In 1827, Mirza Ghalib wrote Chirag-e-Dair (Lamp of the Temple), a eulogy to the temple-town of Benaras, often described as “perhaps the greatest secular poem ever written by an Indian”. Nearly two centuries later, another temple-town, Haridwar, hosted an event that seemed to echo Ghalib’s prophetic couplet in his iconic poem—“The goodness and faith, fidelity and love, have all departed from this sorry land.”
A recent event, a 'dharm sansad', organised by Hindu groups between December 17-19 has sparked controversy and outrage over incendiary speeches by several religious leaders, now under the police radar for inciting violence against Muslims. After video clips of the event went viral, opposition parties too have demanded exemplary punishment to the guilty. The 'dharam sansad' was reportedly organised by Narsinghanand Saraswati, head priest of a temple in Ghaziabad.
On Friday, several members of civil society addressed a virtual press conference under the banner of ANHAD and demanded strict action against those who delivered the hate speeches. Speakers at the meeting included lawyer Prashant Bhushan, transparency activist Anjali Bharadwaj, social activist Shabnam Hashmi, Professor Ram Puniyani, poet Gauhar Raza, and former planning commission member Syeda Hamid.
“If a Muslim or Christian organisation had organized such an event, each organiser and attendee would have been behind bars under charges of sedition and UAPA,” said Shabnam Hashmi.
Professor Ram Puniyani, a Mumbai-based academic, said, “At the moment, they are targeting religious minorities, Muslims and Christians, but they are also anti-Dalit and anti-women. Their ultimate dream is to make all of them second-class citizens."
Puniyani also alleged that India’s secular history is being distorted to fit the Hindu right-wing’s divisive agenda. He added that a majority of the people are against “politics of hatred”, their voice is not being heard as they are divided.
Lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan called the 'sansad' the most significant attack on the Constitution of this country. “It is shocking to see that there is demeaning silence over this call for genocide. Celebrities should have spoken against it, and more than that, courts should have taken suo moto cognisance and got cases filed against the organisers,” he added. He also accused the police of being partial in not booking the event organisers under relevant sections of UAPA and IPC.
Former planning commission member under the UPA government, Syeda Hamid, said the speeches made during the dharm sansad are unparalleled. “I have always seen the Hindu dharma as a beautiful, peaceful, and tolerant religion. But it’s sad to see that these people are trying to become representatives of Hinduism and distorting its image,” she said.
Activist Anjali Bharadwaj alleged that the institutions of this country are not working as they should, and hence these people know that they can say and get away with everything. “At a time when there was such a surveillance system, did not the Uttarakhand government notice this event happening right under its nose. What is with the police saying it is keeping a close watch on those who participated here? Haven't they seen the videos yet? Isn't there enough evidence to act against them?” she asked.
A US-based group called Hindus for Human Rights has asked US lawmakers to condemn the call for genocide in India.
During the sansad, several religious leaders affiliated with far-right Hindutva organisations asked Hindus to arm themselves and expel Muslims from the country. “Like Myanmar, the police, the army, and every Hindu must take up arms and organise a cleansing [of Muslims],” said Swami Prabodhanand of the Hindu Raksha Sena, one of the organisers. “We don't have an option.” Sadhvi Annapurna, general secretary of Hindu Mahasabha, was also heard saying in one of the videos, “We need 100 soldiers who can kill 20 lakhs”.
Narsinghanand allegedly asked Hindus to have more children and procure modern weapons. “No community can survive without picking up weapons. And swords won’t work, they look good only on stages.” He promised Rs 1 crore to any Hindu ready to become a Prabhakaran [LTTE leader] or a Bhindranwale [Khalistani leader].
Hindu Mahasabha general secretary Pooja Shakun Pandey, who later took the name of Sadhvi Annapurna, also made a call to arms. “Prepare to kill and to serve time in prison. We will be triumphant and go to jail, even if 100 of us are willing to kill 20 lakhs of them,” she said. “I am willing to be mocked, just like [Nathuram] Godse, but I will take up arms to protect Hindutva against every devil who poses a threat to my religion,” she declared.
The firebrand Pandey is frequently in the news for anti-Muslim comments. She recently made headlines for her criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his government abolished the three farm laws. Pandey reportedly removed Modi's photograph from the Hindu Mahasabha’s Aligarh headquarters.
Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Police announced that it had filed an FIR against Waseem Rizvi and “others” for allegedly promoting hatred between different groups. Rizvi, a former chairman of the Shia Waqf Board, converted to Hinduism and took the name Jitendra Narayan Tyagi. “Once the investigation begins, we’ll be adding more names [to the case],” police added.