New Delhi: “No matter who comes to power, we will not allow Muslims to rise up. We are in the process of awakening our youth. We will get mullahs out of graves and finish them from their roots. Wait for April 2, you will see we will create a situation where Muslims have to either convert to Hinduism or they will be sent to Pakistan.” —Hindutva leader Pinky Chaudhary at the 8 August 2021, Jantar Mantar, New Delhi
On 8 August 2021, three men participated in a protest, supposedly against “colonial-era laws”, at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar protest site, where instead threats were issued against Muslims.
Supreme Court lawyer and former spokesperson of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ashwini Upadhyay, former Bajrang Dal member and founder of Hindu Force, Deepak Singh Hindu, and national president of a Hindu group called Sudarshan Vahini in Delhi, Vinod Sharma, were arrested two days later after widespread outrage.
More than two months after being granted bail by the courts, Upadhyay, Hindu and Sharma attended a Haridwar dharm sansad or religious parliament, held from 17-19 December 2021, which gained national and international attention (here, here, and here) for its calls for genocide against Muslims, attacks on Christians, arming Hindus and insurrection against the government if it did not allow ethnic cleansing.
At the Haridwar dharm sansad, Upadhyay, organiser of the Jantar-Mantar protest, presented a “saffron Constitution” to Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, whom he called his “guru”. An engineer trained in Russia, Saraswati is priest of the Dasna Devi temple in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and a mahamandaleshwar or head of a prominent Hindu sect called the Juna akhada.
The Haridwar dharm sansad is the latest in a series of seemingly unrelated events organised by Hindu extremists to intimidate Muslims, including denial of spots for namaz in Gurugram, Haryana, community gatherings called mahapanchayats in Nuh and Pataudi, also in Haryana, protests (here and here) against so-called love and land jihads—unsubstantiated allegations of Muslim conspiracies to marry Hindu women and takeover land—in Haryana, Delhi and UP.
After tracking 12 meetings in four cities, calling for genocide and violence against Muslims over 24 months, Article 14 found the same band of Hindu-extremist organisers and speakers who knew each other and worked closely in organising these events.
– In December 2019, Narsinghanand led protests in New Delhi against those opposing India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). It was at some of these events that he first declared a call to arms.
– Narshinghanand called Deepak Singh Hindu and Vinod Sharma, briefly arrested for delivering hate speeches at Jantar Mantar, his “sons”. They later showed up at the Haridwar dharm sansad.
– In October 2021, Suresh Chavhanke, editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News, a television channel that pushes Hindu-extremist issues, helped plan the legal defence of Singh and Sharma and has appeared at events with Swami Anandswaroop, another Hindu cleric, and Narsinghanand.
– Narsinghanand has endorsed violent Hindu extremists, such as Rambhakt Gopal, a minor, who opened fire at students of Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia on 30 January 2020 and 18 months later, called for the abduction of Muslim women in Haryana.
Despite these links, coordinated meetings and more planned over the next four months in Aligarh, Kurukshetra, Shimla, and Delhi, the police see no conspiracy, the main organisers are free, and there are clear contradictions in the way they are treated by the justice system.
There is an apparent pattern of investigating agencies not invoking laws that could have been invoked, and not pursuing passionately the few charges they did invoke.
For instance, the six arrested at Jantar Mantar were only charged with one section of the law, “promoting enmity”, and got bail within two months—in contrast to 15 anti-CAA protestors in jail for up to two years for the 2019 protests, charged under myriad sections of many laws.
That is made clear in the case of Sharjeel Imam, who has been in jail for 23 months, facing 73 sections of the law filed by police in five states, acting on the video of an anti-CAA speech he made in western UP on 16 January 2020 asking protestors to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), by “cutting off Assam from India”. It was a reference, he said, to no more than a road block. In contrast, at the Haridwar dharm sansad, Sadhvi Annapurna said: “Our eternal religion will need soldiers to protect it. I urge you to leave your books behind and pick up weapons.” No case was filed against her.
These calls for violent action fit a variety of crimes under Indian law, including criminal conspiracy, incitement, “acts prejudicial to national integration”, “promoting enmity” and “deliberate and malicious acts of outraging religious feelings”, inciting “disaffection” and “waging war” against the Indian state, said lawyers and former police officers.
Many of these laws have been liberally and, often, wrongly used by police in recent years to crack down on peace activists, protestors, journalists & comics, as Article 14 has reported. No such action has been in evidence before or after any of the hate speeches we have tracked over two years, despite clear evidence of conspiracy.
Supporters of the government claim the threats Hindu extremists pose is overblown. A group of former Indian diplomats supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 6 January released a statement calling recent categorisation of the Haridwar hate speeches by journalists—in stories such as this one—lawyers, former chiefs of armed forces and eminent citizens as calls to genocide “overwrought fears” and “a tirade of accusations and calumny” designed to “bring odium to the Modi government”.
According to Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime Of Genocide, to which India is a signatory, there must be punishment for “direct and public incitement to commit genocide”. Former Supreme Court Justice Madan B Lokur also called on the Supreme Court to take note of the speeches and ensure those who made calls for genocide are "put behind bars".
Slogans Become Speeches, Hidden Links Emerge
"Muslims won't be killed by swords now. You have to defeat them in technique. They already have very good weapons with them. Economic boycott won't work. Hindu groups need to update themselves. Swords look good on stage only. This battle will be won by those with better weapons. More and more kids and better weapons, only these can save you." —Yati Narsinghanand, 17 December 2021, Haridwar
The cooperation between various Hindu groups and the meticulous organisation behind successive events where hate speeches have been made have been apparent, with the organisers themselves making no effort to hide the planning. Denials only appear in the few cases that make it to court.
Arguing for his bail, Upadhyay's lawyer told a Delhi court on 11 August 2021 that he would be the “last person” to represent those who chanted the “reprehensible slogans”. Upadhyay’s argument was that the slogans were “undesirable”, but not a part of his protest. He was granted bail on 11 August, a day after his arrest by a Delhi court. Other accused were granted bail in September 2021.
With Upadhyay appearing to distance himself from the hate speech at his event, Hindu Army chief Sushil Tiwari said Upadhyay had “betrayed” them. Tiwari said more than 30 WhatsApp groups had been involved in mobilising people for the event. "Various Hindu right-wing outfits—Hindu Army, Save India, Hindu Force, Sanatani Sena, Satra Sanatan, Dev Sena, and Hindu Army Trust—were involved in the event,” he said.
Tiwari was arrested on 20 August for his alleged role in mobilising men for the protest. Before his arrest, he said he had met Narsinghanand, to "discuss the event".
Narsinghanand said two of the accused, Hindu, who claims to be president of an outfit called the Hindu Force and Vinod Sharma alias Vinod Azad, president of the Sudarshan Vahini, were “like his sons”.
The Haridwar dharm sansad is the first publicly available evidence of association between Upadhyay, Hindu and Sharma after the Jantar Mantar event. Only this time, with limited police attention, the genocidal slogans against Muslims of Jantar Mantar had expanded into hours of speeches calling for genocide.
Suresh Chavhanke & The Wider Network
“Where did the war inside you go? Take out your war from within because the crusade is bigger than the law and the constitution. Join me, I promise that I will eliminate this Islam from India, from the whole world. Nothing is impossible, everything is possible. Don't resist, be a rebel. Don't make noise, kill...whoever wants to destroy Islam, contact us on the phone." —Pamphlet distributed at the 8 August 2021 Jantar Mantar rally.
It was clear that the Jantar Mantar accused knew one another and worked for a common cause when they were felicitated by Chavhanke of Sudarshan News—a television channel that pushes Hindu extremist causes—for “their work towards the goal of a Hindu Rashtra”, days after their release.
At a “Hindu pride felicitation” ceremony on 11 October 2021, Chavhanke praised the Jantar Mantar accused who he said were fighting for a Hindu nation. Expressing regret that he could not join them at Jantar Mantar on 8 August, he said: "When I got to know about the arrests, I guaranteed that I would get them out within eight days."
Chavhanke—whose channel has been accused of instigating violence and fake news by a variety of govt institutions—also revealed that he, along with their lawyer, Vishnu Shankar Jain, planned the defence for the accused. He specifically mentioned Sharma and Hindu and said both had participated in a number of events with him.
At the 11 October ceremony, he delivered a speech with Jantar Mantar accused Preet Singh, Pinky Chaudhary, Sharma, Hindu seated on stage. Chavhanke said a Hindu Rashtra could only be achieved through "militarisation of Hindus". On 1 March 2020, Sharma participated in a protest called by Sudarshan News calling for the boycott of Muslims
Even as the Haridwar hate speeches were being delivered, Chavhanke on 19 December urged a hall full of people at an event organised by a Hindu group called the Yuva Vahini to take an oath to "fight, die, kill" to make India a Hindu Rashtra.
Another link in the chain is Hindutva leader Ragini Tiwari, whose hate speeches (here and here) went viral during the Delhi riots. Those who participated in anti-love-jihad protests at India Gate on 1 November, where calls to kill Muslims, were made, also shared a stage with Narsinghanand at a similar event at Jantar Mantar. “Eat those who eat the cow,” Narsinghanand had said at the event.
“It is a concerted effort where everyone is working exactly towards the same goal but everyone has a different role to play in terms of the radicalness (sic) of their speech," said Supreme Court lawyer Shahrukh Alam, who argued that hate speech had a “cumulative effect”, marginalising socal, political and physical spaces of those who were targets.
What Conspiracy? The Legal Contradictions
“I am fighting this war alone but today I need your participation in this religious war. The whole of Delhi is being turned into Shaheen Bagh…Please come to Maujpur Chowk at 2:30 pm because if Deepak Singh Hindu goes there alone, it will be a moment for you to die of shame. My appeal to you is that you reach Maujpur Chowk in large numbers…I will reach there with my supporters. However, if I get your support, my strength will multiply a thousand times.” – President of Hindu Force Deepak Singh Hindu on the morning of 23 February 2020, the day Delhi riots started.
The presence of the same set of people from the Sangh parivar ecosystem, the extended family of Hindu-extremist groups, at two explicitly anti-Muslim events—the Jantar Mantar protest on 8 August 2021 and the Haridwar dharm sansad from 17-19 December 2021—within a span of five months and links to other events have not led police to join the dots.
The police, in contrast, repeatedly made such connections with the CAA protests, where courts found police cases against protestors riddled with false statements, fabricated charges and police unaware of their own investigations, as Article 14 reported in September 2021.
In the Jantar Mantar hate-speech case, the government lawyer in August 2021 opposed the bail pleas of the accused, but did not mention that the men worked in tandem. Earlier in November, Narsinghanand was invited to a Govardhan pooja at namaz sites in Gurugram, along with leaders from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), such as Kapil Mishra and Suraj Pal Amu.
Human rights lawyer Tamanna Pankaj said the Delhi police should have invoked section 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860 for criminal conspiracy in the Jantar Mantar case, as the Haridwar police should now be doing.
In the Delhi-riots case, the police even invoked the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967, alleging that all the anti-CAA activists accused worked together for a common cause leading to the Delhi riots of February 2020.
"Anti-CAA protesters raising slogans in defence of the Constitution were made part of an alleged chronology leading to the Delhi riots,” said Pankaj. “But first the Delhi police and now the Haridwar Police recorded no such chronology of the activities of the hate speech accused, despite their history of inciting speeches."
"How can the Haridwar police not even probe the angle that men with a violent past accused of similar charges (section 153A of the IPC relating to “promoting enmity between different groups” and “acts prejudicial to harmony”) four months ago, and were now out on bail, organised this dharm sansad as part of a larger conspiracy of inciting hatred against a community?" said Pankaj.
Munawar Faruqui Vs Yati Narsinghanand
“As in Myanmar, India’s police, politicians, the army and every Hindu citizen needs to take up weapons and start a cleansing drive [ethnic cleansing.” —Hindu Raksha Sena president Swami Prabodhanand Giri, 17-19 December, Haridwar.
Asked about the progress in a first information report (FIR) filed on 23 December 2021 under section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups and acts prejudicial to harmony) after the dharm sansad, Swatantra Kumar, Haridwar city superintendent of police (SP), told Article 14 that a notice under section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973, had been served to former Shia Waqf Board chairman Waseem Rizvi—who is accused of using “objectionable language” against Prophet Muhammad and now calls himself Jitendra Narayan Tyagi—to appear before the police.
Section 41A of the CrPC allows the police to ask a suspect to appear before them if an arrest is not required. SP Kumar said since the maximum punishment for the alleged crimes (promoting enmity between different groups) was less than seven years, a notice was adequate instead of arrest.
“I am against the policy of immediate arrest, but if you go by the letter of the law, it is nowhere written that the police cannot arrest the accused if the punishment is less than 7 years,” said Alam, the Supreme Court lawyer. “Don’t they arrest (people) in sedition cases, where the punishment may be as little as three years?”
Pankaj, the lawyer, said the Haridwar police view that arrest was not required was “absurd” because videos with clear calls for genocide were public.
Comparing the action of the Haridwar police with the arrest of standup comic Munawar Faruqui by the Indore police in Madhya Pradesh on 1 January 2021 for alleged hate speech under 295A, 153A and B, along with other sections of the IPC, Pankaj said: “Indore Police didn’t serve a notice under section 41A of the CrPC to Munawar Faruqui. They arrested him immediately even though he did not crack the alleged joke. Here, actual calls for genocide were made.”
Pankaj also pointed to how the Delhi police challenged bail granted to anti-CAA activists the next day, but did not do that even four months after the Jantar Mantar accused got bail and “despite the fact that they have been found to be involved in a similar kind of hateful event within a span of five months”.
Selective Application Of The Law
Several judgments by the Supreme Court require police officers and magistrates to practice caution before arrest and detention. Arnesh Kumar vs State of Bihar (2014) is the most important precedent, said lawyers.
Faruqui and four of his associates were charged with section 295A of the IPC, which deals with “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”. The maximum punishment for this offence is three years’ imprisonment.
Faruqui and four associates were arrested by police after an FIR filed by Eklavya Singh Gaur, the son of a BJP member of Parliament (MP), for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by joking about Hindu deities, which he never did, at a show in Indore. The Supreme Court granted bail to Faruqui on 5 February 2021.
SP Kumar said the names of Annapurna Maa, alias Pooja Shakun Pandey, mahamandaleshwar of the Niranjini Akhada and general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha, Dharamdas Maharaj, had been added to the FIR. Pandey had called for the killing of Muslims “in order to reduce their population” and Maharaj said that if he was present in the Parliament when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said minorities had first claim over national resources, he would have shot Singh,
No arrests had been made by the time this story was published.
The dharm sansad itself appeared to have been an illegal assembly. Asked how the police had cleared the event, SP Haridwar said: “No permission for the dharm sansad was taken from me.”
On 2 January 2022, the Uttarakhand Police added the names of Narsinghanand and a BJP ticket seeker in the Uttarakhand assembly polls, Sagar Sindhuraj Maharaj, to the Haridwar FIR, and said that section 295A (acts intended to outrage religious feelings) had also been added.
Ignoring Calls For Insurrection
“After three days of this dharm sansad there will be a dharmadesh (religious edict), which all the democratic governments in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, etc. will have to accept or we will wage a war far more horrible than that of 1857.” —Swami Anand Swaroop of Shambvi peeth, 17 December, Haridwar
Former director general of police N C Asthana said he believed more charges should have been invoked by the Haridwar police FIR, including: section 503 of the IPC, “criminal intimidation” for dharm sansad threats to attack hotels in Haridwar found celebrating Christmas or Eid; sedition; provisions of the Arms Act 1959 (for urging that Hindus keep weapons at home); and disaffection under the Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act, 1922.
Lawyers Pankaj and Alam agreed.
“They are practically calling for a war against the government of India,”, said Shahrukh, who argued that sections 121 (waging war against the government of India) and 121A (conspiracy to wage a war against the government of India) should have been involved against Swaroop.
“The speaker is clearly threatening that if the diktat of the dharm sansad is not accepted by the constitutionally elected democratic governments in the Centre and the states, they would wage a war to overthrow them,” said Asthana.
Yati Narsinghanand said “even swords would not be enough to kill them [Muslims]” and that Hindus “needed to have better weapons to win this war”. Another speaker, Sagar Sindhuraj Maharaj, asked the Hindus to “at least keep swords at home”, and another, Swami Premanand Maharaj, advised Hindus that if any questions were asked, “tell [the authorities] that the swords are for devi pooja”.
Asthana said these speakers should have been charged with the Arms Act, and those who called for ethnic cleansing with disaffection, such as National president of the the Hindu Raksha Sena Swami Prabodhanand Giri who called on the Indian police and army to conduct a “cleansing drive” as in Myanmar, where in 2017, Rohingya Muslims faced ethnic cleansing.
Giri’s name has not even been included in the FIR filed by Haridwar Police, even when he has repeated his call for "Hindus to pick up weapons'' and conduct a "cleansing drive" like Myanmar, on 1 January 2022 in a religious event in Haridwar and on 2 January 2022 in Ghaziabad. He shared the strategy of a 21-member core committee of the dharm sansad on 8 January 2022 and said: "To save the humanity of the world, Islamic jihad as well as every believer of Quran need to be finished".
Asthana also said that section 211 of the IPC (“false charge of offence made with intent to injure”) should be invoked against Sagar Sindhuraj Maharaj who boasted of trapping at least 10 Muslims in fake cases under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and encouraging his followers to do the same.
Beyond the legal parsing of what the police could and should have done, global condemnation for the hate speech focussed on the danger of genocide.
Global Ripples & Local Effects
British Labour Party MP from Bradford West, Naz Shah, compared the India of 2021 to Nazi Germany of the 1940s and called the Haridwar dharm sansad a "genocidal meet".
"This is a call for genocide and ethnic cleansing,” Shah tweeted on 23 December, 2021. “We can't turn a blind eye. The world must act now.”
Ian Woolford, a Hindi lecturer at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, expressed concern over "the normalisation of anti-Muslim hate speech in India, such as that on display at the Haridwar dharm sansad".
Expressing to Article 14 his shock at the lack of a “proper response from members of India’s ruling party”, Woolford said: “This is a matter of international concern.”
Woolford said minorities “have always been under threat in my home countries of the USA and the UK, and also in my adopted home of Australia”, but in India, “this is now accelerating at a desperately worrying speed”.
This acceleration in the spread of hate speech is scaring India’s Muslims. Mohammad Maaz (name changed), 19, who got admission to a National Institute of Technology in 2020, said he could not get the dharm sansad videos out of his head.
Aftab (name changed) delivers food for a popular food delivery app. After hearing the Haridwar hate speeches he acknowledged being scared but more than that he said he was disappointed with his Hindu friends for falling for the claims made there.
"I won't lie,” said Aftab, whose job involves going door to door and meeting different kinds of people. “When such speeches (as at the Haridwar dharm sansad) are delivered, it is a thing to be scared of".
(Kaushik Raj is a freelance journalist and poet based in Delhi. Alishan Jafri is a freelance journalist based in Delhi.)