The five men in the back of the dusty mechanic’s shop in Rajasthan’s Karauli town all identified as “kattar” – strict – Hindus. They were lying low.

All week, teams of the Rajasthan police had been combing the town to identify and arrest those who had been part of the worst communal violence that Karauli has seen since Independence.

The violence had broken out on April 2, during the Nav Samvatsar Shobha Yatra, a rally to celebrate the Hindu New Year. The men in the mechanics shop had helped organise the rally.

The Hindu New Year also marks the beginning of Navratri, meant to be a nine-day period of fasting and quiet prayer. This year, however, the celebrations in Karauli town were somewhat louder. Songs had been played at the bike rally that had cut across the town. Many of the revellers had danced to them.

In a conversation with on April 8, the Hindu men at the mechanics shop described the songs as “bhakti”– devotional – music. The unanimous favourite was the “topi wala’’, or skull-cap wearer’s, song. The image of the skull cap was an allusion to Muslims.

The lyrics of the song are:

“Jis din jaag utha Hindut, toh ye anjaam bolega
Ki topi wala sar jhuka ke Jai Sri Ram bolega.
Jis din khola khoon mera, dikha denge aukat teri
Fir toh hum nahi bolenge, bas bolegi talwaar meri.”

The words roughly translate to:

“The day the Hindus wake up, the consequence will be
That the skull-cap wearer will bow down and say victory to lord Ram.
The day my blood boils, I wish to show you your place
Then I will not speak, only my sword will.”

Sung by Sandeep Chaturvedi, a resident of Ayodhya, the song is immensely popular on YouTube, where it has amassed about 4.5 lakh views over the past four years. Many of the Hindu men spoke to in Karauli had also downloaded it on their phones.

The men in the shop, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they felt energised by it. “When we listen to the song, we feel strengthened, we get the feeling that we want to kill every single Muslim around,” said a 22-year-old, pacing up and down the tiny shop, chewing on a match stick. Not that there are many Muslims around – only 6% of the district’s population belongs to the community. The rest are Hindus.

The real life effects of the “topi wala” song among the Hindu men became grimly clear on April 2. Videos show that when the bike rally passed through Atwara, a Muslim-majority enclave in Karauli town, the song was blasted out of loudspeakers, and stones were pelted on the procession from local houses.

As matters escalated, shops and vehicles belonging to both Hindus and Muslims in the area were set alight. At least 35 people were injured in the violence.

Twenty-nine people had been arrested from both communities, Karauli Superintendent of Police Shailendra Singh Indoliya told on April 9. Over a hundred people had been booked under Section 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a provision for preventive detention. The main accused from both communities, however, had managed to evade arrest.

More rallies were planned for April 10, when the nine days of fasting ended with Ram Navami, but they were foiled by the district administration. Karauli remains under heavy security and curfew till April 12.

Ram Navami processions have a history of leading to communal conflagrations. But this year, the first day of Navratri itself saw large rallies across North India.

Not only have the rallies grown in strength, there is a new addition to the bikes and saffron flags: songs of hate, which speak of killing and humiliating Muslims. Spread through YouTube and other online platforms, these songs have found a massive audience among young Hindu men.

The police superintendent told that in the future, the organisers of public events will need to get any songs they plan to play vetted by the administration.

The vehicle was hired for Rs 5,100 for the rally. Prajapati says he never got the money. Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer

Soundtrack to a yatra

The songs evoked a range of responses among the men in Karauli. “You know how one feels when Vande Matram or the national song is played? We get goosebumps,” explained a 28-year-old outside the mechanic’s shop. “The same thing happens when we hear words like those who wear the topi will have to bend and say Jai Sri Ram.”

The 28-year-old was keen to point out that he was a Brahmin. He ran a taxi service but said the town had been facing a driver shortage since April 2. After the violence, Hindu taxi owners had stopped using the services of Muslim drivers and “rightly so”, he said.

A 26-year-old in the mechanic’s shop, who had a bachelor of science degree in nursing, said that when he heard such songs, he was reminded of ancestors who had made sacrifices for Hinduism.

“Now if we cannot protect and save Hinduism then we do not have the right to call ourselves Hindus,” he said. He sported three lines and a dot across his forehead, signalling that he was a Brahmin Shaivite.

The 22-year-old, who was chewing on a matchstick, said that if he did not act on the impulse to kill Muslims, Hindus would soon become slaves. “Their numbers have increased so much, at one go they have 12 children,” he said. Muslims mocked and threatened Hindus, he insisted, claiming he had seen the videos on his phone.

Asked what he did for a living, he said he had not done a day of work in months since there were “other people at home to work and make money”.

A 27-year-old currently preparing for the railway service entrance exam was also among the men in the shop. He said the songs were meant to “tease” Muslims. According to him, it was a natural reaction to Muslims building mosques on the site of old temples. The turning point for him was a visit to Mathura, where a mosque stood next to the site believed to be the birthplace of Krishna. “For how long can we deal with these things, right? Eventually these songs will come out,” he said.

Another man, the only Rajput in the group of Brahmins, took a more pragmatic view of the songs. “They are helpful in entertaining the youth, who would not stay in the rally otherwise,” he said. “If there is a DJ playing these songs, it holds their attention as they are busy dancing.”

Apart from organising the rally, he had driven alongside the “rath”, or chariot. In this case, the chariot was a jeep with a photo of the Bharat Mata perched on it.

Along with the “topi wala” song, another hot favourite was a popular number by Bhojpuri singer Varun Bahar, who was arrested in July 2019. The lyrics of the song are: “Jo na bole Jai Sri Ram, bhej do isko kabristan.” Whoever does not say Jai Sri Ram, send him to the graveyard.

After being released on bail, Bahar had vowed never to sing such songs again. The graveyard song, however, is available on YouTube again. Uploaded by a user called M.s. Manish Official, it has 22,000 views.

On April 2, such songs had been blared out of a sound system rigged up on an open vehicle. Sonu Prajapati was driving the vehicle, and a technician called Ravindra had been hired to operate the sound system.

“See, we have an aux wire, we also carried extra wires and allowed the men [at the rally] to play whatever song they wanted,” Prajapati explained. “Now if they have booked us, they should play what they want, right?”

His vehicle was vandalised at the rally. Only the tyres were spared. Five LED television screens, which cost Rs 25,000 each, the bonnet and the doors of the car as well as his laptop, containing reams of downloaded music, were destroyed, he claimed.

One of the homes that has been locked since April 2, as its residents have been on the run since the communal violence broke out. Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer

‘Only one slogan’

The five men in the shop said they would have been happy to speak on record but they feared the wrath of the Rajasthan police, under the control of the state’s Congress government. Despite the fear of police action, they were proud of the event they had organised – Karauli had never seen such a big rally on Navratri.

Others in Karauli echoed this sentiment. “For the last two years there were no big events because of Covid so we decided to really go big this time,” said 65-year-old Keshav Singh Naruka, the deputy secretary of Rajasthan’s Vidya Bharti, the education wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Naruka said social media was used to publicise the April 2 rally, local Hindus and shop owners were encouraged to fly saffron flags, and many people received personal invites to the event. “We used yellow rice, an auspicious religious invitation, to ask people to join the April 2 rally,” he said.

Gopalal Sharma is part of the 15-member committee of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh based in Karauli district. According to him, the proceedings of April 2 had been peaceful. “Nothing objectionable was said,” he said repeatedly.

To prove his point, Sharma fished out his phone and played a video of the rally. While the “topi walla” song could be heard playing in the background, he demanded, “Can you hear anything problematic? Can you?”

The "topi wala" song's remix has been viewed widely online. Photo: Screenshot from YouTube

When it was pointed out that the inflammatory song was being played in the background, Naruka chimed in. He closed his eyes and began to sing, “Ek hi naara, ek hi naam, Jai Sri ram, Jai Sri ram. [Only one slogan, only one song, victory to lord Ram, victory to lord Ram].”

He was singing lines from a song called Har Ghar Bhagwa [Every House Saffron]. The youth at the mechanic’s shop had mentioned it when discussing the songs that were played at Hindutva rallies.

Naruka did not sing other verses of the song, which said:

“Hai kattar Hindu hum, naya itihas rachayenge
Dushman ke ghar mein ghus kar, hum sheesh kaat ke layenge […]
Har ghar bhagwa chayenga, Ram Rajya fir aayega
Ek hi naara ek hi naam, Jai Sri Ram, Jai Sri Ram.”

The words translate to:

“We are hardcore Hindus, we will create a new history
We will enter the homes of enemies, and will cut their heads […]
In every home the saffron flag will be seen, the rule of Ram will return
There is only one slogan, one name, victory to lord Ram, victory to lord Ram.”

The song has over 3.3 lakh views on YouTube and has been uploaded by a user called Laxmi Dubey Official, who has 2.58 lakh subscribers.

Tightening controls

The Karauli district administration is now trying to make up for the lapses of April 2. A special investigation team has been formed to examine the violence. Indoliya told that he had deputed the team to probe the various songs and slogans heard at the rally.

Karauli collector Sekhawat said that the administration would be more vigilant in the future. Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer

In the future, he said, further precautions would be taken. “All the rules would be properly followed, we will ensure people are deputed for that,” he said. “Above that, all songs will [need to] get prior approval.”

Both Indoliya and district collector Rajendra Singh Sekhawat said the April 2 rally did not have permission for playing loud music. Among the conditions laid down in the sub-district magistrate’s letter, viewed by, was this: “DJ and loud speakers should not be used.”

Still, the police officials who were part of the rally, both in plain clothes and in uniform, did not stop the DJ from playing music for over three hours. “We will look into this,” Indoliya said.

Sekhawat said he doubted they had even read the permission letter. “This is the fault of the police,” he said.

After the violence on April 2, the administration promised to tighten the rules. “All the scripts of the songs will have to be shared with the administration days before the event, how long they are played will be underlined,” Sekhawat said.

A breakdown in everyday ties

Despite the efforts of the administration, tensions are still simmering in Karauli. Naruka said they had planned to organise several more rallies in Karauli district. “How can they bully us so that we do not organise a rally?” he demanded. “ Just because there is a Congress government, should we not have a rally? I told the collector – call whoever you want, even the army, I will have the rally.”

It was only after repeated calls by the administration and notices to “kattar” Hindu youth in the area that Naruka reluctantly agreed to shelve his plans. “But that does not mean we will not do a rally the next time there is a Hindu festival,” he warned.

A Hindu shopkeeper shows the roof of his shop, damaged during the violence on April 2. Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer

Even if the rallies have been halted for now, a lasting bitterness has entered Hindu-Muslim relations in the area. The manager of a local hotel called Akash said that two Hindu landlords who had rented out shop premises on National Highway 11 to Muslims had asked them to leave. Akash Hotel itself did not have Muslim employees to begin with – the manager proudly claimed to be farsighted in his recruitment skills.

The 28-year-old who had stopped employing Muslim taxi drivers said anger between communities had led to a breakdown in relations. “The equation between Hindus and Muslims is over,” he said.