The Rise Of Grassroots ‘Hindu Activist’ Groups: Local, Independent, Self-Initiated
Swarajya hits the ground and profiles a “Hindu activist” group in a village in Haryana’s Panipat district. The group is part of a trend of emergence of such grassroots groups across states
In May and June, when the country was under lockdown and businesses were halted, hundreds of families across Haryana used the spare time to fix their identity issues.
These families were Muslims but largely followed a Hindu lifestyle. Many were, as it turned out, ‘legally’ Hindus but ‘socially’ Muslims. “Forced conversion under the Mughal rule” had changed some of their customs and rituals and made them a separate group within the same jaati.
During the lockdown, they participated in a havan, wore janeu and announced to to the public that they were again “complete Hindus” from now on.
I wrote about the phenomenon in a recent ground report after visiting two villages in Sonipat and Panipat districts of Haryana.
There was another phenomenon that caught my attention during the visit.
It was similar to what I encountered during my earlier reporting tours to Rajasthan’s Ramgarh district, Uttar Pradesh’s Balrampur and other communally volatile areas - the emergence of independent, self-initiated, grassroots ‘Hindu activist’ groups.
In Aasan Kalan village of Panipat district in Haryana, I met some 20-something men who have formed ‘Hindu Samaj Sewa Dal Samiti’. As the name suggests, the group works exclusively for Hindu interests.
It was this Samiti that organised the ghar wapsi or (re-conversion into the Hindu faith) of five Muslim families from Doom jaati on 23 June. The event was covered by local as well as national newspapers.
The village youth who initiated the group, Ankit, is 25. He told me the group currently has 110 members, all in their twenties.
Asked for his full name, Ankit said he prefers ‘Ankit Hindu’ even as it’s ‘Ankit Kumar’ in school and other documents. Ankit is from the Gujjar jaati, which forms the largest jaati group in the village.
As per Ankit, of around 3,700 registered voters in Aasan Kalan, almost 1,000 are Hindu Gujjars, 700 are Kashyap Rajputs, 500 are Sikhs and 200 are Khatri Brahmins. There is a substantial number of Harijans, and around 150 Muslim Gujjars.
Ankit, along with his fellow village youths Rajan Kumar and Vikas Tanwar, saw through the ghar wapsi in their village from conception to execution. The idea germinated in May at the group’s weekly meeting
They explain why they hold weekly gatherings.
“Muslims meet on Fridays. Christians meet on Sunday. When do Hindus meet?” asks Vikas. “We registered the Samiti as a Trust only weeks before lockdown came into effect. One of our first decisions was that the members would gather at one of the six temples in the village on Sunday evenings, where we would first mop the premises clean and then sit for discussions.”
The five Muslim Doom families had been following Hindu lifestyle for several generations but were never formally taken into the Hindu society due to jaati barriers, says Ankit. The only customs that separated them from their Hindu counterparts within the same jaati were burials in place of cremation (“dah sanskar”) and nikah in place of pheras.
Naseeb Kumar, a Doom Muslim who did “ghar wapsi” on 23 June, told Swarajya that the families were “forced” to change the customs during the Mughal rule. For these customs to be reverted, approval of the Hindu samaj was crucial.
Ankit explains the process. “We first met representatives of Doom jaati, both Hindus and Muslims. After obtaining their consent, we met the pradhan and other prominent people of the area. We then informed the government authorities about our event. Finally, we raised money for it from within our group and did it,” he says.
Asked if the group faced any challenges, Ankit says he did, but the matter was sorted out in no time.
One, some Doom Muslim men declined to participate. They that they would continue to follow the Islamic ways. Two, some “Punjabi Brahmins” (Khatris) visited them and objected to the event, arguing that “Hindus are born, not made”.
In the first case, Ankit says he did not argue with the Dooms that time, but told them that this “double-game” won’t work for long. “Those men hold Scheduled Caste (SC) certificates. Some have even secured government jobs under SC quota. We won’t allow this - that they continue to be Muslims and benefit under Hindu schemes at the same time,” he says.
In the second case, Ankit says he argued back that if Hindus can become Muslims, why can’t Muslims become Hindus. “This is how we settled the debate,” he says.
Ankit says that before the event, his group proposed ghar wapsi to Muslim Gujjars too, who are the only Muslim group in Aasan Kalan other than Dooms.
It didn’t work out.
“They listened to us, but replied that they doubt Hindus would intermarry (beti ka sambandh nahi banayenge). We told them that there could be initial hiccups, but things would settle in a generation or two. They however were not convinced,” he says. “We had expected the same. They are kattar [stanch] Muslims.”
Asked if the Muslim Gujjars objected to the ghar wapsi of Dooms, Ankit replies, “not directly”.
As per Ankit and other villagers, when a young Muslim Doom man died on 1 September - that is two months after the event - Muslim Gujjars gathered at his house and promptly made arrangements for his burial. “
It was unprecedented. Muslim Gujjars never bother to check on Dooms otherwise. But in this death - and it was the first death among Muslim Dooms since the event - they went so far as to make an announcement through the mosque to gather at the deceased’s house in solidarity,” he says.
“We also went there. The man was named Saifi Ali. He was one of those who had refused to attend the havan. We insisted he should be cremated as he held an SC certificate and even had a government job. Muslims however had their way. Saifi was buried,” he says, and adds, “We However told everyone that the next time, we would do an ‘andolan’ if any Muslim benefitting from SC status is buried.”
The group says that while the ghar wapsi was their first major event since its formation, an agenda that tops their priorities is a check on entry of visitors at the local mosque and madrassa. “Ma’am, ours is a Hindu village, but it has the largest madrassa in Panipat. There is always a crowd there. We don’t even know who all visit it,” says Rajan.
“There was a time when the entire village would know if any outsider has entered. Not anymore. The madrassa invites people and lets them stay there, and no one outside of Gujjar Muslims even knows about it,” he says, adding that he sees the practice as a security threat and a step towards demographic change.
Ankit says the group’s agenda is also political, that is, they want to consolidate “Hindu” votes in local sarpanch elections.
Asked why votes even need consolidation on basis of religion when Gujjar Muslims form a minuscule minority, and Ankit invokes Kairana.
Kairana is a town in the adjoining state of Uttar Pradesh, some 30 kilometers from Aasan Kalan. The town, almost entirely Muslim, became a centre of much media and public attention a few years ago with accounts of an “Hindu exodus”.
“Panipat is rapidly becoming green,” says Ankit. ‘Green’ refers to the Muslim population.
“The local administration is responsible for change in demography. It always starts with unchecked settlement of outsiders,” he says.
“As a group, we can influence the election of sarpanch. This is what Muslims do. They make strategic alliances with dominant jaatis and capture power. We plan to do the same, so that the sarpanch is as per our choice.”
Asked who they consider an ideal sarpanch, Rajan says someone who backs “Hindu issues”, irrespective of jaati”.
“What are Hindu issues?” I ask.
“Check on outsiders. Maintenance of gaushala. Upkeep of temples. He should also side with us when it comes to that,” he says.
What is the group’s own religious agenda? The youths offer this list: Stop on cow slaughter, celebration of birth of girl child, processions to mark important events and festivals, inter-community dining and ghar wapsi “of whoever wants it”.
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