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Harishankar Jain, the Gyanvapi lawyer for Hindu gods who thinks ‘tolerance is a curse’

There is a limit to tolerance. Rigidity is a good. Only if we are rigid, can we save our country and community. The other one is kattar, says the advocate.

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Behind the Maa Shringar Gauri suit is a lawyer who has served as a “friend of several deities” in multiple cases, and believes that “tolerance is a curse” and “rigidity is fundamental for survival”. Harishankar Jain is the main lawyer representing the five Hindu women plaintiffs who approached a Varanasi civil court demanding “uninterrupted daily darshan, pooja…” on the grounds that the outer wall of the Gyanvapi mosque has religious carvings of the goddess Maa Shringar Gauri and other Hindu deities. It was on this plea that a civil court ordered a survey of the mosque premises.

Jain, who represented the Hindu Mahasabha in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case, is either a litigant or advocate in at least 12 cases related to Hindu/Jain deities. “Religion can be saved by any community only by adopting fundamentalism. Tolerance is curse and anti-religion. Rigidity is fundamental for survival,” wrote Jain in a tweet on 31 July 2017.

On Tuesday, when the local court removed Advocate-Commissioner Ajay Kumar Mishra from the panel formed to survey the mosque and a Supreme Court bench directed the Varanasi district magistrate to protect the area where a Shivling is believed to have been found during the survey, there were reports that Jain had suffered a heart attack.

Speaking to ThePrint, however, he said it was “an asthmatic attack” and “breathing problem only.” “I think I have been cursed by some people. If God allows, I shall be fine by tomorrow (Wednesday).”

Also read: Forget Gyanvapi for a moment, Varanasi needs justice for a recent carnage: 2006 IM bombings

In the name of god

Jain proudly admits to have drafted six different complaint cases that have been filed in the Varanasi district court, including the Maa Shringar Gauri one. He has filed at least five more petitions where he claims to be a friend of a Hindu deity or seeks a Hindu’s right to worship them. One such petition is on behalf of Lord Krishna seeking the removal of the Shahi Eidgah adjacent to the Sri Krishna temple complex in Mathura, and the transfer of 13.37-acres of land to the deity.

Another lawsuit is on behalf of Jain Tirthankar Lord Rishabh Dev and Lord Vishnu. A third urges an Indore court to award religious rights to Hindus to perform poojas at the Saraswati temple in Bhojshala, Madhya Pradesh all year round and withdraw permission given to the Muslim community to offer namaz at the Kamal Maula mosque there.

His petition questioning the ownership of the Taj Mahal, which he claimed was a monument to Lord Agreshwar Mahadev, and a suit alleging that a temple once stood at the Teele Wali Masjid in Lucknow were dismissed in local courts when they came up for hearing. 

The five other suits in the Varanasi district court along with the Maa Shringar Gauri case have been filed on behalf of or seeking right to worship the five Hindu deities, including Lord Adi Vishweshwar,which  seeks entire land of the disputed Kashi-Vishawanath Gyanvapi complex for the deity. Four others seek the right to worship deity Lord Ganesha, right to worship deity Laat Bhairav, Nandi’s right to worship Vishweshwar and even on behalf of  Maa Ganga”, seeking her right that her water be offered to Lord Vishweshwar.”

“I have drafted these petitions, filed all of them and I’m pleading for them,” he told ThePrint.

Also read: Should Indian Muslims cling on to a non-mosque? Gyanvapi is a living monument of past wrongs

Establishing a Hindu Rashtra

Jain is also the chief patron of the Right-wing outfit Bhagwa Raksha Vahini (BRV), formed about seven years ago with the aim of “saving Hindus”. He is also the national president of the Hind Samrajya Party (HSP), which came about in August 2021 to establish “Hindu Rashtra” in the country.

When the HSP was established, it declared that party workers would “fight elections”. But in a statement issued on 29 January this year, it said that there is a need for making laws on the issues of “population control, cow protection, and the demolition of illegal religious constructions on public places without bias” and to attain them, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) should be given a chance. It also mentioned that foundational changes needed to be introduced in the Places of Worship Act and the Waqf Act.

“The aim of the party is to establish a Hindu Rashtra in the country. We wanted to fight elections but it would have benefitted the Samajwadi Party (SP). We did not want Hindu votes to get divided and hence supported Yogiji (UP chief minister). Either BJP should stay in power or power should be transferred to me, not any third person,” said Jain, who has been honoured by the BJP in the past. 

In January 2014, along with advocate Ranjana Agnihotri, Jain was honoured at an event held by the BJP’s Human Rights Cell for their role in a case against the SP government’s order to release terror-accused in 14 cases.

Jain and Ranjana Agnihotri had filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court against then Akhilesh Yadav government’s decision to withdraw cases against 19 terror-accused from UP and Bengal. “I had fought that case against the [then] SP government after it decided to withdraw cases against all terror accused simply because they were Muslims. Hence, BJP and Amit Shah honoured me,” he told ThePrint.

Speaking to ThePrint, Uttar Pradesh BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi said that while Hairshankar Jain does not have any direct link with the BJP, he espouses the same ideology. They [Jain and people with similar ideologies] have no direct links with the BJP but the party believes in conservation of our heritage for which they are taking the legal path. They have no portfolio but yes, they are of the same ideology,” he said.

Also read: How Muslims can neutralise Hindus’ urge for taking processions through ‘forbidden territory’

Against sarva dharma sama bhava 

Jain is quick to defend his Twitter post, claiming he is against over tolerance and Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava (equality of all religions). “There is a limit to tolerance. Rigidity is a good thing. Apne dharm ke liye kattar hona acchi cheez hai, tabhi ap desh bacha sakte hain aur apni community bacha sakte hain (Only if we are rigid, can we save our country and community). The other one is kattar (rigid), lohe se loha katta hai (only iron can cut iron). I consider my dharm supreme..,” he said.

He does not believe in compromise or coexistence. “I don’t believe in sarva dharma sama bhava. Vaidik Sanatan dharm is the only dharma, the rest is religion. Religion and dharma are two separate things. Dharma has been separately defined in the Oxford Dictionary and has very wide scope,” he said.

Does he feel that such petitions lead to polarisation? “When Hindus see that idols were broken, then what will happen to sentiments?” he asked. In the same breath, he defends the uprooting and shifting of idols during construction of the Kashi Vishwanath corridor. “Shifting is allowed in Hindu law and not “breaking of idols.”

Also read: Defenders of Jinnah’s Pakistan must know — being irreligious isn’t same as being secular

Claims and counter-claims

Jain’s focus is now on the Maa Shringar Gauri case. In their complaint, the five women plaintiffs have demanded that they are entitled to have darshan, pooja and perform all rituals of Maa Shringar Gauri, Lord Ganesha, Lord Hanuman and other visible and invisible deities within the old temple complex situated at settlement plot number 9130.

Vishen, the head of Vaidik Vishwa Sanatan Sangh – the outfit backing the five women – had declared on March 26 that they had ensured the beginning of regular pooja at the site.

In a video posted on Facebook the same day, Vishen claimed that on the fourth day of the Chaitra Navratra, sanatanis could pray in the premises. “But under the directions of Harishankar Jain, we filed six cases in the district court and today, the administration has done away with the years-old ban and all ‘sanatanis’ can offer prayers to Mata Shringar Gauri daily. I myself have offered prayers twice and on the coming Navratra, on April 5, I am again going there and starting pooja at the Sthan. I call upon everyone to perform pooja everyday,” he said in the video.

However, local priests have labeled these claims as fake. “No pooja is being allowed there. Had this been the case, why would they lead five women to the court demanding that their right to perform rituals be granted?” Mahant Kulpati Tiwari, a former priest of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple told ThePrint.

Ajay Sharma, state president of the Kendriya Brahman Mahasabha, also said that Vishen made fake claims and was misleading people.

But for Jain and others like him, there is no middle path.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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