A law unto itself

Published : Apr 23, 2004 00:00 IST

With a friendly dispensation in place, the Hindu Right in Madhya Pradesh is enforcing its dictates aggressively.

in Gwalior

BE careful of what you say or do once you set foot in Madhya Pradesh. You can be terrorised, humiliated publicly, jailed and even hounded out of the State on the slightest pretext. The law-enforcing agencies will look the other way and the party in power will feign ignorance. Ever since a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government took office in Madhya Pradesh, the State has slid into the hands of lumpen elements from the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

What is disconcerting is that the law-enforcing machinery appears increasingly to be an accomplice in the destructive Hindutva project. This is what the family of a retired insurance officer, who has been living in Gwalior for the past 50 years, discovered on March 14, when members of the Bajrang Dal and the VHP and its women's wing Durga Vahini descended on their house in order to punish the daughter for insulting Ram, Sita and Laxman. According to VHP activists, the daughter, who teaches at the Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management, a Central government institute, directed a play lampooning Ram, Sita and Laxman.

The play was staged on February 21 at the institute's annual day function. The girl pleaded innocence, and said that she regretted if anything wrong had been done. However, the activists wanted to blacken her face in public in order to teach her a lesson. When her father, brother and sisters protested, they were beaten up, shoved and dragged around the house. Furniture was destroyed and flower-pots were smashed. Said an eyewitness: "All the while the police remained a `mute spectator' only trying to ensure that fatal injuries were not inflicted." When all the damage was done, the police arrested six persons and chased away the rest.

On March 9, VHP activists blackened the face of the institute's director, Devendra Singhai, a senior Indian Administrative Service officer. Chief of the Gwalior unit of the VHP, Narendra Pal Singh Bhadoria, proudly takes the credit for "teaching a lesson" to those who dared to insult Hindu gods and goddesses. He warns: "This was nothing. We can do much more if anybody dares repeat such things again. Ram ka apmaan bardash nahin hoga (we will not tolerate an insult to Ram)."

According to Bhadoria, the play was sacrilegious because the characters Ram, Sita and Laxman were shown singing Hindi film songs and Sita was shown wearing a pair of jeans. Bhadoria says he was happy that he had succeeded in his aim of "creating fear in those who dared insult Hindu gods and goddesses". However, according to students at the institute, the play was a "harmless" skit called "Kal Aaj aur Kal" in which Ram, Sita and Laxman were made to sing lines from popular Hindi songs. "There was nothing insulting and such plays have always been staged in colleges," a student said. But Bhadoria has justified the resort to "direct action".

Following the incident, Singhai is incommunicado and the girl has gone into hiding. The other family members, after having been warned against speaking up in public, are scared to go out into the city alone.

What is amazing is that an incident involving the director and faculty member of a premier Central government institute has not even come to the knowledge of BJP leaders in the State or the Tourism Minister under whose jurisdiction the institute falls. "I have no information on this," said Union Tourism Minister Jagmohan. Senior State BJP leader Maya Singh, who is also the party's election-in-charge in the State, was unaware of such an incident.

Significantly, several such incidents are being reported from other parts of the State. In Indore, for example, in February, activists of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal attacked and demolished a car shop owned by Sajid Carwalla, a Muslim youth who had eloped with a Sindhi girl. The girl kept pleading that she wanted to marry the man, but activists of the Bajrang Dal and the VHP separated the couple by force. According to the local police and the municipal corporation who assisted in the demolition, the shop stood on encroached land. Sajid is in jail on charges of intimidation and kidnapping. The local VHP chief J.C. Jain justifies the action against Sajid. "He was an anti-social element luring Hindu girls and forcing them into wrong deeds. By punishing him we have done a great service to society because despite complaints against him, the police not taking any action. They took action only when we intervened," Jain said. He added that the girl's family members had come to the VHP for "help". The "anti-social element" theory, is, however, not substantiated by the police. "We have no records of him on this. But he is in jail on charges of kidnapping and intimidation. The girl has given a statement against him," says the Superintendent of Police.

According to reports in the local newspapers, initially the girl kept saying that she wanted to marry him and later changed her statement. Says a local journalist: "It is a fact that Bajrang Dal and VHP people have become very aggressive ever since Uma Bharati became Chief Minister." He cites an incident on December 31, when activists of the two outfits staged a noisy protest against the staging of a fashion show at a hotel in Indore. In most of these incidents, the police are seen as not having stopped the perpetrators.

Is Madhya Pradesh becoming yet another laboratory for the Hindutva forces? This streak of intolerance, as opposed to the benign tolerance of Hinduism, is more in evidence now than ever before among the votaries of Hindutva.

Another case in point is Maharashtra BJP leader Gopinath Munde's demand to ban Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India for its "defamatory remarks on Shivaji". According to Munde, "the book refers to Shivaji as a dacoit. This is a great insult to the king. If the book by James Laine can be banned for defaming Shivaji, then the same yardstick must be applied to Discovery of India". Munde's remarks came a day after State Home Minister R.R. Patil demanded an apology from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for his appeal to lift the ban on Laines' book, Shivaji: A Hindu King in Islamic India. The issue led to an uproar in the Maharashtra Assembly on March 17.

But the occurrence of such incidents in Madhya Pradesh is hardly surprising. Uma Bharati's fetish for Hindutva was obvious right from the day she was sworn-in in the presence of saffron-clad sadhus. She went on to inaugurate gaushalas (cowsheds) all over the State as the cow, according to her, was associated with the "agrarian culture of India". While people were largely amused at these actions, her move to ban liquor and non-vegetarian food in the religious towns of Ujjain, Amarkantak, Onkareshwar and Maheshwar resulted in a rash of protests from the local people. Given that the cities are located on the banks of rivers, it was feared that the move, if implemented, would render a large number of local fishermen jobless.

However, she remains resolute and the ban continues to be in force. She told Frontline: "The ban is definitely on. Sale of non-vegetarian food and liquor in the vicinity of religious places is prohibited. I have even told those managing the mosques and churches to see to it that such shops do not come in their vicinity." She admitted that sporadic incidents involving Bajrang Dal and VHP activists had come to her notice and "strict action has been taken against those responsible". However, there is no evidence of any "strict action".

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