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The Rediff Special/ Chindu Sreedharan

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The last of a five-part series on the attacks on Christians in the Hindi heartland.

It began with my visit to Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader V H Dalmia in New Delhi, and his secretary's telephone call to Mathura.

That gentleman spoke to their Mathura in-charge, Devendra Rathore: A journalist from Bombay, Sreedharanji, was sitting in Dalmiaji's office right now. He would be coming down to Mathura shortly. He wanted to interact with Bajrang Dal activists. Dalmiaji wanted that arranged.

Could Devendraji take care of that?

Of course Devendraji could.

Which was how I found myself at his home the next evening. Before we proceed, a few words of introduction. My assignment was, in my editor's words, to "get inside the VHP-Bajrang Dal mindset". See what made them tick.

In that, I must confess I failed. In light of their shouted-from-the-rooftop Hindutva and anti-Christian stand, I had expected the VHP and its youth organisation to be more open.

I was disappointed. Like the Indian army, it believed -- at least in my case -- in 'conducted' interviews. Of course, I could meet anyone I chose to ask for. But it had to be in the presence of Devendraji. "Dalmiaji wants it that way," he smiled.

Devendra Rathore is in his early 50s, but looks a decade younger. A lawyer, he said he was. Once upon a time he used to be a reporter. He has an easy way of speaking, assured, scrupulously polite, friendly.

"Look, my revered guest," he seemed to tell me at every point. "I am not harmful -- and neither is my socio-cultural organisation."

That was hard to believe. What I had heard about the Bajrang Dal was not exactly positive.

Media reports had informed me that the Dal is the VHP's young blood; it came into being in 1984; its members are considered the "stormtroopers" of its mother organisation; it has "7,082 units countrywide"; it gave the "Ram Janmabhoomi movement a militant slang", and so on.

More to the point, it is the Bajrang Dal that is alleged to be behind the attacks on Christians across the country.

"That's all propaganda," Rathore said in shudh Hindi. That was the VHP's official line. "We have started working in the areas the Christians are doing forcible conversion. We are exposing them; this is their way of countering us."

Forcible conversions? In Mathura too?

"Of course," said Rathore. "In Mathura, things are not so bad because we take good care. Let our PRO come, he will give you details of such conversions."

The 'PRO', Vijay Bahadur Singh, walked in a little later. He is thin, short, and 41. He was a Bajrang Dal member till last year. Usually the Dal members are below 35.

"Vijayji is an exception," Rathore said. "He has been with the Dal right from its inception."

Bahadur Singh said he would certainly arrange my meetings. No, no, Sreedharanji need not trouble himself by going to the activists; they would come to him, to this very room. When? Well, that was up to Sreedharanji. Tomorrow evening?

The next evening, thus, found me returning to the VHP leader's home. They were waiting for me.

"Amarkant Mishraji, Bajrang Dal vibhag saiyochak [regional convenor], Rajesh Chaudharyji, Bajrang Dal zilla saiyochak [Mathura district convenor] and Om Prakash Singhji, VHP zilla mahamantri [district general secretary]," Rathore introduced.

A typical Bajrang Dal activist, I was to gather from them, would be in his early 20s. Eighteen was the minimum age to sign up. Most members had grown up in the Sangh faith. That is to say, they had been associated with the Hindutva ideology from childhood, and had worked in organisations like the RSS or its student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad before joining the Dal.

Of course, there were exceptions like 28-year-old Yogendra Bharangal. I was to meet him the next morning. He had joined the Dal just two months ago.

"I was attracted by the good work the Dal is doing for the society," he was to tell me.

That is another thing about the VHP-Bajrang Dal. Despite its violent image, it has done a lot of good work. To name just two instances, it was the Dal and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that were in the forefront of relief work after the Orissa super cyclone and the Charki Dadri air mishap.

I asked Chaudhary what attracted him to the fold. "Desh bhakti aur Hindu vichar [Nationalism and Hindu thought]," he replied. "Mother India is like our own mother. I liked that concept. Mera jeevan Bharat Ma ke liye hai, Hindutva ke liye hai [My life is for Mother India and Hindutva]."

Which, precisely, is why the Dal is against Christianity.

"Our thoughts can never match the thoughts of Christians," Chaudhary elaborated. "Their way of worship is very different from ours. There's no way that will match ours."

Has he interacted with Christians? No, not really.

Was he conversant with Christian teachings? Well, he hadn't read the Bible, if that's what I was asking, but he knew the basics all right. Rathore stepped in. "The Christians are converting," he said. "Woh paap hain [That's a sin].

"It is an alien faith. It is not for the good of India. Whoever is for India, we are for him. Whoever is against India, we are against him," he added.

"They [the Christians] are born Indians," said Mishra. "But they are not Indians by heart. They are foreigners."

"Kisi vyakti ka dharam parivartan karna woh rashtra parivartan karne ka saman hain [To convert someone is like the same as changing his nationality]," added Chaudhary. "And that's what the Christians are up to."

The missionaries swear that there has not been even one conversion in Mathura in recent years, I told them.

"That's not true," said Chaudhary. "We will give you details of at least four cases. Because we have taken care, we figure only less than 50 people have converted in the last few years."

How does their organisation tackle such attempts?

"We don't believe in violence. That's not our way," Rathore answered. "We meet the converts and try to win them over with love. Hum unko samajne ke liye koshish karta hain [We try to make them understand]."

And if they don't agree?

"We let them be," Rathore shrugged. "That's their decision." I brought up the Babri Masjid demolition. Was Rathore saying that his organisation had no hand in that incident?

It was Bahadur Singh who answered. He is, along with the likes of Home Minister L K Advani and VHP leader Ashok Singhal, one of the 49 people who were charged with the demolition.

"We had gone there in answer to a call for volunteers at the mandir site," Bahadur Singh said. "There were too many of us. One of the crowd, we don't know who, tried to cross over to the masjid area.

"A security personnel there pushed him and he fell down. That set of some stone throwing. The next thing we knew, things had got out of hand. The crowd was flooding into the masjid.

"Our leaders were all shouting. Ashok Singhalji was shouting, Vinay Katiyarji was shouting, Advaniji was shouting, trying to call them back. But the crowd was in frenzy. For the next five-six hours it was as if they were driven by some divine power.

"We did not demolish the masjid with the intention of building a temple. It just happened. No, we don't regret the action. What had to happen happened. What happened was only right. That land was ours," he concluded.

"You will not find us involved in any other violence. That's not our way," Rathore repeated.

So there you are. On one hand, you have the Christians who feel the VHP-Bajrang is persecuting them. On the other, the 'non-violent' VHP-Bajrang Dal, which accuses the Church of conversion.

Who's the saint, who the Satan?

You tell us.

PART 1: Witness to a murder
PART 2: Bone of conversion
PART 3: The truth that killed Vijay Ekka
PART 4: 'We will remain Christians till we die'

The Rediff Specials

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