Shock after leaders of several far-right Hindu groups allegedly call for genocide of minorities in India

A screengrab from a widely circulated speech where a religious leader identified as Prabodhanand Giri is seen giving an inflammatory speech (Screengrab/Video)
A screengrab from a widely circulated speech where a religious leader identified as Prabodhanand Giri is seen giving an inflammatory speech (Screengrab/Video)

A widely circulated video on social media allegedly showing far-right Hindu leaders giving open calls for the use of weapons against Muslims, a minority in India, has sparked condemnation and outrage from rights activists.

The clip is from a religious conclave believed to be held in Haridwar city of the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, an important Hindu pilgrimage site, between 17-20 December.

The three day conclave was streamed live on YouTube where dozens of monks are seen addressing the gathering and the alleged calls for taking up arms against Muslim minorities were given.

In one widely circulated clip, a religious leader identified as Prabodhanand Giri says: “You should either be ready to die or kill, there’s no other option.”

"Like Myanmar, our police, our politicians, our Army and every Hindu must pick up weapons and conduct a safayi abhiyan (cleaning movement or reference to ethnic cleansing). There is no other option left."

At the same event, another speaker Sadhvi Annapurna, general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha [Hindu Grand Assembly], allegedly called for the murder of Muslims.

“Nothing is possible without weapons. If you want to eliminate their population then kill them. Be ready to kill and be ready to go to jail. Even if 100 of us are ready to kill 20 lakhs of them (Muslims), then we will be victorious, and go to jail,” she was heard saying in the video.

“Like [Nathuram] Godse (the man who killed Mahatma Gandhi), I am ready to be maligned, but I will pick up arms to defend my Hindutva from every demon who is a threat to my religion,” she allegedly said.

“Economic boycott won’t work. Hindu groups need to update themselves. Swords look good on stage only," Yati Narsinghanand, a hardline Hindu leader who was reportedly the organiser of the event and has been known for making inflammatory statements, said, as the crowd cheered.

“This battle against Muslims will be won by those with better weapons,” he added.

Among other speakers of the event, some monks warned against the “Islamisation of India”, a conspiracy theory of Hindu-right wing, while one also said he has threatened people in the city against celebrating Christmas and Eid.

The clips, which have been in circulation on social media this week, have sparked condemnation from activists, politicians, former military chiefs and even tennis legend Martina Navratilova. Hashtags like #ArrestBhagwaTerrorists (arrest Saffron clad terrorists) and #ArrestHaridwarGenocideMongers have been trending on Twitter.

However, police did not take action on the egregious hate speeches until Thursday stating there were no official complaints before that.

But after growing calls, a case has been registered against Jitendra Narayan Tyagi, formerly known as Wasin Rizvi, who converted to Hinduism, and unnamed "others" under charges of "promoting hatred between religious groups".

Uttarakhand government spokesperson Subodh Uniyal was quoted by the Indian Express newspaper as saying: “Whatever happened at the Haridwar Dharam Sansad (religious conclave) was wrong. Police will take required action against those involved and responsible.”

While the complaint doesn’t mention many of those involved in the event, people on social media identified many of the faces who have repeatedly been accused of anti-Muslim hatred, including many who have been photographed with the members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing political party led by prime minister Narendra Modi.

Videos and pictures, purportedly from the same event, showed the presence of BJP’s former spokesperson Ashwini Upadhyay, who already faces charges of helping organise an event where slogans against Muslims were raised. The chief of the party’s women front Udita Tyagi was reportedly also present. Mr Upadhyay was spotted on the stage with far-right leaders.

Later, Mr Upadhyay issued a video statement on Twitter saying he was being targeted like Mr Modi and the leader of India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state, Yogi Adityanath. Both leaders are known for their Hindu nationalistic stands in the past.

Indian news outlets The Wire reported that Mr Giri, who asked for the Indian army and Hindus to pick up arms “like in Myanmar” has also been photographed with UP chief minister Adityanath, a saffron-clad monk himself.

While outrage on social media grew over repeated calls for violence against Muslims, Mr Giri said he stood by his statements.

"I am not ashamed of what I have said. I am not afraid of the police. I stand by my statement," he told NDTV.

“Police has the right to investigate who else was part of the event. The delay in the FIR (police complaint) is very suspicious,” says Anas Tanwir, a Supreme Court lawyer who has been fighting several cases related to hate speech against Muslims, told The Independent.

“This also seems like the police are dragging its feet in catching the culprits and those who enjoy proximity with the government,” he added.

Several incidents of hate speech against Muslims, including inflammatory statements by members of the government, have been recorded in recent months in India. A 2020 report by Amnesty called India a “dangerous and violent space for Muslims”.

In January 2020, Anurag Thakur, then Minister of State for Finance, had said at an election rally in Delhi: "Shoot down the rascals/the traitors to the country." No action was taken against him — either by the police or his party.