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‘Shastra Pujas’ – What’s Religious About Worshipping Weapons ?

September 28, 2010

I.

Schools are meant for play and studies where kids slowly blossom into adolescents. Schools are meant for books, laboratories and other cultural activities which cater to the all round development of its students. Schools are meant for opening up of minds, inculcating inquisitiveness and curiosity, explain the wonder that is the world and lead the students towards further enquiries and promoting inclusiveness cutting across different ascriptive categories with which all of us are born with.

Of course, in emergency situations, schools even metamorphose into shelter homes for the victims of a natural calamity or a social catastrophe.

But certainly, no sane person can imagine that school premises can ever be used for worshipping deadly weapons – loaded pistols and illegal rifles. But it appears that on this count RSS – the all hindu male organisation – thinks differently. It is not for nothing that schools which run under the aegis of its affiliated organisation are freely handed over for such programmes under the specious reason that it is a religious programme. Any close watcher of the ground level situation can vouch that worshipping of weapons on Dusshera has nothing to with religion rather it is part of social tradition. Despite this reality organising of ‘shastra pujas’ has of late become a national phenomenon and hindutva organisations are known to play an important role in it. It serves a double purpose for them : consolidate their constituency by using religion as the legitimising force, terrorising the ‘others’ simply by taking out ‘religious processions’ brandishing weapons.

Close watchers of the Shastra Puja know that earlier, only non-firearms were brought for the ritual. For the past few years, even firearms are being included. Disturbingly the police -which has enough sprinkling of majoritarian elements in it – and even media -which is called a ‘watchdog of democracy’- also turns its blind eye to it. Their biased approach could be easily discerned if tomorrow they find any educational institution run by the Church or for that matter a Madarsa has organised a similar function it it.

There is no doubt that the open use of school premises by the Hindutva organisations would not have come to light if there would have not been an unnatural death of one of their own activists during one such ‘Shastra Pujas’ in Bhopal.

II.

Naresh Motwani, a 50-year-old flour mill owner, an old activist of the RSS, would not have imagined that he would be killed (inadvertently? 28 th Sep 2009) in the company of his own ‘Parivar’ men in the campus of Saraswati Shishu Mandir ( Kamala Nagar, Bhopal) itself and collectively all of them who were close buddies doing the daily chores of the ‘Shakhas’ would try to hush up the matter. In fact, his unfortunate death because of a shot fired from another pistol  while it was being cleaned and prepared for the Puja, was initially presented as a ‘suicide’ by them. A senior RSS activist who was present during the cremation had no qualms in endorsing the cause of Mr Motwani’s death as told by his own colleagues. To save themselves from any further involvement in the case they even denied their presence at the spot of the death and also allowed the accused to flee from the spot with the weapon. It is a different matter that closer media scrutiny and the pressure put by the deceased’s family members to investigate the case brought forth the real story of his death. It was revealed that he was killed when another person ( who was absconding since the death) was cleaning his pistol and forgot that the gun was loaded and ‘inadvertently’ shot the victim. Of course, as far as the family members of Naresh Motwani are concerned they have firmly rejected the accident theory and alleged that it was a case of cold-blooded murder.

It required five days for the police to nab the RSS activist Shyamlal Gurjar whose 9 mm pistol had got discharged ‘accidentally’. When he was specifically asked about the possession of the pistol he claimed that he had found it in another “jungle” while he was returning to Salkanpur, around 45 kilometres from Bhopal and had decided to keep it. Gurjar’s statement raises many incovenient questions about RSS’s “Shastra Puja”. It becomes evident that many of the weapons used in this Puja are not licensed and illegal. Gurjar also contradicted other RSS workers who had claimed that they were not around when the shot wasfired. He clearly told that all of them were in a meeting at that time.

One does not know whether police could make any headway in the particular case and could decide about the nature of the death : was it a planned killing or accidental death. Also it remains to be seen whether any action was taken against top bosses of RSS for facilitating “shastra puja” on a school campus which is itself a patently dangerous and illegal activity which violated several laws of the land on the same day

It is worth noting that while the death of Naresh Motwani during ‘Shastra Puja’ brought forth many seamier aspects of this ‘religious programme’ it was not the only disturbing incident on the Dusshera day.  Mr Shiv Raj Chauhan Chief Minister of M.P. also performed ‘Shastra Puja’ himself at his official residence.He was photographed performing Weapons worship of automatic and semi-automatic weapons belonging to the police.As noted by a leading secular activist Mr L.S. Hardenia in an article written last year.

” Under section 7 of the Arms Act, 1959 the possession, even temporarily, of prohibited arms and ammunition is banned unless specially authorised by the Central Government. Automatic weapons being worshipped on private premises, which includes an official bungalow allotted to a government functionary, would amount to temporary possession of prohibited weapons and would be punishable under the Arms Act. Not only that, after worshipping the weapons, the Chief Minister also fired in the air.”

It was on the same day that the behaviour of another senior police officer of the city came under scanner where the said police officer – S.P of Bhopal – fired AK 47 in the air and his son also assisted him in handling the above weapon.It needs to be remembered that every bullet is an explosive substance, and therefore, any act which is likely to cause injury would fall within the broad definition of section 286 IPC. Clearly, it was wrong on the part of the SP to discharge the firearm in a public place or to allow his minor son to handle it.

On the same day during its “Pathsanchalan” where RSS workers organise march with weapons in hands, even minor children also carried naked swords. Under the Arms Act, minors are prohibited from carrying any kind of weapons. Of late,, Pathsanchalan with weapons in hand has become a regular activity of the RSS at least in M.P. It was only last year that many of the participants in the Pathsanchalan organised in Indore had openly fired in the air for quite sometime in a public park after the culmination of their march, where the police was mere onlooker. One can just imagine the frightening impact such an incident can have on all those people/formations who dissent the world view of RSS or who belong to one of those communities who have always found themselves at the receiving end of its work.

Of course, Mr Shiv Raj Singh Chauhan, was not the only Chief Minister from BJP who organised a weapon worship programme at his house. Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat also worshipped guns and NSG assault rifles (Mail Today, 29 September 2009) at his official residence in Gandhinagar, raising questions whether someone in his position should be taking part in such a ritual. He started doing this since the year 2002.

On display at the prayers, while members of the elite National Security Guard (NSG) and the state police looked on, were sub- machine guns, AKseries assault rifles, and prohibited bore pistols. These are regular issue for the NSG, paramilitary forces and the Army. Also placed in the row of weapons for the prayers were swords, tridents, clubs and axes.

The prayers continued for two hours and during which none of the NSG commandos were armed as their weapons had been presented for the ritual.

Interestingly the newly anointed Supremo of RSS, Mr Mohan Bhagwat also performed Shastra Poojan on the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, (2 nd October, 2009) in Dwarka, one of the fasted growing suburbs in the capital’s South-West where it has already set up around 200 shakhas (daily assemblies) which are expected to expand further. His Shastra Poojan address was attended by an estimated 15,000 RSS cadres clad in their traditional khaki short pants, white shirts and black caps.

When Naresh Motwani’s death was getting bad press for the Sangh-BJP combine, one heard that the RSS was even contemplating to have a ‘symbolic shastra puja’ since the year 2010. Today nobody talks about it. The rise in communal temper in the country in the aftermath of the Babri verdict would add another raison detre to ‘religious step’

III.

All societies have traditions, a set of myths, symbols and practices passed down from generation to generation, which provide a certain degree of comfort that comes from familiarity. Societies undergoing rapid change, however, do not have the luxury of enjoying the psychological comfort that real traditions can provide because the social patterns for which the tradition made sense no longer exist. These societies end up inventing ‘traditions’, quite like museum shops ‘manufacture’ antiques.’

- Meera Nanda, The God Market, How Globalisation is Making India More Hindu

A stock in trade trick of every type of fundamentalist is to transplant religious symbols and rituals from the sphere of the sacred to the soil of the profane.This helps to create an illusion of religious legitimacy to what is is essentially a political use of the faith system in operation called religion. Burning crosses carried by the infamous Ku Klux Klan – a Christian terrorist organizations in the United States, which advocates extremist reactionary currents such as white supremacy, white nationalism, anti-immigration and anti-communism -, the use of the noble concept of Jihad by the Fassadi terrorist or the likes of Al Qaeda ; or the conscious use of the image of Ram via-a-vis the Ayodhya temple movement by the Hindutva brigade illustrates this exercise. Many people have written extensively about the manner in which Ram’s  new image was projected and popularised during the Ram Janambhoomi movement – where the ‘new Ram’ is  ready to launch war or start a fight against ‘enemies’ – which was at variance with the prevalent image which existed in people’s minds.

Coming to the Indian context any student of the Hindutva brigade marvels at the numerous ways in which it tries to push its agenda. As already discussed while it has no qualms in claiming religious sanction for a social tradition among a section of people – when it comes to the issue of worshipping weapons on Dusshera day, it can as well demand ‘religious right’ supposedly to distribute three pronged ‘pointed knives’ under the name of Trishul Deekshas’ – a clear cut attempt at inventing a non-existent tradition which suits its political agenda.

Any close scrutiny of the ‘Trishuls’ distributed in such Deeksha ceremonies-  makes few things clear :

- There is lot of difference between the iconic harmless trishuls which are not sharp at all which are normally associated with Shiva temples and the VHP trishuls. The VHP trishuls are in fact sharp three bladed daggers which can cause grave injury or can even cause death.

- While armed communal mobilisation of the wider populace has always remained on the agenda of the likes of VHP, it gathered further strength through this campaign.The programme of Trishul Deekshas was taken up as a broader campaign since 1998 which gained in pace and stridency since the Gujarat massacre in the year 2002.  Formally the VHP termed these trishul ceremonies as symbolic religious exercise supposedly to awaken the Hindus, it was clear about its intent. In a speech in Ahmedabad, VHP leader Togadia said

‘Trident is a symbol of Hindu religion and not a weapon aimed at any individual. Its distribution is a movement to realise our goal of Hindu Rashtra and the trishul deeksha will continue in all villages, all talukas in every nook and corner of the country’, (emphasis ours)

- The distribution of Trishuls in a particular area, region had a direct bearing on the communal situation in the particular region. Analysts have noted a spurt in Trishul Deekhsha programmes in the tribal dominated region of Jhabua in M.P. prior to the 2002 Gujarat carnage which the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Mr Digvijay Singh could not stop. And it has been a disturbing fact that a section of tribals have acted as close associates of the Hindutva goons during the tragic phase.

A report on the ‘Communal Situation in Rajasthan’ brought out by PUCL, Rajasthan Kavita Srivastav had discussed its impact in the state which makes the point clear. According to the report. (2003)

“While only four thousand Trishuls had been distributed in Rajasthan in the four years till the Gujarat happenings, ( 1998-2001) the year that followed saw more than 150 percent increase in Trishul distribution and the figure crossed well above 10,000. Todate, in the first four months of 2003, more than 5,000 trishuls have been distributed in different places in Rajasthan.”

It is worth emphasising that the civil society groups in Rajasthan did not limit themselves in ‘explaining’ the heightened communal mobilisation but with organisations liked PUCL leading from the front even pressurised the then Gehlot government – thru petitions and public protests -  not only to bring the VHP Trishul under the purview of the Arms Act but also prosecute VHP leaders like Togadia who had been making communal hate speeches in the Trishul distribution ceremonies and otherwise. With growing grassroot pressure the state government ultimately took some steps to (8 th April 2003) to rein in the VHP and also bring the VHP Trishul under the purview of the Arms act.

To protest this move by the state government the VHP declared that it would defy this order and would organise a trishul deekha programme on 13 th April which would be led by Praveen Togadia. The government in a countermove raided the office of VHP and confiscated 650 trishuls from its premises.When Togadia openly violated the arms act on 13 th April by organising a programme he was immediately arrested where he remained for around week tiil he was sent back home

When BJP came to power in the state, it dropped all charges against Togadia.

While the loss of power at the centre and the general sense of division within the Hindutva ranks on various issues has definitely impacted on the aggressive actions of its affiliated organisations, it cannot be said that they have decided to stop all such programmes. Sometime back a newspaper, which is published mainly from Jammu, had provided details of a Trishul Deeksha programme held in the city.

Trishul ‘Deeksha’ programme organised : ST NEWS SERVICE

JAMMU :  State Bajrang Dal Unit on Sunday organised a Trishul Deeksha  programme at Shaktinagar Jammu.

State Organiser of Bajrang Dal Nand Kishore Mishra while addressing the big gathering said that Bajrang Dal has come to existence to save the country, society and Hindu culture from the intruders and enemies of the nation….

Those who received Trishul Deeksha include Karan Sharma, Vikram Singh, Aman Singh Manhas and others who later joined Bajrang Dal.(State Times)

Posted by Administrator (www.tazanews.com) on May 3rd, 2010 and filed under J&k, Page-11.

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