Human Rights

Shastra Pujas: what is religious about worshipping arms?

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By Subhash Gatade


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 an all round development of its alumni.

Schools are meant for opening up of minds, inculcating inquisitiveness and curiosity, for explaining the wonder that the world is 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.

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 RSS and all Hindu male organisations – think 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 would vouch that worshipping of weapons on Dusshera has nothing to do with religion rather it is a 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 displayed. Disturbingly the police -which has enough sprinkling of majoritarian elements in it – and even media -which is called as ‘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 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 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?, 28th 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 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 inconvenient 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 was fired. 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 regularly issued 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, (2nd October, 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 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’ from the year 2010. Today nobody talks about it. Dusshera celebrations are fast approaching and with the expected rise in communal temper in the aftermath of Babri verdict, where fringe groups already seem to have become proactive, there won’t be much let up on the ‘Shastra Puja’ front. Is Mr P Chidambaram listening?

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2010 on page no. 11

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