Dasna (Ghaziabad): ‘Ye mandir Hinduon ka pavitra sthal hai, yahan Musalmanon ka pravesh varjit hai (This temple is a holy place for Hindus, Muslims’ entry is forbidden)’. This is what the board outside Dasna Devi Mandir in Ghaziabad states, by order of Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, its mahant or head priest.
This Thursday, a 14-year-old Muslim boy was beaten up by a sevak of the mandir and a disciple of Narsinghanand Saraswati, and a video of the assault went viral. The boy’s ‘crime’? He went into the ‘forbidden’ territory of the mandir to drink water, missing the strong warning on the temple’s board.
Sevak Shringi Nandan Yadav, as the video purportedly shows, slapped the boy, repeatedly kicked him in the genitals, twisted his arms and banged them on the ground — allegedly right after he revealed his Muslim identity by stating his own name and his father’s. All the while, Yadav’s associate Shivanand shot the video.
After the video went viral, the Ghaziabad police took cognisance and arrested Yadav and Shivanand, having lodged an FIR under IPC sections 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 505 (statements conducing public mischief), 323 (causing hurt) and 352 (assault). They have been sent to 14-day judicial custody.
“The main accused — Yadav — was arrested immediately after the incident. His accomplice who recorded the video of the assault was arrested a couple of hours later. Yadav is from Bihar and came here about six months ago. He is the chela (disciple) of Mahant Yati. Shivanand is from Delhi,” Ghaziabad Superintendent of Police (Rural) Iraj Raja told ThePrint, adding that this is the first criminal complaint registered against either of the accused.
Not the first instance
Speaking to ThePrint, the boy’s father, a construction labourer, said: “He was in the area and felt thirsty. He missed the warning sign; he is illiterate. He saw the tap and started drinking water there. When he came home running, we got scared seeing his bloodied skull.”
The family stays in a one-room house in Dasna, about a kilometre from the temple. “The mandir was open for all before, but things have deteriorated now. We are treated like untouchables by the priest and his disciples. Drinking water is also a crime now. My son isn’t the first one who has got thrashed by them,” he alleged.
The boy told ThePrint: “I just drank water there, and when I was about to leave, Yadav twisted my hand and pulled me inside the premises, asked Shivanand to shoot the video. I will never go that side ever again.”
The video was posted on an Instagram account (now taken down) called Hindu Ekta Sangh, allegedly operated by people known to the accused. The act of thrashing the child was glorified — ‘mulle ko napunsak bana diya (a Muslim man has been neutered)’, the channel proclaimed.
In another video, Shringi Nandan Yadav can be seen harassing a man. The caption reads: ‘mullo ki pitaai’. He is also seen threatening another youth at knife-point, calling him a “Bangladeshi infiltrator”.
Shah Alam, a Muslim resident of Dasna, also alleged that while this case has made the headlines, it isn’t the first time that people have been beaten up like this. “Things have deteriorated over the last 5-6 years,” Alam said.
The police, however, said no such case was registered in the past.
Narsinghanand’s influence & the hate ecosystem
Yadav had come all the way from Bhagalpur in Bihar to work at this mandir and live as a disciple of Narsinghanand — a serial “troublemaker“. He had threatened an onslaught against Muslims after Right-wing politician Kamlesh Tiwari’s murder in 2019, and also on 22 February 2020, a day before the riots in neighbouring north-east Delhi.
ThePrint reached Narsinghanand over the phone for a comment but he refused to speak.
Yadav’s Facebook page is a microcosm of Narsinghanand’s influence on him —teachings of the priest that he espouses include posts on how Muslims are increasing their population and outnumbering Hindus and how/why ‘jihad’ needs to be stopped. He has also shared posts calling to “punish” women who befriend men from other communities.
On social media, he has posted several photos holding knives, guns and other weapons.
The mandir’s devotees say Muslims have “destroyed Dasna”. On why a Muslim cannot enter the temple, devotee Umesh Pandey said: “Muslims have no control, they are impure. This area is Muslim dominated and they have made it filthy; we don’t want them to make the temple impure now.”
Pandey also said he “slapped” two young Muslim boys Friday because he “suspected” they were stealing something from a nearby hospital. ThePrint spoke to six devotees who are regulars at the temple, and all of them echoed similar sentiments and said the boy shouldn’t have entered, and that Yadav was not at fault by beating him up.
Madan Lal, another devotee, said: “The country needs a population control law, else Hindus have to start giving birth more often. We are already outnumbered, what will we do if there is a battle tomorrow?”
Ashok Kumar added: “Guruji is right, why let them enter everywhere? They look at our women, they have taken over the country. There is a tubewell outside, why did the boy not drink water there? Of course his behaviour was insulting to us.”
Shazan, a local resident, recalled that his Hindu friends in school used to visit the Dasna Mandir. “They would tell us that the priest would give them arms training in the evening. Now they don’t speak to us,” the 18-year-old said.
Shazan showed a Facebook account of one of his former schoolmates, who is a devotee. The account is filled with abuses against Muslims.
Another former schoolmate of Shazan’s, who spoke to ThePrint over the phone and didn’t wish to be named, said: “Mahantji would hold arms training classes before, I would attend after school, but now my family has moved out of Dasna.”
In 2017, an Arms Act case was filed after several of Narsinghanand’s followers allegedly fired gunshots in the air during Dussehra.
SP (Rural) Iraj Raja, however, said: “We aren’t aware of arms training inside the mandir, can’t comment on the allegations.”