By A.J. Philip
In early December 2021, I visited Haridwar. Though I had passed by the pilgrim centre several times on the way to Dehradun, I could not visit Har Ki Puri, the most sacred spot, where the Ganga leaves the hills and joins the plains. Watching thousands of people taking baths on both sides of the river was in itself a great experience. I look forward to visiting the place again and spending a whole day taking pictures of people’s piety.
Haridwar is believed to be one of the four places where the drops of Amrita, the elixir of immortality, accidentally spilled over from the pitcher or Kumbha, in which it was being carried away by Garuda, the celestial bird and the vehicle of Lord Vishnu.
My younger son knows the place better, as he had stayed there for almost the entire duration of one Kumbh Mela while he was with the Press Trust of India.
Millions of Hindus from all over the world flock to Haridwar during the Mela for it is believed that bathing in the river will cleanse them of all their sins. I took a few photographs of an impressive building there under the impression that it was a shrine or an ashram, which are dime a dozen there. It turned out to be the police control room, set up to control the crowds.
Recently, Haridwar was in the news for another reason. A three-day Dharam Sansad (Parliament of Religion) was held there. One should not compare it with the Parliament of Religions held at Chicago in the 19th century in which Swami Vivekananda made a soul-stirring speech which instantly converted him into the preeminent spokesman of Hinduism. He continues to be on that pedestal.
Several decades later, I visited Sasthamkotta, a village in Kollam district in Kerala, where on the banks of the only fresh-water lake in the state and under the leadership of MKK Nair, a great man of many parts, a World Parliament of Religions was held.
As in Chicago, the attempt was to find and promote the commonalities among various religions with a view to ending religious strife everywhere. What I witnessed there was unity in diversity.
No such lofty thoughts guided the saffron-clad, as they congregated at Haridwar (December 17-19) in the name of Sanatana Dharma. I have seen the videos of some of the speeches made by the so-called Sants or Saints. One of the main organisers of the Sansad, Prabodhanand Giri, was heard praising the Myanmarese people for killing and driving out Rohingya Muslims, some of whom have reached India as refugees. He sought the help of the Indian Army also in this campaign.
Anyone can visit the camp of the Rohingya Muslims in Faridabad, near Delhi, where they live in subhuman conditions with children looking for food in waste dumps. A recent fire — accidental or engineered — destroyed whatever little movable property they had, including the cards that identified them as refugees.
The Swami wants the Hindus in India to imitate the Buddhists in Myanmar to drive out the Muslims from the country. A female speaker was shriller and more diabolical. She wanted every Hindu to wield the sword and start killing Muslims.
The chief functionary of a news channel, which mischievously planned to do a story on the Muslim Jihad through the UPSC, was seen giving an oath to those present that they would do everything necessary to convert India into a Hindu nation. He should have told them how Nepal prospered when it was a Hindu country before the people themselves discarded the nation’s religious identity.
By the way, the Supreme Court had to intervene to stop the channel from telecasting the story which was aimed at preventing Muslims from getting into the coveted services like the IAS and the IPS.
Those who have read about the rise and fall of Hitler in Germany would know that he never asked his followers to kill the Jews. He used euphemisms like “final solution” which meant sending the Jews to the gas chambers. However, in Haridwar, they used direct exhortations to kill the Muslims. They were not ordinary people.
I have seen videos of Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami touching the feet of the main organiser. As I mentioned, the police control room at Haridwar is one of the largest in the country. Yet, no action was taken against them. All those who advocated genocide against the Muslims should have been rounded up instantly and sent to jail. It would have made an impact. And the people would have believed that the Modi government would not tolerate any nonsense.
Now imagine how the same government would have reacted if a mad Muslim had said something like what the “Sants” said at Haridwar. He would have been arrested if he was able to escape lynching. What’s worse, even a week after the Haridwar videos went viral, nothing was done against the murder-mongers.
People all over the world would have wondered how they were allowed to get away in a country which professes secularism as its creed and which promotes ideals like Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which means “the world is one family”. Modi is never tired of mentioning this concept in his speeches, especially when he is abroad.
Yet, neither Modi nor his deputy and home minister Amit Shah thought it necessary to condemn the “Sants”, let alone take action against them. The inaction encouraged others to organise such outrageous programmes in the rest of the country.
At a similar Sansad at Raipur in Chhattisgarh, one of the “Sants” was found using the forum to pour scorn on Mahatma Gandhi and to eulogise his killer Nathuram Godse.
The fellow called Gandhi names and the audience responded with clapping of their hands. His language, looks and mannerisms were criminal. It must also be said to the credit of another swami that he showed the guts to use the same platform to praise Gandhi and remind the audience of what all he did for the nation before walking out of the Sansad in protest.
Whenever an incident of terrorism happened in the country, one of the common refrains of the people was: “We know that all the Muslims are not terrorists. We also know that only a few of them are terrorists. Our question is, why are the majority of the Muslims not condemning the terrorists?” It is a weird argument.
If a so-called Christian does something wrong, why should I as a Christian apologise for it? The law of the land should be applied to him without showing any mercy. Having said that, I found it inexplicable why most political leaders, social thinkers, writers, scientists and scholars did not find it necessary to condemn the Haridwar conclave.
No, I do not forget the unequivocal statements of Dr Karan Singh, easily one of the tallest exponents of Hinduism in the country and advocate Prashant Bhushan. The Chief Justice of India, who the other day lamented at the death of investigative journalism in the country, did not think it necessary to take suo motu action against the organisers of the Haridwar meet.
That is, even after 76 leading Supreme Court lawyers reminded him about the need to initiate action against them. After all, what the “Sants” threatened to do was to throw to the winds all the
Constitutional values which every constitutional authority in the country has vowed to uphold at all times. Otherwise, they cannot continue in power.
True, cases have been registered against some. One of them was arrested from a lodge in Madhya Pradesh. The “Sants” have also retaliated by filing a case against the Muslims for vitiating the atmosphere. God alone knows what the Muslims had done to force them to file a case against them.
Curiously, the first person against whom the police took action at Haridwar was a Muslim, Waseem Rizvi, who turned a Hindu Swami like the one who goes by the name M. His new name is Jitendra Narayan Tyagi. Alas, even conversion did not save him.
What I found disconcerting is the bonhomie the “Sants” had with the police when they went to the Haridwar police station to file a case against the Muslims. There, one of them is heard saying that the police were with them in their crusade against the Muslims. A police officer is seen smilingly accepting the statement.
I remembered what a young Muslim told me at Robertsganj in Uttar Pradesh some 30 years ago. “We do not fear the Hindus. We can face them. What we can’t face are the policemen who are expected to be impartial!” The worst perpetrators in communal incidents are the police, either through their inaction or through their overexertion.
There are some Christians who take solace from the fact that the Haridwar congregation did not attack Christians, only Muslims. They are mistaken. As former Union Home Minister P Chidambaram said, the Christians are the next preys of Hindutva. There have been a series of incidents against Christian establishments, including the century-old Redeemer Church at Ambala, where I had an occasion to attend the service a few months ago.
Behind all the madness, there is a method. A few diehards of Hindutva are organised. They troop into a church or worship centre, allege that what they are doing is conversion, ransack the place and beat up the men and women and quietly disperse. They are called vigilantes.
That is what happened at a church in Dwarka in New Delhi. There is no point in informing the police for they reach late or do nothing against the criminals. This has become the standard practice against the minorities. No organisation takes credit for the attacks and it helps the police to keep mum.
Muslim farmers are afraid of keeping cows or grazing them for they never know when they can be accused of cow slaughter. In village after village, Christians find assembling for prayer and worship dangerous. The governments like in Karnataka, Haryana and Gujarat are more interested in strengthening laws to prevent conversion, little realising that persecution has only promoted conversion.
Many in the country believe that what the speakers at Haridwar said represent the views of those in power. Many years ago when I visited a university at Ulaanbaataar in Mongolia, my host wanted to show me something special. He took me to the library where he showed me a statue of Mahatma Gandhi.
At that time I was actually amused. Later, when I visited New York and took a boat to reach the Statue of Liberty, what struck me the most was a Gandhi quote displayed in large neon lights that said, “An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind”. Whether Gandhi really said this or not, it summarises the non-violent principle of his teaching.
Today Gandhi is respected more outside of India than in India where even ruling party MPs believe that Godse did a great thing by using a German pistol against him at Birla Bhavan in Delhi. The woman in saffron who used a toy gun in a symbolic act of killing Gandhi is still roaming the country preaching hatred.
Recently, I saw a video of a government functionary conducting a raid at a children’s home run by Christian nuns. He was heard asking the nuns why the Bible was kept there. I do not know when keeping the Bible in a children’s home has become a criminal act. The hounding of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Saint Teresa, is also done with a purpose. It is a reminder to the Christians that they are not welcome here.
Those in power will realise, sooner than later, that no community can be subjugated except at a terrible cost to the nation. Millions of people sacrificed everything they had to gain freedom for the country. They certainly did not envisage that in the second decade of the 21st century, some cranks would be allowed to have a field day in the name of promoting a religion. Where is sanatana or dharma in such activities?
The author is senior journalist.