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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 43, October 16, 2010

‘Shastra Pujas’: What is Religious about Worshipping Weapons?

Tuesday 19 October 2010, by Subhash Gatade

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 inhabitants.

Schools are meant for the opening up of minds, inculcating inquisitiveness and curiosity, explaining the wonder that is the world and leading the students towards further enquiries and promoting inclusiveness cutting across different ascriptive categories with which all of us are born.

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

Definitely 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 the RSS—the all-Hindu-male organisation—thinks differently. It is not for nothing that schools which run under the aegis of its affiliated organisations are freely handed over for such programmes under the specious reason that these are religious programmes. Any close watcher of the ground level situation would vouch that worshipping of weapons on Dusshera has nothing to do with religion; rather it is part of the 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 pro-cessions’ 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 included. Disturbingly the police—which has enough sprinkling of majoritarian elements in it—and even the media, which is called the ‘watchdog of democracy’, also turn a 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 in 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 not have been an unnatural death of one of their own activists during one such Shastra Puja in Bhopal.

II

Naresh Motwani, a 50-year-old flour mill owner and an old activist of the RSS, would not have imagined that he would be killed (inadvertently?) on September 28, 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 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 the RSS’ Shastra Puja. It becomes evident that many of the weapons used in this puja are not licensed and happen to be illegal. Gurjar also contradicted other RSS workers who had claimed that they were not around when the shot was fired. He clearly told that all of them were in a meeting at that time. One does not know whether the police could make any headway in the particular case and 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 the top bosses of the RSS for facilitating Shastra Puja on a school campus which in itself is a patently dangerous and illegal activity that 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. Shiv Raj Chauhan, the Chief Minister of MP, also performed Shastra Puja himself at his official residence. He was photographed performing weapon worship of automatic and semi-automatic weapons belonging to the police. As noted by a leading secular activist, 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 the scanner wherein the said police officer —SP of Bhopal—fired an 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 their “Pathsanchalan” wherein the RSS workers organise march with weapons in hand, even minor children 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 MP. 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 a mere onlooker. One can just imagine the frightening impact such an incident can have on all those people/formations who distance themselves from the world view of the RSS or who belong to one of those communities who have always found themselves at the receiving end of its operations.

Of course, Shiv Raj Singh Chauhan was not the only Chief Minister from the BJP who organised a weapon worship programme at his house. Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, also worshipped guns and NSG assault rifle (Mail Today, September 29, 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, AK-series assault rifles, and prohibited bore pistols. These are regular issues 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 during which none of the NSG commandos were armed as their weapons had been presented for the ritual.

Interestingly, the newly anointed supremo of the RSS, Mohan Bhagwat, also performed Shastra Puja on the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi (October 2, 2009) in Dwarka, one of the fastest 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 Pujan 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 a 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 the communal temper in the country in the aftermath of the Babri verdict would add another raison d’être to the ‘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 essentially a political use of the faith system in operation called religion. Burning crosses carried by the infamous Ku Klux Klan (a Christian terrorist organisation 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 terrorists or the likes of the Al-Qaeda, or the conscious use of the image of Ram vis-a-vis the Ayodhya temple movement by the Hindutva brigade illustrate this exercise. Many people have written extensively about the manner in which Ram’s new image was projected and popularised during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement—where the ‘new Ram’ is ready to launch war or start a fight against ‘enemies’—which was at variance with his prevalent image that 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 its ‘religious right’ supposedly to distribute three-pronged ‘pointed knives’ under the name of ‘Trishul Deeksha’—a clearcut attempt at inventing a non-existent tradition which suits its political agenda.

Any close scrutiny of the ‘trishuls’ distributed in such deeksha ceremonies makes a few things clear:

• There is a lot of difference between the iconic harmless trishuls which are not sharp at all and 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 even cause death.

• While armed communal mobilisation of the wider populace has always remained on the agenda of the likes of the 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 after the Gujarat massacre in the year 2002. Formally the VHP termed these trishul ceremonies as symbolic religious exercises supposedly to awaken the Hindus, but 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—S.G.)

• 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 Deeksha programmes in the tribal dominated region of Jhabua in MP prior to the 2002 Gujarat carnage and the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, could not stop this. It has been a disturbing fact that a section of tribals have acted as close associates of the Hindutva goons during this tragic phase.

In a report on the ‘Communal Situation in Rajasthan’, brought out by PUCL, Rajasthan, Kavita Srivastava 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 per cent increase in trishul distribution and the figure crossed well above 10,000. To date, in the first four months of 2003, more than 5000 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—(through petitions and public protests) not only to bring the VHP trishuls under the purview of the Arms Act but also prosecute VHP leaders like Togadia who had been making communal and hate speeches in the trishul distribution ceremonies and otherwise. With growing grassroot pressure the State Government ultimately took some steps (April 8, 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 organise a Trishul Deeksha programme on April 13, which would be led by Praveen Togadia. The government, in a countermove, raided the office of the VHP and confiscated 650 trishuls from its premises. When Togadia openly violated the Arms Act on April 13, by organising a programme, he was immediately arrested; he remained detained for around a week till he was sent back home.

When the 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 organi-sations, 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 the 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 3, 2010 and filed under J&K, page 11.

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