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Note: Following the publication of this news story, Ishodass Om Ram wrote to The Wire on July 16, 2022 to deny having given an interview and denying he said what he is quoted below as saying. His letter is appended below, along with a response from the reporter who conducted the interview.
Manesar (Haryana): Just a week before Eid, more than 300 Hindutva activists – including members of the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other organisations – attended a ‘mahapanchayat’ to protest the gruesome murder of a Hindu tailor, Kanhaiya Lal, in Rajasthan’s Udaipur by two Muslim assailants. At the event, there were calls to boycott Muslims and ‘if need be’ to pick up weapons against them.
Manesar is a part of the National Capital Region, around 50 km from New Delhi, and an important hub of the Indian automotive industry. The call to boycott Muslim shopkeepers and vendors was reported in the national media.
While many saw the Manesar meeting as a random expression of intolerance, its connection to the wider arc of Hindutva mobilisation in which online mobilisation links up to ‘offline’ events remained hidden. One of the trending Twitter hashtags in the days leading up to the ‘mahapanchayat’ was #TotalBoycott. Though the call was in open violation of Section 153 A and B of the Indian Penal Code, the fact that an organised push could be made to trend that hashtag on social media is symptomatic of the impunity enjoyed by its sponsors.
The Wire spoke to the three Hindutva leaders who organised the Manesar panchayat about their wider agenda. Dharmender claims to be a social worker committed to the building of a Hindu rashtra, Aachary Swami Ishodass Om Ram is vice president of the Sant Samaj with close links to Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and Devender Singh is the general secretary of the Manesar branch of the VHP – an organisation that is part of the same Sangh parivar to which the BJP belongs.
Of the three, Ishodass Om Ram has a significant online presence, with over four lakh followers on Instagram. He has shared pictures of himself with top BJP leaders like party president J.P. Nadda and Bhupender Yadav, currently minister for labour and environment in the Modi government. Apart from that, he has also posted pictures of himself with Kulbhushan Bharadwaj, the man who led the anti-namaz protests in Gurugram, and controversial Hindutva seer Paramhans Das. Recently, Paramhans Das was reported as threatening to set ablaze the Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi during a protest against the Udaipur murder.
Following are excerpts from the interview, translated into English from the Hindi original and edited for clarity. The Wire has not verified the claims and allegations made, but they are being published as they portray the ideological framework in which Hindu Right leaders operate.
What made you take this decision [to call for a boycott of Muslims]? What is the motivation behind such a move? Were you facing any problems because of the Muslim vendors?
Dharmender: When there was a lockdown in 2020, the people earning even Rs 50,000 had to leave with their families because there was no certainty about the situation. Nobody knew how they would pay the rent. A lot of people in our area left their houses and went back to the villages. But you look at the jhuggis (slum settlements). They (Muslims) offer namaz there. Their language is different from ours. They are mostly Rohingyas and Bangladeshis. And they have rented the jhuggis. When nobody was allowed to step out of their homes at that time, how did they manage to eat? Who paid their rents? This is my concern.
You go to any juice seller here, ask him his name. He will say ‘Raju’. You check his ID and the name would be different. Many times, we have found that the ID is with a Hindu name but the person offers namaz on Friday. These people (Muslims) have arranged fake IDs. Such elements are increasing in our area. We constantly get such complaints from our (Hindu) tenants – ‘My daughter has been abducted.’ ‘My wife has gone (run away).’ Considering all these issues, we took such a stand. If you look at the bus stand, there is a biryani stall. We Hindus don’t eat biryani. He has mentioned ‘Veg/Non-veg biryani’ on the board. What if our kids someday go there and eat non-veg? Who knows what they (Muslims) put in their food? Go to any lane, only these people have their shops. Our people are left with no jobs. Why? Whatever job a Hindu would do for Rs 5, these guys would do it for Rs 2. Why? Because they would do anything to just get inside your house. So, we need to check if any bad element is breeding in our locality. What if in the coming days they become so dangerous that neither us nor the government are able to control them? Any bad element – Hindu or Muslim should be inspected. We must know if a person is claiming to be Rohit, he is actually Rohit.
When in the Shaheen Bagh protests they can give a call to boycott Reliance because its money funds the weapons bought by BJP and RSS, why can’t we do that? Don’t we have a responsibility to empower our people- the Hindus? If a poor person in our community wants to work, shouldn’t we help him set up a business? These people get money from masjids. Look at their homes, they stay in jhopadpatti but their shops are plush. If we don’t wake up today, when will we?
Every time the Gau Raksha Dal (cow vigilantes) catch vehicles carrying cattle, they find illegal weapons. And if you go to some Hindu’s house, you won’t even find a proper vegetable knife. So, this is not an issue of Manesar, this is an issue of India. Why did a country like Myanmar have to wake up [referring to Myanmanr’s Rohingya crisis]? Buddhism is called the most peaceful religion, why did they have to wake up? Manesar has had a history of fighting these people. If we have taken a step, it is going to be a huge step. We won’t touch any right person but we also won’t let any wrong person stay here. We will stay within the boundaries of the law. We have given a seven day ultimatum to the administration to verify the identities of these jihadis.
Devender Singh, VHP: After Nupur Sharma’s statement, these jihadis raised the slogan of ‘Sar tan se juda’ and killed Kanhaiya Lal in Udaipur, Umesh in Amravati. They were killed only because they were Hindus. The most guilty among all are those who emboldened such a slogan. We have resolved to put an end to this extremism; our (Hindu) samaj has risen. We decided to boycott them in every possible way.
When will your movement start?
Devender Singh, VHP: The movement started on July 3. We gave an ultimatum to the administration. Depending on what their action is, we will give a tenfold reaction… We have started identifying these people- Who are Muslims, what kind of ideology do they have? We have started fully boycotting them.
There were videos where the leaders in the panchayat were appealing to the Hindus to keep weapons. Is it true?
Dharmender: Everyone is advised to take precaution. The mountaineers are advised to carry ropes with them. And by the way, they haven’t said anything wrong. Look at any of our gods and goddesses. All of them carry weapons. Read Bhagwat Gita, it also calls for keeping weapons. If we won’t protect our religion, who will?
Aachary Swami Ishodass Om Ram: What is a panchayat? It’s a setting where people share their feelings with their near and dear ones. Although, law talks about Panchayati Raj, but doesn’t value Panchayats that much. But when a panchayat gives a call, even law cannot dismiss it. What if our children are attacked the way Kanhaiya Lal was? You are sitting here. Suppose, a Muslim comes and misbehaves with you what will we do? We will save you and there are many ways to save someone. If they come armed with weapons, we won’t fight with our hands.
Have you seen Maa Durga? She has eight arms. And she carries weapons in all the eight. So, this is our culture. Our religion tells us to keep shaastra (religious texts) in one hand and shastr (weapons) in another. Those who understand the language of Shaastra, talk to them with love, otherwise use sudarshan chakra (a spinning, discus weapon with 108 serrated edges, attributed to Vishnu or Krishna in Hindu scriptures). This is not new. Like Muslims have jihad in their blood, we also have been fighting against these rakshasas (demons) for centuries now.
Devender Singh, VHP: You see, this is no less than a civil war. And in a civil war, we have to pick up the weapons. We cannot just give speeches. We will fight the way it is needed. You see, mosques across the country provoke people and want to turn Bharat into Ghazwa-e-Hind. We have to teach a lesson to those who don’t want Bharat to remain Bharat. Muslims have lost our trust, now we break every relation with them- economic, social, political, every relation.
Even if it means going to any extent?
Dharmender: Yes, it happens.
How will you train your cadre to use weapons? Are they already being trained?
Aachary Swami Ishodass Om Ram: A lot of things are going to happen in the coming days. Remember 1947, when we got freedom? This war is going to be bigger than that. This is going to be a crusade. In the coming days, a lot of people are going to die. We cannot make Hindu Rashtra so easily. It will demand sacrifice and we are ready to give it.
Devender Singh, VHP: Our community is already prepared. We have always fought them. We even fought them in 1947. Even our women, our children, our elderly – everyone is prepared. We have no hesitation or fear. We declare this aloud. We are doing this to protect Hindus, our women, and India. We are doing it for our own security.
How will you arrange the arms? Who will help in the funding?
Dharmender: When they can arrange weapons for jihad, why can’t we do that for our religion.
Devender Singh, VHP: When they can arrange weapons, why can’t we? For big weapons, we will ask the government to give us licences and the smaller ones, we already have. Axe is a big weapon. Sickle is a weapon. We already have axes, knives, sickles, pole axes, spades.
Do you feel you have moral support from the current government?
Aachary Swami Ishodass Om Ram: Yes, definitely. All of us feel this support. You tell me when were Hindus motivated like this? They were just oppressed. Now, all our places of pilgrimage are being well maintained. Our mandirs are being built. PM Modi is getting them built. So, this is raising confidence in us. The Hindus are confident now. There is no doubt about it. BJP is a party of values. It doesn’t want to cause harm to the minorities. But why can’t the minorities stay in India as Indians?
Have you read the shaastras? There are two types of people in our shaastras – Dev and Asur. The ones following Sanatan religion are Dev. And the ones against it – non-vegetarians, beef eaters, wrong-doers – are Asur. And these two can never be friends. Why would we want to be their friends? We don’t. If they wanted to be our brothers, why didn’t they give their daughters to us? They didn’t. In fact, they took our daughters through love jihad. We don’t want any brotherhood with them.
Devender Singh, VHP: Since 1947, the past governments have made so many laws which have given a free hand to the Muslims. They can practise their religion, teach their religion, work for it, convert people. But every check and balance was for Hindus. All the prime ministers till now had been just pretending to be Hindus. They were actually carrying forward the agenda of Islam or Christianity.
This government has exposed the conspiracies of the past governments against Hindus but there is a lot more that needs to be done. We need a population control law. To run a democratic nation in a peaceful way, a lot needs to be done. We need to cure the maulvis who declare fatwas if we need to maintain peace in the country. We have no hope from Congress or any other party. This is a nationalist government and only it can save the nation. We will constantly pressurise the government and get our work done. And this is for everyone’s good. We believe that everyone, including the Muslims, will be better off under this government.
But the administration and army have their hands tied, so the civilians will have to wake up. This is a bigger battle and these enemies have got inside our homeland. The Army will fight its battle on the borders and we will fight these enemies here. Only then can the problem be solved. And we know how to give a fitting reply to these people. We have started doing it. We have started pushing them out.
Dharmender: Congress was bringing a law where if we even called someone ‘musalman’, we could have been booked under that law. And the onus of proving ourselves innocent would have been on us. We fought the battle against that law when Congress was in power. It’s not that we are doing it only after BJP came. Dharm Yuddha does not look at the government, we have to fight it whenever the need arises.
In the past, the VHP and Bajrang Dal members have carried out many such movements for Hindutva. Like what happened in Gujarat in 2002. There were claims that the state police helped VHP leaders there. Do you expect the same from Haryana’s police?
Aachary Swami Ishodass Om Ram: They will have to. They have no other option. Let me tell you one thing – look at the new BJP cap. The green colour from it is vanishing. This is a huge signal for us. The government will support us. There is no doubt about it. Haven’t they supported Nupur? They could have arrested her. But they didn’t.
Dharmender: If a person is living in the area with a fake ID, there must be a legal action against him. Like thieves disappear even with a slight sound, these people (Muslims) will also leave. Administration has always helped us. It has always helped us in the past. They will help us this time and even in the future. It is the duty of the law to identify these bad elements and remove them. If they don’t, we will. We, the responsible citizens, will identify them.
Devender Singh, VHP: We will try to remain within the constitutional boundaries, within the boundaries of law. But if our enemy crosses it, we might have to do something outside of law to answer them.
Do you think the police and the government might take legal action against you?
Aachary Swami Ishodass Om Ram: Nobody can stop us. Let me tell you this. This is a divine call and this will have to happen.
Dharmender: Pakistan is a Muslim country. America is a Christian country. We also want our nation. We have heard this [slogan] ‘ Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’, right? When will it happen?
Devender Singh, VHP: Whenever there will be war, we will assess the situation. If we see that our enemies are not stopped by law or they are not being controlled, we will also break the law… If we were so afraid of court cases, we would not have organised the panchayat in the first place. There is so much anger inside us that it is bound to spill and we are ready to face the consequences.
Are you in touch with any political leaders regarding these activities?
Aachary Swami Ishodass Om Ram: I talk to J.P. Nadda (president, BJP), Shah and Bhupender Yadav (Union minister of labour and employment; Union minister of environment, forest and climate change; and national general secretary, BJP) over the phone.
One day, I went to Delhi for some work. I went to Nadda ji with my gunman. He smiled and said, ‘Maharaj ji aap kasht mat kiya karo.’ Since then, whenever I have to talk, I text him and the work gets done.
By Shah, you mean Amit Shah (Union minister of home affairs)?
Aachary Swami Ishodass Om Ram: Yes
Which of these leaders inspire you the most?
Aachary Swami Ishodass Om Ram: We are the ones who inspire people. The prime minister hosts Mann Ki Baat. You tell me who motivated him to do that? I did. I inspired him in 2014.
Have they told you that they will support you?
Aachary Swami Ishodass Om Ram: They cannot say it outrightly. These things are on a moral level. They happen internally. They cannot show. These people have worked hard to reach the positions they are in. They run the government. They cannot outrightly say that they are with us. They aren’t fools. But yes, they won’t take any action against us. So, this is a kind of support.
Do you support [Hindutva leader] Bajrang Muni on his call for genocide and raping Muslim women?
Devender Singh, VHP: When the situation goes out of control, everyone will say things like this. What will we do to save ourselves? Will we sit with our hands folded? We will have to do something in our defence, if the situation demands.
Do you plan to repeat what happened in Gujarat?
Devender Singh, VHP: We don’t want that situation to come. We don’t want to destroy peace. But if the situation demands, we will have to repeat what happened in Gujarat. We are prepared at the ground level. In just a call, our Hindu brothers have started gathering. And depending on how the administration reacts to our ultimatum, we will decide our course of action. We will give an even bigger call, the next time. If the administration agrees to help, it’s okay otherwise we are fully prepared for this war.
You mean you are prepared with weapons?
Devender Singh, VHP: Yes.
‘I have nothing to do with the Manesar panchayat’
Swami Isodass Om Ram writes
A news story has been published in The Wire about the Mahapanchayat against Muslims which mentions my participation and the support from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is absolutely wrong. I have nothing to do with this panchayat. Neither I was in this panchayat nor have I ever made any such statement [as quoted] nor was this interview was in my knowledge.
In one programme, Dr. Dharmendra introduced me to this journalist, Astha, whom I didn’t know. I have had no conversation with anyone about this panchayat. All this might have been recorded without my knowledge and permission. I have no such opinions [as I have been quoted as saying].
I am a responsible citizen. I have nothing to do with such a thing. I have faith in the constitution and the government of India. This news is baseless. Before today, I had never made any statement on this subject. I don’t even know if all of this is a part of some conspiracy. My privacy has been violated and a controversy has been created. Without my permission, photos have been picked up from my Twitter account and used at various places in the story. My relationship with someone is my personal matter. No one has any right to violate my privacy.
Neither the government nor I have anything to do with this incident. An attempt has been made to forcefully connect us to it. You are requested to remove the government’s and my name from this news so that everything can be corrected. It has caused a lot of damage to me and can still do more. If something happens to me, then it will be your responsibility. If you do not listen to me, then I will be forced to take recourse to the law.
I hope you understood that I was not present in that panchayat. Neither did I make any statement on it nor does the government or any relation of mine have any links with it. Please remove this fake news from all the social and other platforms… This fake news has hurt me and caused me mental distress and has hurt my honour. If some big or unpleasant incident happens, it will be directly related to you, your news organization and journalist Astha.
What your conversation was with Dharmender and other people is your problem. I will tell you once again that I have nothing to do with this panchayat; neither was I there nor have I given any statement. I do not know under which conspiracy I have been linked to this by you and others. I distance myself from this. Your journalist was wrong for which she should apologize.
Swami Isodass Om Ram,
July 16, 2022
(Note: This is an English translation of the Hindi letter Isodass Om Ram sent The Wire)
Astha’s reply to Swami Ishodass Om Ram’s allegations
I, hereby, deny all the allegations made against me by Swami Ishodass Om Ram. The entire conversation with Ram was recorded during my conversation with him, and can be produced as and when needed.
1. He claims that we said was present in the Manesar panchayat
Nowehere in our story have we mentioned that Swami Ishodass Om Ram was an attendee of the panchayat. So, this allegation is baseless.
2. He claims he did not consent to give the interview, that he did not know that I was a journalist.
On July 7, 2022, I went to the Shree Radhe Hospital, Manesar, Haryana to interview Dr Dharmender on the Hindu Panchayat organised by various right-wing Hindu organisations earlier that week. A day before, I had spoken to him over the phone and after obtaining his consent, I went there to interview him.
As we were sitting down, Swami Ishodass Om Ram entered the room. He asked, ‘Matter kya hai?’ (What’s the matter?) Dr Dharmender introduced me to him as a journalist. Swami replied, ‘Haan wo to mai samajh gaya’ (Yes, that I understood). Then I asked Dr Dharmender if Swami Ishodass is also from the panchayat. To this, Dr Dharmender replied, ‘Haan Haan’ (Yes, Yes). Thereafter, I asked Swami if I can question him about the panchayat, he replied, ‘Haan Haan poochiye’ (Yes, Yes, Ask). And that is when I started interviewing him. In other words, he willingly answered questions that I asked, knowing full well that I was a journalist. So, his allegations that he did not say what we have quoted him as saying or that he did consent to the interview are baseless.
3. He alleges that he has been quoted as saying things that he never said.
The entire conversation with Dharmender and Ishodass was recorded on my phone, which was placed in full view. My phone was kept on the desk and the interviewees were aware that a voice recording was being made. In fact, in the beginning since we were in the hospital, there was background noise which was disrupting the audio recording so I asked Dr Dharmender to request his staff to lower their voices. In fact, in the recording he can be heard shouting, ‘Awaaz Mandi’ (Don’t make noise). The audio recording of our conversation in Hindi was then translated by me into English for publication.
As a journalist, it’s my duty to report facts and highlight information in the public interest and that is what I have done.
July 16, 2022
Note: At Dass’s request, we have deleted photographs sourced from his social media handles.