DASNA/RORI/MEERUT: From the outskirts of India’s capital to the Uttarakhand border, an outfit known as Hindu Swabhiman is raising and training what it calls a “dharma sena” to wage war against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), which it believes will occupy western UP by 2020. Its leaders claim there are already 15,000 “soldiers” who are ready to die to safeguard their faith.
A TOI team, over the course of a week, visited four such camps spread around the communally sensitive belt of western UP and found that the outfit has even enlisted child soldiers, some of them as young as eight years old. All were being taught to use swords and firearms. The leaders of the outfit, headquartered at a temple at Dasna in Ghaziabad district, claim their ranks are swelling by the week. Of the 50 known training camps, some are clandestine and others, like those at Bamheta and Rori, are openly teaching men and women, boys and girls, to be ready “for when the enemy strikes”.
There are three known training camps in Meerut city and five in Muzaffarnagar district alone.
One of the Hindu Swabhiman’s leaders, Chetna Sharma, who is also a member of the VHP’s Durga Vahini, told TOI on Monday: “Our mottois simple — catchthem young. We have over 50 training centres all over western UP. Our students are from ages eightto 30. We don’t give guns and swords to children straight away. For the first six months, we train them mentally. We teach them verses from the Gita. Hindus must not be afraid of death because we are reborn. The children here are fearless.” Seema Kumari (name changed), 8, said, “I am learning to fight because our mothers and elder sisters are threatened. I have to protect them as well as myself.”
A nine-year-old boy echoed her sentiments.
‘Forced to take up arms as government’s failed’
Militant attacks on India provide ideologues of the Hindu Swabhiman an opportunity to indoctrinate young minds. Parminder Arya, an ex-serviceman who trains children at one of the Hindu Swabhiman camps in Rori village near Modinagar, said, “Our training is simple. We apprise youngsters about terrorist activities taking place in the country.”
Pathankot, for instance, was a major issue discussed with these children, he said. “That is how they are made to understand the ugly face of Islamic fundamentalism which is a rising threat to us Hindus. I was posted in Kashmir during my army days. Half the Indian army is posted in the Valley and yet they could not prevent the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits. This is something we have to do on our own.”
All of this is happening under the nose of the administration. But IG Meerut Zone, Alok Sharma, confessed he had no idea of the operation. “We do not have any report on such activity taking place. I will certainly look into the matter,” he told TOI on Monday.
Anil Yadav, a former professional wrestler and martial artist who runs an akhara in Ghaziabad’s Bamheta village, said the “work” will not stop now, come what may.
“We run most of these camps as akharas and it is not illegal to do so. However, we prefer to run some camps in secret. We don’t want the police to shut them down. My students follow a strict regime and are trained in the martial arts. They are also trained in the use of firearms. Even if a child wants to learn how to use a gun, we teach them. Within six months, a student can branch out and start a training camp on his own. Within two years, we have trained 15,000 kids. Imagine what we can achieve in five.”
Swami Narsinghanand Saraswati, the Hindu ascetic whose ideology fuels the outfit’s work, stays in the temple where a board proclaims, “Yeh teerth Hinduon ka pavitra sthal hai. Musalmanon ka pravesh varjit hai. Aadesh Mahant Baba Narsinghanand Saraswati.” (This temple is a holy place of Hindus. Entry of Muslims is prohibited. By order of head priest Baba Narsinghanand Saraswati). Once known as Deepak Tyagi, Saraswati was a member of the Samajwadi Party till 1995 and was a “huge fan” of Mulayam Singh Yadav. Twenty years ago, after a woman from his community committed suicide over a sex racket, he changed his allegiance and became an ascetic.
Today, his hero is Veer Savarkar, who coined the term “Hindutva” in 1923. Kamlesh Tiwari, the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha leader whose controversial remarks triggered riots in West Bengal’s Malda, was a student of Saraswati’s. Saraswati believes that the Darul Uloom in Deoband, UP, is the ideological fountainhead of the ISIS and “war has already begun”.
So intense is his hatred for the ISIS that Saraswati has no qualms in stating, “I think an extremist outfit, like the ISIS, should exist for the Hindus. The only answer to the ISIS is an HS — a Hindu State. We want to match their level of extremism and fight fire with fire. I don’t have the means to build an organisation of that scale but with the help of Hindus, who believe in my cause, I will achieve it soon. We have pistols and they have rocket launchers. We need better weapons so that our army can be trained. That is how the ISIS got so big. Local business leaders helped them. Hindus from all over the country will help us too.”
Saraswati says they have started a mass contact programme. “We have been addressing two panchayats per month, on average. At the panchayats, I ask my Hindu lions to be brave and make sure they keep weapons with them at all times. During the Muzaffarnagar riots, we went to the ground and asked people to be armed. All these politicians, who claim credit for saving Hindus, are lying.”
He points to a slogan on the wall and reads, “Hindu Sheron, shaan se jeena hai toh shaan se marna seekho. (Hindu lions, if you want to live with pride then learn to die with pride). I am preparing my people for civil war. Neither the state government nor Narendra Modi can stop the civil war from coming. It is better to die fighting to protect our loved ones.”
Told about the Hindu Swabhiman’s reaction to Deoband, Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani, vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband, said, “Our gates are open throughout the day. Anyone can come in and go out at will. Every syllabus and every academic discipline is an open book. Our institution is visited by one and all including IB officials, LIU (local intelligence unit), senior police and government officials. In the last 150 years of the history of this university, not once has any of its teachings come under criticism. It is an open challenge to any individual or agency to investigate in whatever way they want to, because we have nothing to hide. Regarding ISIS, whatever information we have about this organization, it is through media reports and nothing else.”