The Karnataka police is examining a week-long 'arms training' camp conducted in a school by Hindu right wing group Bajrang Dal in Kodagu district of Karnataka. The camp, termed 'Shourya Prashikshana Varga' (bravery) programme, was held from May 5 to 11 at the Sai Shankar Educational Institution in Ponnampet in the district.
During the training programme, which was attended by 116 Bajrang Dal workers, weapons like trishul (trident) and the air gun were distributed among the participants for training. "There was a rifle training programme in which participants were shown how to aim with an air gun. We also had the trishula deekshe and the trishuls were distributed as a part of this," said Puneeth Attavar, a Bajrang Dal convenor from Mangaluru who was a part of the team training the workers.
Activists and opposition leaders raised an alarm about the arms training held inside an educational institution and questioned how police permission was given for the same. Despite repeated attempts, the Kodagu Superintendent of Police MA Aiyappa was unavailable for comment.
The Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political wing of the Islamic organisation Popular Front of India (PFI), filed a police complaint over the training camp while Congress leaders Rizwan Arshad and Dinesh Gundu Rao were among those who voiced their opposition.
Authorities of the school, where the camp was held, said the premises had been used for training for ten years and that they were unaware of training with arms. The training programme was held during the vacation period for students in the institution.
'Love Jihad', conversion, cattle slaughter among topics discussed
Raghu Sakleshpura, South Karnataka convenor for the Bajrang Dal said that apart from arms training, there were discussions among the Bajrang Dal workers about the problems they were facing in their localities. "We brought up a few important topics like 'love jihad', conversion and cattle slaughter and asked how many cases they had observed in their area and discussed what can be done to counter them," Raghu Sakleshpura told TNM.
'Love jihad' is a bogey term used by right-wing organisations to propagate the theory that Muslim men âtrapâ and marry Hindu women with malafide intentions.The Union government had told the Lok Sabha in 2019 that no âcase of âlove jihadâ had been reported by any of the central agenciesâ.
Bajrang Dal members said that the programme had not taken place for two years due to the lockdowns enforced over the COVID-19 outbreak. "We begin the training from 4:30 am and continue till 10:15 pm. There is a strict regimen of physical training, chanting of shlokas, discussions and educational sessions talking about our country and religion," Raghu Sakleshpura said. The physical training included running drills and training with the nunchaku, he added.
Harsha murder invoked
The Hindu right-wing group claimed that arms training was needed to defend themselves from attacks. A photo of Harsha Jingade was hung near the dais throughout the programme. "Bajrang Dal workers are doing the work of our religion so we should also prepare to defend ourselves," Puneeth Attavar said.
Harsha, a Bajrang Dal worker from Shivamogga, was stabbed to death in February 2022. Police arrested ten Muslim men and invoked the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act following the murder. The police however said that the motive behind the murder was a clash between the accused and the victim in a court six months prior to the murder.
Others who attended the programme included Bajrang Dal national convenor Sohan Singh Solanki while photographs showed BJP MLA Appachu Ranjan also present at the venue.