By TANUSHREE PANDEY / The Print
New Delhi: He had planned to catch up on homework, but it was much more important to attend the Hanuman rally, 15-year-old Sagar* says. “Shakha te bolechhe (Our RSS branch told us so),” he explains.
Around him, six to seven other children, some as young as 10, nod in agreement. Some of them participated in a Hanuman Jayanti rally that commenced from Block G of Delhi’s Jahangirpuri and culminated in communal clashes. In videos of this rally, the third of three that day, many young boys were seen brandishing hockey sticks, swords, and even guns. Block G is inhabited primarily by Bengali Hindus, most belonging to lower castes.
They weren’t just swept along in the moment, the children here say. Instead, they claim they were especially mobilised by the local Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) shakha, allegedly run by Suken Sarkar, who is among 25 people arrested so far in connection with the Jahangirpuri violence. His brother, Suresh Sarkar, who claims to be a Hindu Vahini and Bajrang Dal member, also convinced kids from the locality to join the rally.
Speaking to ThePrint, Suresh Sarkar, 43, makes it clear that for a community long oppressed by caste, this was a way to assert their credentials as part of a pan-Hindu identity against a common enemy: Muslims.
“It’s good that the clashes happened… otherwise, how would Hindus be awakened?” he asks in Bengali.
A food delivery agent who also collects and sells scrap, Suresh Sarkar was questioned by the Delhi Police but released later. Now, he says he is ready to carry on the good work — preparing the next generation to fight, and even kill if the need arises, in the name of their religion.
For Bengali community, Hanuman and Hindutva 101
For the Bengalis of Block G, Durga Puja has always been the big-ticket religious event. No one, in fact, celebrated Hanuman Jayanti until this year when for the first time the Sarkar brothers brought a Hanuman statue to the tiny neighbourhood temple and exhorted residents to join the rally.
They got an encouraging response from adults and kids, alike. Indeed, speaking to the residents, it seems evident that many in the marginalised communities here have derived a sense of agency and power by joining the forces of Hindutva.
Teenager Sagar, who was quoted earlier, is Suresh Sarkar’s elder son. A student of Class 10, he has Board exams this year but has not attended school since the clashes. It’s a small sacrifice for the “Hindutva cause”, he says.
He carried a sword in the rally, he says, because, “Muslims also carry swords and other weapons with them during Muharram… why shouldn’t we?”
When asked where he learned this, he says his uncle Suken Sarkar, who has been running the shakha for more than 10 years, had said so.
Other teenagers who participated in the rally also use similar terms with pride. Some are not quite able to articulate what the “Hindutva cause” means but trust what they were taught at the shakha and by their family members.
Rajiv Tuli, an RSS Delhi state executive member, denied Suken’s “official” association with the organisation although he acknowledged that the Block G resident had “helped” with “social work”.
‘We are taught never to be scared of Muslims’
There is shame in the eyes of Rohan*, a 13-year-old student of Class 8. He was part of the rally, but ran away when the violence broke out.
“Bangladeshi Muslims started snatching our swords and we ran from there. I feel bad that I ran. We were taught in the shakha to be brave and never be scared of Muslims, as we Hindus have to protect our country from them,” he says.
He has been quieter since the rally and is traumatised by the violence he witnessed but blames Muslims solely.
His mother, 35-year-old Sukanya Haldar, is proud that he attended the rally even if he did run.
“Yes, my son went to the rally and may have held a sword for some time. There is nothing wrong in it. They are children, after all. We may be from a lower caste, but we are staunch Hinduwadis first,” she says, her tone defiant.
People should not be swayed by Hindu-Muslim amity over the years, she warns, because it could change at any moment. “Muslims are the shoitaan (devil). If given a chance they will dominate us so they have to be kept under the thumb in our country.”
In another dingy home nearby, Soham*, 15, holds similar views, encouraged by his father, who is a sweeper in a factory in Delhi’s Wazirabad.
“There are Muslims boys in my school — they seem nice enough, but my father says never to trust them,” he says. “He showed me a video from Kashmir where Muslims killed infants. After that I decided that I will never befriend a Muslim. I hate them.”
As reported earlier in ThePrint, many youngsters in Jahangirpuri consume a steady diet of videos, memes, forwards, and saffron pop that promote not just Hindu muscularity but a fear of Muslim virility. There is a sense of urgency that Hindus of all hues and castes must band together to “save” the country from a burgeoning population of Muslims. No one questions the “facts” of this content nor the militant nationalism that some TV channels and films promote.
With this backdrop, on-the-ground organisations like the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) bring the fear-mongering memes to life and provide avenues for mobilisation and real “action”.
Block G resident Sonkar*, 16, for instance, says he loves going to the shakha because it gives him “confidence” as a Hindu.
“Suken Da and Suresh Da are like my brothers. They told us that these Muslims are from Bangladesh. Either they should say Jai Shri Ram or leave our country. Suken Da says if we do not control them, they will make our country like Kashmir and Pakistan,” he says.
Sonkar says he was in the rally too, dancing and walking behind a man who was brandishing a pistol. The gun did not scare the teenager, but gave him a sense of security. He knew it wasn’t meant for Hindus but for people of the other community.
‘My son should be ready to kill, if need be’
The organiser of the rally that turned violent, Bajrang Dal member Suresh Sarkar, is utterly unrepentant.
Originally from Jiaganj in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district, he moved to Delhi’s Jahangirpuri 30 years ago, when he was just 13, in search of work.
Today, he says, he doesn’t care about work but he is ready to die for his country as a “real Hindu” and is preparing the younger generation to do the same.
Sarkar says he and some other members of the Bajrang Dal had hockey sticks and swords and distributed them to children. He also claimed he made slogans like, “Bharat mein rehna hai to Jai Shri Ram kehna hai (If you wish to stay in India, you have to say Jai Shri Ram)”.
When asked if the purpose was to provoke, he denies it. “It was to show the Muslims that this is our country,” he says.
According to him, the idea for the rally was proposed by local karyakartas of the VHP and Bajrang Dal as a way to demonstrate the locality’s allegiance to the greater cause. The organisations’ workers also promised to lend their support if “anything untoward” happened, Sarkar says.
“Anyone who thinks of himself as a real Hindu should be ready to kill if riots were to break out tomorrow,” he says.
He also acknowledges that while he felt sidelined as a member of a marginalised community, he now feels part of a greater Hindu nationhood, especially with the VHP and Bajrang Dal working to blur caste boundaries.
“Look at what is happening around the country, Muslims are killing Hindus everywhere. They are all terrorists. Muslim goons of Trinamool Congress killed Hindu families, Muslims butchered lakhs of Pandits in Kashmir — we will never forget all of this,” he says.
Sarkar is already fired up for future opportunities to contribute to the Hindutva cause.
“This time we were less in number… next time we will kill, you’ll see,” he says, placing a fond hand on his 15-year-old son.
“Forget about me, I am also teaching my son to show courage. He is a lion. He will be ready to kill if need be. This is the reason we encouraged children to be present in maximum numbers in the rally so that they can also be prepared,” he says. His wife and younger son, who is 8, break into smiles as he says this.
This article first appeared on theprint.in