Hardline Hindu youth call the shots on streets of northern India
One recent afternoon, dozens of young Hindu men, swords drawn and saffron scarves draped around their necks, rode motorcycles through a Muslim neighborhood near the capital of India's most populous state and chanted "Hail Lord Ram!", APA reports uoting Reuters
In the preceding weeks they and their peers had acted as informers, police officials say, helping them identify thousands of Muslim-run butchers' shops that have since been shut and urging officers to stop Muslim youths talking to Hindu girls in the street.
Their organization is the Hindu Yuva Vahini (Hindu Youth Force), a private militia set up in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath, a local priest and politician, to assert the dominance of India's main religion which he felt was being eroded by minority faiths.
Since Adityanath's promotion last month to chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, home to 220 million people of which a fifth are Muslims, the group has become emboldened, openly proclaiming its Hindu roots and putting pressure on police.
The appointment of the 44-year-old, known for his fiery anti-Muslim rhetoric and a campaign against "Love Jihad" - or the conversion of Hindu women to Islam - has shocked some Indians, who say it undermines the country's secular status.
They worry that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "development for all" agenda will be overtaken by radical, Hindu-first policies with the potential to stoke communal tensions that have erupted sporadically through India's 70-year history.
Adityanath declined to be interviewed for this article.
"Blood can be shed, and Muslims will feel the pain," Pankaj Singh, a senior leader of the Hindu Youth Force, told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the rally in Unnao, an hour's drive southwest of the capital Lucknow.
Such comments have sent a chill through some in the Muslim community, on the defensive in Uttar Pradesh since this year's election in which Adityanath rallied the Hindu majority and delivered a resounding victory to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In return for his successful campaign, the party handed the priest one of India's most powerful positions, emboldening his militia to act and speak more openly than it did under the previous administration.
Based in Uttar Pradesh and funded by members who want to win favor with local power brokers, the youth force says it is 2 million strong and growing.
In Unnao, police stood back as members blocked traffic, honked horns and shouted pro-Hindu slogans on the busy streets. Muslims who came out to watch did so quietly from their doorways.
Related news releases
- 19.07.2018Civilians killed in Afghanistan air strike: officials
- 19.07.2018Buildings collapse in Delhi killing at least three, more feared dead
- 19.07.201810 injured in 4 explosions in Iraq’s Kirkuk
- 18.07.2018Yemen's Houthis say they attacked Aramco refinery in Riyadh with drone
- 17.07.2018Unknown military aircraft crashes in Northern Syria
- 17.07.2018Women in Saudi Arabia Will Soon Be Able to Train as Pilots
- 17.07.2018Iran ready to boost uranium enrichment if talks with EU fail - Official
- 17.07.2018Protests in Iraq leave 5 dead, 190 injured
- 17.07.2018Syrian army says it captures strategic hill overlooking Israeli border
- 15.07.2018Indonesian police shoot dead three suspected militants
- 15.07.2018Rouhani: "The US ‘more isolated than ever’ over Iran sanctions"
- 14.07.2018At least 10 killed by landslide in northern Myanmar
- 14.07.2018Velayati: Russia wants to create joint electrical grid with Iran, Azerbaijan
- 14.07.2018China floods wreak havoc, block roads and railways
- 14.07.2018Palestinian teenager killed in Israel-Gaza border protests
- 13.07.2018Suicide bomber kills 128 in attack on Pakistani election rally
- 13.07.2018Former Pakistani premier Sharif arrested in Lahore
- 13.07.2018Indian planes carrying more than 300 people avoid mid-air collision by 200 feet
- 12.07.2018FBI Presents New Details on Lead Up to Saddam Hussein's Interrogation
- 12.07.2018Kim Jong-un: "Extraordinary efforts' made by Trump for improving US-N Korea ties
- 11.07.2018Iran Supreme Leader's aide hails 'strategic' ties with Russia before Putin talks
- 11.07.201812 killed in election rally in NW Pakistan
- 10.07.2018Death toll in Japan flood disaster rises to 156
- 10.07.2018Last remaining kid, coach evacuated from Thai cave - media
- 10.07.2018At least 140 dead after heavy rain and landslides in Japan
- 09.07.2018Death toll rises to 126 in W. Japan after flood, rain
- 08.07.2018Japan floods and heavy rain leave at least 41 dead, dozens missing - UPDATED
- 07.07.2018North Korea regrets US stance at talks
- 07.07.2018Iran calls for EU help as shipping giant pulls out for fear of U.S. sanctions
- 07.07.2018Insider attack in S. Afghanistan kills 1 US serviceman, injures 2 others - NATO - UPDATED
- 07.07.2018Indian army kills 3 civilians in southern Kashmir
- 07.07.2018Both sides seek to 'clarify' as Pompeo holds second day of North Korea talks
- 07.07.2018No breakthrough in nuclear talks as Iran demands more after U.S. exit
- 07.07.2018Israeli air strike hits Syria at Golan frontier
- 07.07.2018Palestinian killed as Gaza protests against Israel enter fourth month
- 07.07.2018Second Saudi teen kills self after playing online game
- 06.07.2018Iranian leader describes EU proposals to save JCPOA as ‘disappointing’
- 05.07.2018German Coalition parties reach deal on Migration
- 05.07.2018Iranian FM summons German, French, Belgian diplomats
- 05.07.2018Pakistani court sends fake degree mill owner to jail
- 18.04.2017Japan may consider deploying troops in case of DPRK missile fall in its waters
- 18.04.2017285 killed during Myanmar’s water festival
- 18.04.2017Iranian president criticizes IRGC for interfering country’s economic affairs
- 17.04.2017US and South Korea agree 'early' deployment of THAAD missile defence system
- 16.04.2017Death toll in Syrian blast rises 100 - UPDATED
- 16.04.2017Ahmadinejad: "Iran has nothing to fear from US"