Nistula Hebbar

The recent violence in Haryana’s Nuh, following the Brij Mandal Jalabhishek Yatra, sometimes referred to as Shobha Yatra, in which six people were killed and 70 others injured, has shifted the spotlight, once again, on the Bajrang Dal, an offshoot of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Members of the Bajrang Dal made up large parts of the Yatra and among those killed in the violence that followed between two clashing sides was a Dal activist. Each side blamed the other for the provocation and the Haryana Police have filed 139 FIRs in relation to the violence. The incident has also led to fissures within the BJP’s ruling coalition in Haryana, with the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), led by Dushyant Chautala.

For the Bajrang Dal, which is a part of the larger Sangh Parivar led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), this is not the first brush with such incidents and headlines. The Bajrang Dal was set up during the Ram temple movement and represents the muscle behind the aggressive Hindutva agenda, which includes issues such as cow protection, anti-conversion activities and mobilising support against ‘Love Jihad’.

The Bajrang Dal was established in 1984, for the “safety” of the Ram Janaki Raths, which were making the rounds in various districts of Uttar Pradesh, mobilising support for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya at the site where the Babri Masjid stood. “Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP),” said Vinod Bansal, spokesperson for both organisations.

As the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, led by the VHP, gathered support, the Bajrang Dal extended its backing to further activities by the seers involved in the agitation, including the Ram Shila Poojan (worship of consecrated bricks) in 1989 and the Kar Seva in Ayodhya in October 1990, which saw police firing and the death of two Kar Sevaks — Ram Kumar and Sharad Kumar Kothari. Ever since, a week-long marking of this event is being celebrated by the Bajrang Dal every year as Hutatma Diwas (Day of Martyrdom). Another anniversary observed by the Bajrang Dal is December 6, the day the Babri Masjid was brought down — it is celebrated as Shaurya Diwas (day of valour).

After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the organisation was banned for a year by the Centre, and once the ban was revoked in 1993, former BJP MP Vinay Katiyar became its first all-India chief. It then had branches in 12 States with the motto “Sewa, Suraksha, Sanskar” (Service, Security and Values), which clearly refers to the reasons why the organisation was set up, providing the muscle to the VHP’s activities. Currently, Neeraj Doneria is the all-India convener of the Bajrang Dal.

Organisational structure

This emphasis on bal or physical strength runs through the activities of the Bajrang Dal. The organisation is divided into national, state, zonal and a further division called Prakhand, and each of these levels has conveners and co-conveners. For members, there is no registration as such but gatherings of sympathetic youth, depending on their wish to get involved in the activities, include, according to the Bajrang Dal’s own website, the recitation of the Hanuman Chalisa once a week, and to be a part of a Balopasana Kendra (worship of physical strength), which is generally a gymnasium.

Hanuman Jayanti is celebrated as Balopasana divas by the Bajrang Dal and the deity is considered an ideal for the average Bajrang Dal activist with its stated aim of providing “security” for Hindutva activities. It was this association [between Lord Hanuman and Bajrang Dal] that the BJP and the VHP tried to whip up in the recent Karnataka polls when the Congress manifesto spoke of banning the Dal. But it turned out to be an unsuccessful campaign as the BJP lost the election to the Congress.

Activists of the Bajrang Dal usually have to be under the age of 40, but at the central level, it can go up to 45. In the Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the Dal, the cut-off age is 35. In the spectrum of Sangh Parivar affiliates, the Dal is considered the most strident, while the BJP, the political wing, is more circumspect.

Concomitant with the Ram temple movement, which gave rise to the Bajrang Dal, are aggressive acts for gauraksha, or cow protection, such as capturing vehicles suspected to be transporting cows. In several cases, these acts ended up in violence, as in the case of the murder of two Muslim men in February, with Bajrang Dal activist Monu Manesar being named in the FIR filed by the Rajasthan Police. In cases where the cow vigilantism does not lead to violence, often police complaints are filed by Bajrang Dal men.

Moving beyond cow vigilantism, the Bajrang Dal got into the personal space with increasing attacks on interfaith marriages by calling them ‘Love Jihad’. The Dal is also connected to regular protests and attacks on couples during Valentine’s Day, considered a western concept that encourages “immoral” behaviour.

Anti-conversion activities are also high on the Bajrang Dal’s agenda. Mr. Bansal claims that the Bajrang Dal’s activities have led to the rescue of 85,000 gauvansh (cows), and that “thousands of FIRs have been filed on cow smugglers”. “We have also helped get nearly 25,000 of our sisters, who were being coerced into love jihad, out of the situation,” Mr. Bansal said.

He makes it a point to emphasise that these are not the only activities of the Bajrang Dal, “although the English media only speaks of gauraksha and prevention of ‘Love Jihad’ in a derogatory way”.

The organisation’s “Ek gaon, ek shamshaan, ek mandir” (one village, one crematorium, one temple) programme wherein cleaning and maintenance of these spaces are undertaken, and the help it rendered during the Amarnath Yatra in 1996 are mentioned as its achievements on its website.

No room for compromise

After the violence in Nuh, the VHP helped organise a protest in Delhi over what they termed the targeting of Hindu society and its rituals, and the incident is expected to polarise the atmosphere in Haryana where the BJP is in power with the JJP. Asked whether the fissure within the NDA alliance is worrisome, a VHP leader pooh-poohed the suggestion. “These [referring to the JJP] are bin painde ka lota [a glass without a defined edge], and they roll where they feel like,” he said. Quite clearly, the Bajrang Dal, the muscular arm of the Hindutva ideological sphere, feels that its own purpose, excised from electoral considerations, makes it more worthy than a political party and less open to compromises.
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