New Delhi: Social activists on their way to Ayodhya for a workshop on peace and communal harmony have been detained by the Uttar Pradesh police. The police claim the event would disrupt peace in the area.
The organisers are not reachable at the moment but Ram Puniyani, one of the speakers at the event, told The Wire that communal harmony and constitutional values are at odds with the agenda of the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in the state – which is why this action was taken.
The two-day workshop was planned at the Saryu Kunj temple in Ayodhya where Mahant Yugal Kishor Sharan Shastri is the chief priest. Khudai Khidmatgar, a non-violent anti-colonial movement founded by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in 1930 and later revived by Faisal Khan, organised the event along with Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey and Mahant Shastri.
Author and social activist Ram Puniyani was supposed to take the introductory lectures in the workshop today. Puniyani claims people from all over the state would attend the workshop.
According to the sequence of events narrated by Puniyani, the Uttar Pradesh police arrived at Pandey’s residence at 4 am. When Puniyani and Pandey were leaving for Ayodhya along with a few other volunteers, the police asked them to stay back claiming the workshop had been cancelled.
The police said they feared the programme would disrupt peace in the area. Pandey informed the policemen that the programme was for peace and communal harmony, and that they would continue with their schedule. A police vehicle then followed the two cars till a toll booth around 10 km before Ayodhya where they were asked to stop.
Around 30-40 policemen were waiting for them at the toll booth. When Pandey asked why they were stopped without a written order, the policemen said they suspected the programme would disrupt peace and hence they couldn’t go any further. Even after repeated assurances that they hadn’t come to speak about the Ayodhya or Kashmir issues and that the workshop was just about peace, communal harmony and the constitution, they weren’t allowed to go further.
The activists were then asked to sit in the toll collection office. Mahant Shastri called them to inform that he too had been detained and had been told that the workshop couldn’t proceed as planned. Shashtri was also brought to the same place soon after. Puniyani, along with four other people, returned to Lucknow as he has to board a flight back to Mumbai this evening.
Pandey, Shastri and four other people are still detained at the toll office.
“I believe our idea of communal harmony are not acceptable to the Yogi government in UP as they have a different ideology and agenda. We believe in the Indian constitution but they have different ideas, that’s why the workshop was stopped,” Puniyani told The Wire.
On being asked if the workshop was being organised for some special occasion, Puniyani clarified that members of the civil society who believe in and work for communal harmony keep doing these events to propagate the ideas of peace, secularism and the values of the Indian constitution. “When new people join us, we try to organise such meetings to speak to them about our ideas,” he added.
This comes just a day after Pandey was put under house arrest before a candlelight vigil at Lucknow’s Hazratganj against the Centre’s decisions on Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. Punyani was also staying at Pandey’s house at the time.
“I came to Lucknow from Mumbai yesterday and stayed at Sandeep Pandey’s house. We had organised a rally to raise out voice to demand that democracy be restored in Kashmir,” Puniyani told The Wire. They had marched for just 1 km when police came with buses with the intent to arrest and they had to disperse, he added. Puniyani asserts that the event in Ayodhya had nothing to do with the Kashmir issue and he saw no reason other than BJP’s ideological agenda that the event was cancelled.
The Wire tried to contact Pandey, Shastri and Faisal Khan but they were unavailable at the time of publication of this story.