There’s been a collective outpouring of grief, anger, horror, and shock at the brutal gangrape and murder an 8-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua and the rape of a 17-year-old girl in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh. While many took to the streets demanding justice, others voiced their anger against the violent crimes on social media platforms.
But amidst this outpouring of grief and horror one right-wing organisation from Hyderabad - Hindu Sanghatan - has been monitoring social media posts to find out and target who is making ‘derogatory’ comments or sharing posts against Hindus. The Sanghatan, which has taken upon the ‘duty’ of being protectors of Hindu culture, has filed police complaints against three persons for ‘hurting Hindu sentiments’.
One of their first targets was a journalist, who on Twitter shared a cartoon of Sita and the Hindu deity Ram. On learning about the recent rape cases, Sita tells her husband Ram, “I was so glad I was kidnapped by Ravan and not your bhakts!”
Their next target was the maker of the cartoon – journalist Swathi Vadlamudi. In their police complaint against her, the Hindu Sanghatan states, “It is submitted that the offensive post was sketched by Swathi Vadlamudi, who is a journalist and resident of Hyderabad. Therefore, I request your good office to add Swathi Vadlamudi as an accused in crime no…for sketching the derogatory cartoon on Hindu gods, hurting the sentiment of Hindus, in the interest of justice.”
On Monday, the Sanghatan filed a complaint at Saidabad police station against a Kerala-based artist, Durga Malathi, who had sketched and shared images of sexual organs superimposed on Hindu religious symbols.
Besides the police complaints, all three individuals have faced death threats and a torrent of abuse from individuals, who objected to their posts.
Durga took to Facebook on Tuesday and wrote in Malayalam, "I drew these images with the description that there are people who think with their genitals, exert their politics using genitals. While this Bharat is theirs too, soon this Bharat will only be theirs. The pictures were about the people, who raped a little girl inside a place or worship, and against those people who are defending the accused. How is that an insult to the Hindu religion? I am facing social media attack only because I reacted against the Sangh Parivar. Not just verbal abuse, but posts in many languages are circulating, with my photograph. This is fascism. I didn't insult any religion. If you thought you will shower abuses on a woman and she will run away scared, you are wrong."
But who is behind the Hindu Sanghatan?
Formed in 2017, the Hindu Sanghatan is headed by its founder-president Karunasagar Kashimshetty, a lawyer from Hyderabad, who claims no affiliation to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Speaking to TNM, Karunasagar says the Sanghatan is an informal outfit based out of Saidabad and comprises of 3-4 like-minded individuals. Karunasagar says, “The organization is not a formal one. We don’t have any office bearers. We just have 3-4 like-minded individuals.”
But their ‘mission’ is clear. “The intent of the Sanghatan is to find public posts, which ridicule and demean Hindus and take legal action against them,” explains Karunasagar, who gets tipped-off about ‘objectionable’ posts from his peers, who are active on social media.
The lawyer adds, “There is a rise of pseudo-seculars and pseudo-liberals who are maligning Hindu religion in all protests. Hence we wanted to take legal action against those tainting Hindu religion.”
Slamming Swathi’s cartoon, Karunasagar justifies the police complaint against her stating, “What is the connection with Rama in this? Her cartoon says that all Ram devotees are rapists. How can she say that? Can she say the same thing about Prophet Mohammed? If Swathi has a problem with BJP ministers and the government, let her object to them. Why link it to Hindu religion? How is that justified?”
Two BJP ministers in the Mehbooba Mufti-led government had participated in protests defending the rape accused in the Kathua case. Following the uproar, the two ministers eventually resigned last week.
Claiming to be all for freedom of expression, the Sanghatan leader, however, says, “Of course, I am for freedom of speech, but it comes with responsibility. You can have a dialogue, but not abuse. I found that cartoon to be very offensive.”
While Swathi Vadlamudi had told TNM that she received death threats, with one individual threatening her with a Charlie Hebdo style attack, Karunasagar dismissed it and says, “Hindus are very secular and peaceful. Can Swathi draw a similar caricature on Prophet Mohammed? Incidents like Charlie Hebdo would have taken place. We are peaceful people, so we just sought legal action against her.”
The Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, a French weekly magazine was attacked by two armed men in January 2015 after they published a satirical cartoon on Prophet Mohammed.
For Karunsagar the protests demanding justice for the Kathua victim have been nothing short of a malicious campaign against Hindus. “A rapist is a rapist, he doesn’t have any religion,” he declares.
But when this reporter pointed out that the chargesheet filed by the J&K police stated that the motive of the horrific crime was to “dislodge” a group of Bakherwal Muslim nomads from Rasana village in Kathua, the Sanghatan chief brushed it aside.
“The chargesheet is just an allegation. It has not been proved yet. Physical evidence and witnesses are required to prove a charge. Similar charges were made by the CBI during UPA against several Hindus in the Mecca Masjid blasts, but all them of were acquitted, as there was no evidence,” Karunasagar says dismissively.
Edited by Anna Isaac