Communal Disharmony

Meet the Hindutva group at the centre of Delhi police probe into hooliganism outside mosques

Videos of Akhand Bharat Morcha’s rally in East Delhi on April 1 show its supporters brandishing weapons outside mosques and shouting ‘threatening slogans’.

The Delhi police on Monday began investigating a motorbike rally organised by a Hindutva group called Akhand Bharat Morcha on April 1, ostensibly to mark Hanuman Jayanti. Several hundred of the group’s supporters had stopped by four mosques in East Delhi and, with the police watching, brandished swords and clubs, burst firecrackers, threw colour and raised saffron flags on the mosques, and shouted allegedly “threatening slogans” against the Muslim community.

The police said the group had held such rallies in previous years as well but there had never been such a “law and order situation”. Pankaj Singh, deputy commissioner of police in East District said they have launched a suo motu inquiry and are hoping to identify the perpetrators soon.

Asked why it took the police nearly two weeks to act despite acknowledging that there was evidence of hooliganism, police officials said the complainants had not insisted on registering a First Information Report.

Akhand Bharat Morcha’s rally received wide attention after videos of the participants apparently indulging in hooliganism near the four mosques, located in and around Mandawali, appeared on social media.

Over the past two years, the group has occasionally been in the news, reported largely by Delhi’s local Hindi newspapers, for varied reasons: agitating against “love jihad”, a term coined by Hindutva groups accusing Muslim men of wooing Hindu women with the sole purpose of converting them to Islam; demonstrating in support of Kulbhushan Jadhav, an alleged Indian spy jailed by Pakistan; and protesting against Rohingya refugees in India.

Akhand Bharat Morcha was formed in 1998 by Baikunth Lal Sharma, a former Bharatiya Janata Party lawmaker from East Delhi, but it was registered only in 2014. Since then, it has organised a rally every Hanuman Jayanti – called Bajrang Shakti rally – with the number of participants swelling by the year.

“Last year, there were some 200 motorbikes in the rally and this year we had around 500,” said Sandeep Ahuja, the group’s president, sitting in his office in Madhu Vihar, East Delhi. Four maps of what Hindutva groups call Akhand Bharat, or Greater India, adorn the walls of his office alongside a picture of Baikunth Lal Sharma, now a nonagenarian.

From left: Sandeep Ahuja, Virander Singh and Kuldeep Rathore in Akhand Bharat Morcha's office in Madhu Vihar. Photo credit: Abhishek Dey
From left: Sandeep Ahuja, Virander Singh and Kuldeep Rathore in Akhand Bharat Morcha's office in Madhu Vihar. Photo credit: Abhishek Dey

The group counts around 4,000 members across Delhi, Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh, Ahuja said, but its centre of influence remains the eastern part of the national Capital. Most of its members are street vendors and labourers, he added, but there is a small proportion of students, government employees and self-employed persons as well. The majority of them are 18 to 35 years old.

Ahuja himself is a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Hindutva mothership, working in its extremist youth wing, Bajrang Dal, in the late 1990s. He also claimed to have worked with the BJP’s youth wing, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, as a coordinator and as chief of its Gau Raksha unit between 1994 and 2008.

‘Who will not be scared?’

The rally has left Muslim residents of the area scared, said Mohammad Faizal Jamaee, imam of Mohammadi Masjid, one of the four mosques targeted by the hooligans along with Fazl-e-Ilahi Masjid, Madni Masjid and Jama Masjid. “Who will not be scared after such a display of weapons by such a large group?” he asked. “They chanted slogans such as ‘Hindustan mein rehna hoga toh Jai Sri Ram kehna hoga’.” If you want to live in India, the slogan went, you will have to chant ‘Jai Sri Ram’.

Jamaee said hooliganism outside his mosque continued for around five minutes. “In a secular country, we cannot stop anyone from organising a religious procession,” he said. “But the police should have interfered when it came to deciding the route of the procession.”

Senior police officials said the rally was accompanied by police personnel but they had little control over the route.

The Delhi police's permission for the rally was taken in February this year.
The Delhi police's permission for the rally was taken in February this year.

The length of the route nearly doubled this year, to 10 km from around 5.5 km last year. The rally, as always, started from a Shiv temple in Madhu Vihar, only this year it was flagged off by three BJP councillors, said Virander Singh, 34, the group’s East Delhi district president. The rally travelled far beyond the localities it usually covered – Madhu Vihar, Ghazipur village, Indraprastha Extension, Mandawali, West Vinod Nagar, Pandav Magar, Chandan Vihar – to Shahdara, Karkardooma and Jagatpuri.

“There are four mosques on the old route, but the new route covers six,” said Kuldeep Rathore, 33, a member of the group. “But what can we do? This is the land of Hindus and we can’t keep thinking of mosque locations before choosing routes for our religious processions. The complaints, however, have originated from mosques on the old route.”

Singh and Rathore both participated in the rally. Singh, a resident of Ghazipur village, is a property dealer while Rathore, who lives in Madhu Vihar, works in the office of a plywood manufacturer. Both said they came to know about the group through friends and acquaintances and were glad to join it. This year’s was Singh’s second motorbike rally and Rathore’s fourth.

In one of the videos of the rally that appeared on social media, Singh is seen brandishing a club and is surrounded by men brandishing swords. Who shot the video, originally streamed live on Facebook? Singh and Rathore claimed they could not say, and Ahuja said “there were many such participants who were doing Facebook Live that day”.

In Mandawali, Muslim residents said they had never seen such a rally. “They might have organised such a rally before but never of this size,” said Zahoor Alam, imam of Fazl-e-Ilahi Masjid. “In fact, no one in the area seems to have seen such a rally before. Why is it happening now? It is difficult to understand.”

Why did the Muslims who complained to the police about the hooliganism not ask for an FIR? Jamaee explains why. “The group clearly wanted the Muslims to react so they could turn it into a violent event,” he said. “We had asked all residents not to do so. We did not insist on a police case because it could have escalated the matter into something worse and the police have anyway assured us such things will not happen again.”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.