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, had appealed to the CJI to stop the panchayat happening at Uttarakhand’s Purola as it could lead to communal violence. The petition also mentioned VHP’s statement of ultimatum for Muslims to leave the state, according to The Wire. Finally, the police and administration had been compelled to deny it permission.
The VHP has a history of conducting yatras. Their rallies, more than often reflect aggressive behaviour that then breaks into violence. They recently conducted a rally in violence -torn Nuh, Haryana in late August 2023, even as the administration imposed a ban on it. The VHP has also been reportedly implicated for inciting or fanning the flames of communal violence in Haryana last month.
The Haryana violence occurred only after a round of preparatory hate speeches had taken place. The day prior to the violence, it was reported by Sabrang India, that the Bajrang Dal and VHP had been involved in making incendiary hate speeches before a religious procession took place.
The state’s institutions have often taken actions against the organisations for its anti-people activities. For instance, on August 02, 2023 the Supreme Court issued an order urging the Centre and the police to proactively address the risk of violence and hate speech during these rallies. However, the apex court had refrained from imposing a stay on the “demonstrations” conducted by the VHP and the Bajrang Dal in the Delhi-NCR region when it was petitioned. In the aftermath of the Nuh Violence, about 26 FIRs were filed against the organisation and its affiliates. Monu Manesar released an inciteful video before the violence, as did Bittu Bajrangi a Bajrang Dal member.
First two videos of are of
1. Faridabad based cow viglante Bittu Bajrangi instigating violence and challenging Police in a facebook video 2 days back.
2. 3 days old video of Monu Manesar appealing to his supporters to attend the procession (he wasn’t allowed to attend the… pic.twitter.com/d9SbSWsL28
— Mohammed Zubair (@zoo_bear) July 31, 2023
Manesar was recently arrested by the Haryana police after having been on the run for the past few months. He is suspected of participating in burning two Muslims alive. The VHP has released a statement defending him, claiming he is innocent. The organisation has promised all help will be provided to murder accused Manesar.
निर्दोष गौभक्त मोनू मानेसर को राजस्थान पुलिस ने गिरफ्तार किया है,जबकि कुछ समय पहले ही राजस्थान पुलिस ने निर्दोष माना था,चुनावों में मुस्लिम वोट बैंक लिए गौभक्त मोनू की गिरफ्तारी हुई है, जो उन्हें बहुत भारी पड़ेगा। विश्व हिंदू परिषद गौभक्त मोनू मानेसर को हर प्रकार से सहायता करेगी…
— Vishva Hindu Parishad -VHP (@VHPDigital) September 12, 2023
One of its primary goals of the Shorya Yatra is to work against conversion. The VHP has a track record, by their own words, of converting thousands of people over the years, from tribals, to Muslims, Christians, and even Sikhs. The VJP’s international wing has even tried to prevent the bill against casteism that was passed in California and Seattle recently.
In the past, the VHP had trained members called the Dharma Prasaar Vibhag to further their goals of preventing and reversing conversion. It is reported that between 1982 and 1985, VHP reported that more than 66,000 people were reconverted to Hinduism due to the VHP.
Similarly, in 2002, VHP claimed to have converted 5,000 people to Hinduism and in 2004, their reported conversions had totaled 12,857 individuals, consisting of 3,727 Muslims and 9,130 Christians. Thereby, it is alarming that the organisation intends to conduct a yatra across villages as elections are coming to wake. It becomes a serious threat to the law and order of the public given the organisation’s violent history and constant provocations against minorities. It also would besmirch India’s aspirations to be a global leader when organisations such as the VHP are engaging in barbaric violence against the people.
CJP’s action on “religious processions”
Citizens for Justice and Peace had filed a complaint to the National Commission for Minorities and Haryana’s Director General of Police as incidents of violence against Muslims continued to take place in Haryana in early August.
The CJP had also filed a PIL in the Supreme Court of India on the regulation of religious processions in December 2022 after a spate of Shobya Yatras had been implicated in violence. CJP had approached the court to lay down a standard operating procedure (SOP) to be followed by these processions. The petition had sought standard directions to be given to state governments and administration for the maintenance of law and order.
In 2022, the country saw widespread violence linked to religious processions on Ram Navami, Hanuman Jayanti and several others. Many states, including Gujarat, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan saw violence related to these processions. The petition was dismissed by the Supreme Court.
Furthermore, in August 2023, CJP filed a complaint against arms training camps for youth in Rajasthan as well in Assam. These camps were organised by Rashtriya Bajrang Dal in Assam and the VHP in Rajasthan. Training was given to children to build a “Hindu Rashtra”, and fight against “Love-Jihad.” Training on martial arts, survival skills, and quick thinking was provided. Sharp edged tridents were distributed by the VHP and Bajrang Dal in several regions of Rajasthan. CJP filed a complaint against these actions and also noted that hate speech against minorities was given, as it urged authorities to take action.
CJP also instituted another petition against hate speech in the state of Maharashtra. The petition was signed by known public figures such as Tushar Gandhi, Javed Akhtar, Teesta Setalvad, Fr Frazer Mascarenhas and several others. The petition demanded that any event with known hate offenders should be banned, and that a high-level impartial committee be established to investigate these cases.