On Sunday, Varanasi Police registered an FIR against five people for allegedly putting up posters warning non-Hindus to keep away from those public places. However no arrests have been made so far. The posters had been seen for the first time on Thursday January 6. Those booked for putting up the posters are from the “Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)” and “Bajrang Dal Kashi”.
The action comes after much public pressure and peaceful protests and awarenes generated by SabrangIndia, Citizens of Justice and Peace volunteers; civil rights activists and scores of citizens of Varanasi had risen together and spoke out against the illegal communal discrimination and hate that the posters had spread.
In the wake of hate speech, exclusive and divisive ideologies being spread by the fundamentalist forces, many citizens of Varanasi recommitted themselves to secularism and upheld the composite culture of the city. A series of public programs under the banner ‘paigam-e-muhabbat’ (message of love), showcased songs on themes of fraternal love, unity in diversity, and a play on communal harmony was also performed by the artistes of Prerna Kala Manch, the theatre troupe of Vishwa Jyoti Communications, and message of unity in diversity was powerfully presented. There was a mushaira or poetry session, the campaign had actually begun on January 4 at Bhimnagar, and was initiated by Father Anand IMS and Father Praveen Joshi IMS, of Vishwa Jyoti Communications.
However on January 8 ‘paigam-e-muhabat’ was held in Assi Ghat on the bank of Varanasi where many communally divisive posters were pasted by Hindutva groups “warning non Hindus against visiting the river bank” from Assi to Panchganga Ghat. They failed in their vile mission and ‘paigam-e-muhabbat’ was attended by a large number of locals, pilgrims, tourists and university students. A varied group of residents of Varanasi and visitors gathered to exchange greetings, listen to poetry, songs and celebrate fellowship at its famed ghats. While should have passed for just a nice gathering of friends on any other day at the ghats always swarming with people, it was a major expression of secular solidarity in the face of communal mobs. Not everyone in this group was a Hindu. Hence demonstrating that the hateful, communal posters that had been pasted on many ghats (river banks) in the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Thursday had failed to incite hate in the ancient city.
The posters, had, ‘warned’ non-Hindus to stay away from the public ghats of Varanasi including Asi Ghat, and announced that entry of non-Hindus to the ghats was prohibited. The posters bore the names of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal Kashi and read, "Ganga, ghats of Varanasi and temples are symbols of Sanatan Dharma, Indian culture and centre of our faith. Those who follow Sanatan Dharma are welcome at the ghats. These are not picnic spots."
However, the river Ganga belongs to all those who cherish its cultural and natural heritage, and the gathering on Saturday was proof of that. According to news reports, those who pasted these discriminatory posters on have have also been ‘punished’ by the organization they belong to. They have been asked to leave the organisations, reported Amar Ujala, adding that the matter was discussed in an online meeting of the organisations’ officials till late on Friday night as the voices of protest rose across the city. However, it is not known if any police or administrative action has been taken against the men who put up these anti-Constitutional posters at all.
The posters bearing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal’s office-bearers’ names were removed from on Ganga Ghat after the civil society uproar, and by Friday the men who did this were ‘removed from their posts’. However this ‘removal’ too came after the ‘message of hate’ had been telecast.
Uttar Pradesh will go to polls in seven phases for the mammoth 403-seat Assembly from February 10 to March 7. According to opposition leaders of the state such posters were yet another attempt to polarise the voters with fuelling a ‘Hindu-Muslim divide’. However VHP’s national spokesperson Vinod Bansal was quick to distance the organisation from this attempt and told the media that an enquiry will be done, adding that the identity of the two persons seen in the videos that emerged online was yet to be ascertained.
Initially this claim was echoed by Additional Superintendent of Police, Kashi (Varanasi), Rajesh Kumar Pandey who told the media that the police was “trying to identify people who put up those posters. Action will be taken against them as per decisions taken. All posters have been removed.” The probe is reportedly being conducted by the Bhelupur police station. However police told the media, “So far, no written complaint has been made with the police. However, the police took note of the episode after some local groups highlighted it.”
According to reports, videos of the men, seen claiming to belong to the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, had emerged online and they claimed to have put up the posters. One was Rajan Gupta, who claimed to be “VHP’s Kashi mahanagar mantri”, and purportedly said that the posters were a “message for people not following Sanatan Dharma”. Then there was Nikhil Tripathi ‘Rudra’, who claimed to be “Kashi’s Bajrang Dal sanyojak”, and purportedly said that the poster was a “warning to people — River Ganga is our mother, it is not a picnic spot. They have been warned to stay away from here. If they don’t remain at a distance, Bajrang Dal will make sure they are (sent) away from here. Non-Hindus violate the purity of the ghats. That is why this warning has been issued to them.”
By Sunday, police registered a case against the two at Bhelupur station, reported Indian Express. Bhelupur Station House Officer (SHO) Rama Kant Dubey told the media that Gupta and Tripathi had been served notices and ordered to deposit personal bonds of Rs 5 lakh each to ensure peace is maintained.
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In December 2021, the area MP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Kashi Vishwanath corridore in Varanasi and put the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva agenda front and centre. He took a dip in the Ganga, performed an elaborate puja, the event was telecast live. The Prime Minister had also said, “Terrorists have invaded this city, tried to destroy it! History has borne witness to Aurangzeb’s atrocities and terror. He tried to change civilization with the might of his sword, he tried to crush culture using extreme methods. But the soil of this land is different from that of others. If Aurangzeb comes here, Shivaji stands up to him!”
The PM has so far remained silent on communal posters put up in his own constituency, just as he is silent on communal statements by his party colleagues, as well as right-wing groups. Many BJP politicians, have been echoing anti-Muslim and anti-Christian hate speeches like the ones made at Haridwar recently. Even though they have made it to global headlines for their extreme views, however as they are yet to be censured by the BJP’s senior leadership, it may be seen as an ‘encouragement’ and thus inspire many more.