Lucknow: At Mohammad Wali, an area in Shahjahanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, a 42-year-old Hindu woman has filed a police complaint against Mohammad Saeed, 27, under the state’s new anti-conversion law.
While the woman’s neighbours claimed that Saeed frequented her house on various occasions and it was a case of a “relationship gone sour”, the woman alleged that he raped her at gunpoint and then forced her to convert to Islam.
The woman’s police complaint had strong backing — from the local unit of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), the parent body of Bajrang Dal.
Ever since the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 came into force on 28 November, a number of cases have been driven by Hindu outfits.
And it isn’t just the traditional Hindutva outfits such as the RSS, VHP and the Bajrang Dal, other vigilante groups such as the Rashtriya Yuva Vahini have also stepped to prevent Hindu-Muslim marriages.
The vahini is part of a growing number of fringe Hindu outfits, a majority of them formed and thriving after the BJP government assumed power at the Centre in 2014 and in the state in 2017.
Some of these organisations have offices in many districts across the state. They are also spurred on by social media, with Facebook profiles and pages that are followed by thousands of supporters.
While they have jumped on to the ‘love jihad’ bandwagon, the outfits have varied aims centred around Hindu-Muslim polarisation — from cow slaughter and ‘population control’ to demolition of mosques in Kashi and Mathura.
ThePrint lists a few of them.
Rashtriya Yuva Vahini, a self-proclaimed BJP ally
The Lucknow-headquartered Rashtriya Yuva Vahini, a self-proclaimed ally of the BJP, was behind the interfaith wedding being stopped in Lucknow in early December even though parents of both the bride and the groom had consented.
Police intervened on the complaint of its workers.
Vahini’s national president K.D. Sharma told ThePrint that it was formed in 2016 and that its main objectives are claiming national animal status for the cow and putting pressure on the government to bring a law for population control.
Sharma claimed that his organisation is active in 24 states and has a presence in every UP district. It is this presence, he added, that is helping the outfit “prevent love jihad and religious conversion”.
“We have dozens of workers and volunteers in every district who keep sending updates on a daily basis. Whenever we get information related to ‘love jihad’ or religious conversion, we dispatch our volunteers to that place,” he said. “Our main sources are common people living in nearby areas. The wedding that was blocked in Lucknow took place near my house. Local people told me that something like this is going to take place. Then one of our officials informed the police about it.”
Sharma also claimed that his organisation is an ally of the BJP. On its social media page, the vahini has posters backing Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. On the same page, its minority wing chairman Yasir Khan has posted a picture with BJP’s UP chief Swatantra Dev Singh.
Hindu Army & its ‘Krishna Janmabhoomi movement’
The Lucknow-based Hindu Army, formed in 2018, has been leading a movement to remove the Shahi Idgah mosque adjacent to a Krishna temple in Mathura.
In September this year, 22 members of the Hindu Army were arrested after they announced a “Krishna Janmabhoomi movement” to get the mosque removed.
“We want the Islamic structures removed from Krishna’s birthplace and the site handed over to us,” its chief Manish Yadav told ThePrint.
Yadav had gained prominence during the Delhi riots in February after he put out a video, in which he is heard saying that if police move away from Delhi for five minutes, he will free the city of Islam. An FIR was registered in Lucknow against Yadav for hate speech.
Yadav was a member of the Samajwadi Party (SP) but quit it in 2017. His Hindu Army had been campaigning for a Ram Temple in Ayodhya but with that done, it has now set its sights on Kashi and Mathura. In a Facebook post, Yadav has called on Hindus to unite and “take back” Kashi and Mathura.
Hindu Samaj Party, led by Kamlesh Tiwari’s wife
Established in 2017 by the slain pro-Hindutva leader Kamlesh Tiwari, who was murdered in Lucknow in October 2019, the party is now headed by his wife Kiran Kamlesh Tiwari.
Under her leadership, the party recently contested the election for the MLC graduate seat in Lucknow in alliance with Bhartiya-Jan-Jan Party, a smaller party based in UP.
Just like Kamlesh, Kiran has also been openly vocal on the issues related to Hindutva. Through Facebook, she constantly issues appeals “to protect Hindutva and keep Hindu society united”. She also praises Nathuram Godse, who killed Mahatma Gandhi.
The organisation’s main goal is to create a “Hindu Rashtra” or Hindu nation. Unlike most other such outfits, the Samaj harbours electoral ambitions.
“Our aim is to contest the 2022 assembly elections,” party convenor Gaurav Verma told ThePrint. “For this, we are setting up our organisation in every district. We had also contested 40 seats in Bihar. While raising the issue of Hindutva, we are focusing on our organisation’s expansion.”
Vishwa Hindu Dal, which thrashed Kashmiri businessmen
The organisation was in the headlines last year after its members were accused of thrashing two Kashmiri businessmen who were selling dry fruits in Lucknow. Ambuj Nigam, an office-bearer of the group, was arrested in the case but is out on bail.
The organisation is mainly active in Lucknow and its surrounding districts. It is also active on social media. Its recent posts talk about “nexus of Leftists” and back actor Kangana Ranaut.
Hindu Yuva Vahini (Bharat), an offshoot of Yogi’s outfit
The Hindu Yuva Vahini (Bharat) is an offshoot of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, which was founded by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in 2002. It was formed by Sunil Singh, the then state president of Hindu Yuva Vahini, in 2018.
With Singh now with the SP, the group is now headed by Anubhav Shukla, who was also associated with Yogi’s HYV. “This organisation continues to work on its old agenda of Hindutva. It has offices and workers across the state,” Shukla told ThePrint. “Currently, we are active on issues like ‘love jihad’, ‘ghar wapsi’ and try to alleviate the pain of each and every Hindu family.”
He added: “We also conduct various training programmes related to raising awareness. We have nothing to do with any political party but we will always continue to work on the agenda of Hindutva. We will also raise the issue of ‘love jihad’ cases.”
Opposition alleges BJP backing
The opposition alleges that the organisations have the tacit backing of the BJP government. “As of now, ‘love jihad’ is famous. Earlier, such organisations were active on all other divisive issues such as mob lynching,” Samajwadi Party spokesperson Juhi Singh told ThePrint. “They are grabbing more headlines during the tenure of this government because they enjoy protection from the government.”
“The manner in which these organisations are active on matters related to ‘love jihad’, it seems they have got the backing of people in power,” UP Congress spokesperson Anshu Awasthi said. “Prior to 2014, such outfits were rarely discussed. Nowadays, they are constantly in the news. How is all this possible without protection from those in power?”
UP BJP spokesperson Hero Vajpayee, however, denied the allegations. “If someone proclaims himself as a BJP supporter or is inspired by the party’s ideology, then what can anyone do in this regard? Officially, they have nothing to do with the BJP. It is wrong to link the name of BJP or RSS with any of them,” he said.
Former Bajrang Dal convenor and senior RSS member Prakash Sharma also said his organisation doesn’t back the outfits. “There are over 100 crore Hindus so it’s not necessary that everyone belongs to the BJP and the RSS,” he said. “Many people have their own outfits but what’s wrong in it? If they indulge in crime then it’s wrong but if they are doing work for ‘Hindutva’, why should people object?”