The ‘court’ is Hindu Mahasabha’s answer to Sharia courts. ‘Judge’ is a 36-year-old sanyasin.
Meerut: Self-styled “Hindu warriors” in India’s heartland are setting up religious ‘tribunals’ on the lines of Sharia courts to give Hindus a platform.
This Independence Day, members of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha formed a ‘tribunal’ in Meerut — one of five planned by 2 October — that will take up issues affecting the “Hindu asmita” or pride.
The ‘court’ has been set up in a 50-year old office of the Hindu Mahasabha, India’s oldest Hindu nationalist political party, in Meerut, under a statue of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse.
Leading it is 36-year-old Pooja Shakun Pandey, who claims to have “four advanced degrees in mathematics and computer science, including a PhD”.
During her ‘oath-taking ceremony’, Pandey, draped in saffron clothes, was seated under Godse’s statue. Later, she was garlanded by the outfit’s officers and anointed with a tilak, which was applied on her forehead as mantras were chanted.
Pandey, a mother-of-two who claimed to have become a sanyasin in 2012, considers herself a disciple of Godse and Veer Savarkar.
The Hindu Mahasabha said the ‘courts’ will hear cases in a panchayat-like setup. ‘Justice’ will be dispensed in keeping with Hindu culture and traditions, Pandey said.
The ‘court’ will accept cases that are voluntarily brought to it by Hindus, but also intends to take up matters suo motu when “Hindu customs are harmed”.
“We will issue summons to anyone, including the Prime Minister, chief minister, to reply. Our volunteers will implement our decisions,” she added.
The “former professor” said she was now on a mission to enrol “volunteers” to ensure the punishment she ordered was complied with. The death penalty will not be off the table, she added.
“I am already hearing cases in Aligarh. There are four-five people who come every day with family issues. Going to real courts is expensive and also cumbersome, and they do not want to accept modern laws that give special treatment to some people,” she added. These ‘modern laws’, according to her, include those such as the Domestic Violence Act.
A bid to hit back
The ‘court’ is the result of the government’s failure to honour their request to bar Sharia courts, members of the Mahasabha say.
About a month ago, Pandit Ashok Sharma, the national vice-president of the Hindu Mahasabha, had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a ban on Sharia courts in the country.
“We had given the government an ultimatum. Ban the Islamic courts or we will show you what dangerous things can happen when Hindus of this country do the same,” he told ThePrint.
In July, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board announced plans to set up a Sharia court in every district of the country to deal with Muslim divorce and succession cases.
A qazi, an Islamic cleric, acts as an arbitrator in the ‘courts’ to settle cases where the parties, mostly Sunni Muslims, voluntarily approach the Darul Qaza. These forums, however, have no authority to enforce their decisions and they cannot prescribe punishment or jail terms.
In 2014, the Supreme Court declared the parallel legal forum unconstitutional and said its decisions would not be binding but it stopped short of banning such establishments.
“To not ban Sharia courts is anti-national. The government did not respond so we went ahead with our plan,” he added.
The “larger plan”, according to Sharma, is to give Hindus the autonomy to decide their own matters.
“Hindus are losing ground in this country and we have to act. The ‘court’ will look into all Hindu issues and take action without any fear. We know there are many like-minded people who will support us,” he added.
“In the last four years, the Muslim man may have been weakened but the Hindu is not stronger. Modi talked about repealing Article 370 (for special autonomous status to Kashmir) but all he has done is abolish triple talaq,” he added.
Sharma listed cow protection, Hindu succession guidelines, and the protection of Hindu women as priority issues.
He said it had taken him two years to find the right judge in Pandey, whom he described as “fearless”.
Pandey said the government’s recent ordinance to reaffirm the intent of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act — reinstituting immediate arrest, for one — was an attempt at dividing Hindus on caste lines.
“We will take up cases and not give unnecessary advantage to Dalits or women like the courts do. Why should a Dalit’s words be enough to arrest anyone immediately?” she said.
The outfit’s plan is to inaugurate five courts in Agra, Mathura, Aligarh, and Firozabad on 2 October, the birth anniversary of Gandhi, which the Mahasabha observes as “black day”. The final aim is to set up one such court in every district of Uttar Pradesh.
According to Pandey, Hindu Sewa Sansthan, another Hindu outfit, has donated land in Aligarh to build a ‘court’ and ‘jails’.
She said she will be at each of the five ‘courts’ for a day a week until the organisation chooses more ‘judges’.
The district administration has not yet reacted on the issue.
Meerut is the centre of the Mahasabha’s activities, although it has few followers in the city.
The Hindu Mahasabha’s office in Meerut is, in fact, Sharma’s one-room residence, a small temple, a huge banyan tree and a courtyard. Sharma’s room has a Godse bust on one side, and a cupboard stacked with laxatives and cough syrups on the other. Every Monday, some 70-80 people flock here for discussions on Godse’s teachings.
The outfit claims its followers have drifted away to parties and organisations with more political capital, but remain ideologically committed to the Hindu Mahasabha.
At least a dozen visitors ThePrint spoke to identified themselves as members of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and even the Shiv Sena, and vowed support to the idea of setting up ‘Hindu courts’.
The Uttar Pradesh government has ensured constant police protection for the office-bearers and the office.
It was here that, in 2016, India’s first statue of Godse was unveiled. The Akhilesh Yadav-led government subsequently put Sharma and a few other office-bearers under house arrest, but allowed the installation of the statue under strict curfew.
It was no surprise that Meerut was chosen as the site of Godse’s statue. In 1989, Gopal Godse, Nathuram’s brother, contested the Lok Sabha election from the city on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket and secured over 14,000 votes. Statues have since been installed at the Mahasabha’s central office in Delhi and the one in Gwalior.
The septuagenarian Sharma claimed he had been Gopal Godse’s confidant since his release from jail and also ran his election campaign.
Abhishek Aggarwal, the Mahasabha’s city president, said Meerut stood out in its efforts to “unite Hindus”.
Talking about the ‘courts’, he added, “We want to hold up a mirror to the government for not acting on the Sharia courts.”