By Naomi Barton
New Delhi: On November 23, a young man named Jeet Vashisth trashed a Muslim shrine in Ballabhgarh in Faridabad, and created a bonfire out of objects belonging to the shrine. He broadcast the incident to his 54,000 followers on a Facebook video streamed live.
He claimed the objects – small boxes of churan, pills, a collection of string amulets, assorted paperwork and the bright green satin cloth usually draped on shrines – were tools of ‘love jihad’, the phrase Hindutva groups use to describe an imagined Muslim conspiracy to “seduce” Hindu women. He claimed the pills and churan were “sex pills” and medication used to make Hindu men napunsak or impotent, and that the amulets and papers were evidence of or jadu tona, or black magic, being conducted.
He also claimed that there were books from Pakistan at the site – the book in question is the ‘Pakistani Panj Surah’, a common prayer book easily available on Amazon. He also alleged that the shrine was illegally built on government land.
By the evening, a mass protest had been organised at the site and called for the shrine to be demolished on the grounds that it was supposedly an illegal structure, livestreamed on Facebook by an organisation called WeYuva. In a video on Facebook, a man wearing saffron in conversation with the police also said that the two Muslim individuals whose names were visible on the shrine’s walls should be arrested on charges of being deshdrohis, or traitors.
The Wire has reached out to the Faridabad police for comment. This story will be updated with their statement if they reply.
In the past few months, some areas around the Delhi-NCR region have been a hotbed of anti-Muslim activity, with Faridabad seeing recurring incidents involving hard-line Hindutva groups. Jeet Vashisth is a member of the Bajrang Dal, one of these groups, and his social media history provides insight into the activities – both physical and digital – that these groups are heavily involved in, and their wider political connections.
Just three days before the mazar was vandalised, Vashisth had a meeting with BJP leader Kapil Mishra, with whom, according to a Facebook photograph posted by WeYuva, he had an “organisational discussion on the ‘Hindu Ecosystem’.”
This was not the first time that Vashisth met with Kapil Mishra.
On April 11, 2021, he was tagged in a picture with Kapil Mishra attending a ‘bhagva rally’.
In the video, he says that they will be together for the day. In another video recorded in a car, Kapil Mishra sends a message saying, “Jo bhi dharam ka kaam kar raha ho, uske saath khada hona chahiye, uski madad karni chahiye, aur ham satya hai. (Whoever is doing work for our religion, we should stand with them, we should help them, and we are the truth.)”
What is this “Hindu ecosystem”, and what is the work that they do? Vashisth provides a small window into their regular activities.
In the past two months alone, Vashisth has been involved in a variety of anti-Muslim activities ostensibly oriented around the promotion of Hindutva causes.
In October, during Navratri, a video of his confrontation with a meat shop owner in Faridabad went viral. He threatened the owner into shutting down the shop, saying that the smell and sight of non-vegetarian items were offensive to Hindus during the festive season. Days before that, he had posted a video alleging that he had issued a ‘memorandum’ to the local police station saying that the Bajrang Dal would protest to shut down ‘illegal’ meat shops in the area. It is this memorandum he cited when saying that he had the legal right to intimidate the shop owners into shutting down their business.
In his video, he exhorted his followers to shut down meat shops in their areas as well, saying that it will take courage to do so, but they have the right to do it.
One Pankaj Jain, in the same video, says that 90% of the shops are run by vidharmis – literally meaning the enemies of Hinduism but used here as shorthand for Muslims. “In the coming 10 days,” he says, “the hurt that we will cause them – the first and biggest thing will be the economic hurt that we will cause them, and second, we will save our religious faith. Thirdly, after the festival is over, perhaps the administration will bring some cleanliness, and in this city, the filth will be ended, and the environment will be clean again.”
A week later, the video had 746k views – it has so far been watched nearly three-quarters of a million times. It has 4,800 comments and 10,000 likes.
The Wire’s Yaqut Ali also asked the Mujesar station house officer (SHO) Sandeep Kumar about the incident, to which the officer replied saying that no shopkeepers were intimidated into closing their shops and that there had been a “mutual” agreement to shut shop for the festive season.
When asked whether action was taken against Vashisth for his video-recorded actions, the SHO said that while the video had been seen, no written complaints had been made and the culprits in the video had not been identified – despite Vashisth explicitly stating his name.
‘Spit jihad’, ‘love jihad’, ‘land jihad’
On November 19, Vashishth uploaded a video of himself harassing and manhandling a worker at a Muslim-run biryani stall. In the video, he accused the worker of urinating in the food, a charge the man repeatedly denied. Later in the video, he accused another man of food contamination and threatened to call the police on the biryani stall – activities falling into the new variation of targeted harassment, thook jihad, where Muslims handling food are falsely accused of contaminating it by spitting.
On November 6, he uploaded a video talking about how he and his compatriots had caught a man engaging in ‘love jihad’. A Muslim man had allegedly been sitting in a park with a Hindu woman, supposedly convincing her to go with him to go to UP. Vashisth alleges that the police were called immediately and the man was taken into custody – the video was allegedly filmed from the Women’s Police Station in Faridabad. This video was not accompanied by any evidence and forms part of a larger hate campaign against ‘love jihad’, which targets Muslim men.
Implicit state support
The strategy of using a privately issued ‘memorandum’ to justify intimidation took place again in November, when he posted another picture of himself on Facebook holding up a ‘memorandum’ with a member of the Gurugram police force, informing the administration of a protest they would be taking out against namaz at Gurugram. The idea behind this was that public land was being occupied by Muslims while offering namaz, and would lead to ‘land jihad’ as a result.
One day later, the Gurugram police withdrew permission for namaz to take place at eight sites. In a triumphant ‘Govardhan puja’ protest at one of the sites held that Friday, the slogan ‘Goli maroon salon ko, Hinduon ke gadaaron ko’ (Shoot the traitors of Hinduism) rang loud. The Wire reported at the time that Kapil Mishra was present at the ceremony, along with Amit Hindu (a disciple of Yati Narsinghanand, who raised a call to action ahead of the Delhi riots of February 2020) and Monu Manesar (who previously called for ‘love jihadis’ to be killed).
‘Fringe’ in the BJP: Organized hate crime
On August 8, Vashisth posted a live video to his Facebook page from Jantar Mantar, where he was taking part in a rally organised by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay under the banner of ‘Bharat Jodo Andolan’ (Unite India Movement). This event made headlines for the anti-Muslim hate speeches made there, resulting in the Delhi Police arresting eight people – Uttam Upadhyay, BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay (who was given bail within 24 hours of arrest), Preet Singh, Deepak Singh, Deepak Kumar, Vinod Sharma, Vinit Bajpai and Sushil Tiwari.
Vashisth’s presence at this rally is further evidence of the links between radical, violent Hindutva fundamentalists and the BJP, links which the saffron party does not admit to officially. Ashwini Upadhyay, too, claimed to have no connection with the organising of the protest or the sloganeers – even though he had tweeted (and later deleted) several photographs of himself at the event.
Also present at this rally was Hindu Raksha Dal chief Pinki Chaudhury, whose real name is Bhupinder Tomar, who later ‘surrendered’ himself weeks after the event, after the Delhi police had been conducting raids in the NCR area. He had earlier claimed responsibility for the brutal attack on students and faculty members at Jawaharlal Nehru University in January 2020. The Wire reported that Chaudhury is close to and has appeared in press conferences with militant Hindutva leader Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati.
Two of those arrested at the rally, Vinod Sharma and Deepak Singh, were repeat offenders when it came to hate speech, and had also been proximate to the events leading up to the Delhi riots of 2020.
On May 30, 2021 Vashisth posted a video to his Facebook page from the Indri mahapanchayat. The mahapanchayat, featuring over 50,000 people, was held to demand the release of those arrested for the lynching of a young Muslim man named Asif. According to his cousin who witnessed the incident, Asif had been lynched by a mob shouting Jai Shri Ram. Several of those accused were affiliated with the BJP or the Sangh parivar. The Indri event was noted for the violent hate speech being made against Muslims, including calling for their murder.
Also present at the Indri Mahapanchayat was Dinesh Thakur Bharti, the leader of a fundamentalist Hindutva outfit Bharat Mata Vahini, who spearheaded the campaign against Muslims conducting namaz in Gurgaon.
The Hindutva ecosystem and weaponised outrage
There are four key takeaways from the case study that Jeet Vashisth offers.
One, that hate crimes like the desecration of religious spaces and the economic harassment of Muslims via intimidation are not simply activities that end after they have happened. The value they offer to the Hindutva ecosystem is in the vast digital reach they provide as propaganda units, by which thousands of people are invited to be inspired by and replicate this violence.
Two, while these are reported as individual instances, they frequently seem to feature a cast of characters who have a history of hate crimes and hate speeches that remain unpunished. They actively organise and mobilise activities that target Muslims. These activities take place in Hindutva organisations like the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and far from being isolated incidents of communal violence, suggest a strategic and methodical incitement to violence which then escalates.
Three, not only does it appear that these militant groups have impunity from the law while committing these acts, the state seems to be effectively supporting their activities when they acknowledge the ‘memorandums’ that serve as advance notice of this harassment, turning a blind eye to the actions themselves. They also seem to provide support when the situation is escalated to legal action (as in the case of the ‘illegal’ shrine in Ballabgarh being investigated by police), administrative targeting (as in the case of permissions for namaz withdrawn from sites in Gurgaon) and legislative targeting (as in the case of laws against ‘love jihad’.)
Four, the presence of members of the BJP at events featuring Hindutva hardliners suggests, at a minimum, an implicit if not explicit endorsement of these activities. Kapil Mishra is commonly held to be one of the catalysts spurring the Delhi riots of 2020. His continued endorsements of these groups and these events can be seen as encouragement from the ruling party for hate crimes and hate speeches against Muslims.
In a conversation with The Wire, Faridabad PRO Shube Singh said that the mazar had been demolished by the person who had built it himself. When asked whether an investigation would be conducted against Jeet Vashisth for setting on fire the items in the shrine, the PRO said that action would be taken against both parties, saying, “Nobody has the right to take the law into their own hands. The person who had illegally raised the shrine on Panchayat Bhavan was also illegally selling medication, he did not have his license. The doctor has sent a sample, when the report comes back another type of action will be taken, for now legal action is underway.”
The PRO was unable to name the alleged seller of illegal medication, saying that the name had gone viral in the media and was something like ‘Babli’ or ‘Abdul’. He added, “The people who …took the medication and papers, who set them on fire, there will also be action taken against them.”
The PRO said that the protest was not organised, but it was a collection of people gathering. “It was not organised – some two people came, four people came, four people left, two people came, it was like that.” When asked how many people were at the site, he said that it was visible in the video that there were around 10-12 people.
In a police press note released on November 24, DCP Ballabhgarh Jaibir Rathi has said that the matter is being investigated impartially. The statement adds that strict action will be taken against anyone trying to disturb the peace or law and order, and that the police will deal with such anti-social elements strictly.
This story first appeared on thewire.in