In a six-month-long investigation, Sagar, a staff-writer at The Caravan, scrutinised Facebook live broadcasts by members affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the Delhi violence of February 2020. In this series based on the investigation, The Caravan reports on the Hindutva mobilisation that preceded the violence, its political and communal nature, and the role played by the RSS, BJP and affiliated organisations such as the Bajrang Dal in fomenting hate against those protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019.
Hours before the communal violence broke out in northeast Delhi on 23 February 2020, members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and of other Sangh Parivar groups, mobilised the local Hindu populace to come out onto the streets in Maujpur. That day, a clash between a Hindu mob that gathered at Maujpur and protesters opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019, who had occupied the road at the Jafrabad metro, had marked the beginning of over three days of communal violence in the capital. At the time, the union home minister Amit Shah had issued a press release identifying the violence as “spontaneous.” But Facebook live broadcasts by members of the Sangh Parivar—as subsequently confirmed in interviews with them—provide a large repository of digital evidence that demonstrates that the Maujpur mob was political and deliberately mobilised on communal lines.
On the morning of 23 February, Anupam Pandey, a ward-level president in the BJP’s Delhi unit, admonished Hindus for sitting dispassionate at their homes as resistance against the CAA grew in the capital. The previous night, a group of local Muslim women protesters had enforced a chakka jam, or blockade, on a stretch of the Jafrabad–Maujpur road in northeast Delhi, demanding a repeal of the controversial citizenship law. In a Facebook post at 10.46 am, Pandey wrote, “Sit in your homes till they block roads to our homes. Shame on 100 crore people!” He was referring to the nation’s Hindu population. “I appeal to my Hindu brothers to reach Maujpur square in as large number as possible. Jai Shree Ram!”
Pandey was then the president of Sonia Vihar mandal, a ward in northeast Delhi. Within the next three hours, he urged people to join him at Maujpur in three more Facebook posts. Through the day, Pandey also posted photos and livestreams of him occupying the square along with other party colleagues. That included Kapil Mishra and Kaushal Mishra, both of whom lost the state assembly elections earlier that month; Kusum Tomar, the BJP’s municipal councilor from the Babarpur ward in northeast Delhi; and Satyadev Choudhary, who was then the president of the party’s Maujpur mandal. In each post, Pandey appealed to Hindus to gather at the square “for their Hindu brothers.” In his fourth post that day, at 12:24 pm, Pandey wrote, “We will not let Jafrabad become Shaheen Bagh … We will come out in support of CAA and Delhi Police. At 3 pm at Maujpur chowk.”
At 3:35 pm, Deepraj Rawal started a Facebook livestream from Maujpur, opening with a similar appeal: “Jai Shree Ram to all brothers, please reach to Maujpur square in large numbers.” Rawal is the president of the northeast Delhi unit of the Kisan Morcha, the BJP’s farmers’ wing, who had served as the district chief of the Bajrang Dal for five years before that. Others present at Maujpur standing next to him in the live video soon called out, “Hindu Ekta Zindabad!”—Hail Hindu unity—as Rawal and the crowd chanted back in unison. One of the men in Rawal’s video declared, “We are not sleeping anymore. We have awakened. We are not old Hindus. All of us have awakened.” The video was seen over ten thousand times.
That evening, Akash Verma, a district executive in the Naveen Shahdara unit, another region in northeast Delhi, of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha—the BJP’s youth wing—also started a live broadcast from Maujpur on his Facebook account. Verma took his viewers on a tour of Maujpur Chowk, joyfully humming along to the slogans of the Hindu mobs as they chanted, “Modiji, tum latth bajao, hum tumhare saath hain. lambe-lambe latth bajao, hum tumhare sath hain”—Modiji, you beat them with sticks, we are with you. Beat them with long sticks, we are with you. Simultaneously, he appealed his viewers to join him at Maujpur in large numbers. His video had over forty thousand viewers.
At one point during his livestream, Verma showed a wagon filled with stones, unloading them on the road. “See this, the stones have reached the roads.” He began instructing the driver, “Daalo behanchod, daalo”—Drop them, sister fucker, drop them. Another voice from the mob shouted, “Vijay Park ke mullo ke liye yahin girao, behanchod”—Drop them here for the Muslims of Vijay Park, sister fucker—referring a Muslim-dominated neighbourhood in the area. As the wagon finally tilted at a 45-degree angle to drop all the stones to the ground, the mob, including Verma, erupted in cheers of “Jai Shree Ram!”
Pandey, Rawal and Verma are among dozens of individuals associated with the BJP and the RSS who mobilised a mob to come out onto the streets on 23 February, invoking Hindu unity while stoking fear and hatred. By 4 pm that day, violence broke out between the Hindus gathered at the chowk and the anti-CAA protesters. At least 53 persons were killed in the communal violence over the next three days, 40 of them were Muslims. Yet, during a reshuffle of the BJP’s chain of command between August and December that year, Pandey was promoted to the post of president of the party’s north Delhi unit. He was also given the additional charge of district in-charge of the party’s Purvanchal Morcha, a wing for migrants in Delhi from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar known as Purvanchalis. Rawal was not promoted. Verma is now the social media in-charge of the BJYM’s New Shahdara unit.
The Delhi Police’s version of events concerning the 23 February outbreak paints a different picture than that revealed by the Facebook live broadcasts by the members of the Hindu mob. In an affidavit filed before the Delhi High Court in July 2020, the Delhi Police noted that a large crowd of anti-CAA protesters had gathered at the Jafrabad metro station on the night of 22 February, and blocked one side of the 66-foot road—the Jafrabad–Maujpur road. The next day, the affidavit stated, “information was received that at 3:00 PM that some people demanding reopening of carriage way of 66-Foot Road at the Jafrabad Metro station would assemble in Maujpur Chowk, which is about 750 meters from Jafrabad Metro station.” It noted that soon after a crowd gathered at Maujpur, residents of nearby areas—the affidavit names three Muslim-dominated localities—began pelting stones at those demanding the opening of the road.
It is not just Pandey, Rawal and Verma’s videos that contradict this narrative—I reviewed the live broadcasts of over 20 members of the BJP, the RSS, and their affiliates, and then confirmed from these individuals that they had uploaded the videos on their own Facebook page. Their videos and my conversations with them revealed various motivations behind the mobilisation at Maujpur—including a purported urgent need for Hindu unity; the belief that the protesters were illegal immigrants who threatened the existence of Hindus and deserved no mercy; the misplaced fear that the anti-CAA protesters would attack them in their homes; and a conviction that the protesters were ignorant of the law. None of the videos portrayed the image presented by the Delhi Police.
Most importantly, these videos demonstrate that the Hindu mob that gathered at Maujpur was neither an impromptu nor a peaceful gathering. It was a mob that had been mobilised with unabashedly communal messaging, one that was driven by a manufactured fear and hatred, and one that was prepared for violence. My interviews with them further indicated that almost all of them were guided by the prime minister Narendra Modi’s statements on the CAA in their conviction that the protests against the law were anti-Hindu and a Pakistani conspiracy to break the nation. “Modiji clearly told them that CAA was about giving citizenship and not taking away anyone’s citizenship,” Anjali Varma, a woman who broadcasted a video live from Maujpur, told me. Her Facebook page stated that she had been working with the BJP since 2019, but she denied the association. She identified herself as a “Hinduvadi” and said she joined the Maujpur mob because the “CAA is good for Hindus” and “to support Modiji.”
For several months after the February violence, I curated live videos and pictures from Maujpur posted on Facebook, sifting through at least 500 profiles in order to understand the circumstances in the lead up to the violence. I focused on individuals who reached Maujpur on 23 February before the violence broke out, and those who either participated in the violence or mobilised others to join the crowd. Soon, a discernible pattern emerged, revealing direct or indirect associations between the mob and the Sangh—as members of the BJP and RSS, or with affiliated organisations such as the BJYM, the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other lesser known Hindutva groups. Several of them said they grew up attending RSS shakhas—the basic unit of the Sangh’s organisational structure that conducts physical exercises, including paramilitary training, and indoctrination sessions.
The Facebook livestreams also provide valuable insight into the demographic and socio-political backgrounds of the participants of the mob. I scrutinised at least 26 livestreams and confirmed their authenticity from the respective individuals. Their names, their Facebook profiles and the organisations they were members of revealed that the majority of them—16—were Brahmins. Five livestreams were by members of the Rajput community, three by individuals from backward classes and two of them were Jats. Many of them also headed their own community-oriented organisations that worked for the welfare of their respective castes such as the Parshuram Sena, a Brahmin group; the All India Kshatriya Mahasabha, a Rajput group; and the Patel Sena, catering to members of Other Backward Classes.
Above all, these livestreams belie the claim that the Maujpur mob was spontaneous, apolitical or acting in support of the CAA. Almost none of the livestreams showed individuals making reasoned arguments in favour of the citizenship law. Instead, members with self-declared political leanings had mobilised a crowd using a specific narrative of Hindu unity and an imaginary threat. Their Facebook profiles also reveal that unlike the Delhi Police’s narrative, the Maujpur mob was not mobilised solely in response to the protesters occupying the Jafrabad road on 23 February, even though that served as the ultimate call to action. In fact, for weeks preceding the violence, many of the same individuals had broadcast other such live videos appealing to Hindus to unite against the anti-CAA protesters. Each time, the Hindu identity appeared central to their clarion call, and to those who answered it.
The BJP and the RSS have a similar administrative structure of administrative hierarchy, apart from the fact that the smallest unit in the latter is the shakha. In ascending order, after the shakha, the structure can be broadly classified as the mandal, which is the administrative unit that covers one or more ward; the jila, which is the district; the vibhag, which is a combination of two or more districts; the prant, which is the state; and the kshetra, a combination of two or more states. Each unit comprises hierarchical organisational positions, starting from the adyakash, or president, at the top; followed by the upadyaksh, that is the vice president; the mahamantri, who is the general secretary; the mantri, or secretary; and then the karyakarni sadasya, or executive members. The Sangh Parivar members who occupied the Maujpur square ranged from all posts, from the president to the executive members, and mostly came from the Sonia Vihar, Maujpur, Babarpur, Dilshad Garden, Naveen Shahadara mandals, all of which fall under the northeast Delhi and neigbouring Shahadara jilas.
The call for Hindu unity was perhaps the strongest incentive that drove people to assemble at Maujpur Chowk on 23 February. Pandey, the BJP’s Sonia Vihar mandal president, who had repeatedly called upon local Hindus to come to Maujpur citing this need for religious unity, defended himself passionately to me. “Brother, is it wrong to talk about Hindus?” Pandey, a 39-year-old, asked me. He seemed to believe that the CAA would help establish a Hindu Rashtra, and went further to say that it should be implemented everywhere because it was synonymous with the Ram Rajya, or the rule of the Hindu deity Ram. “Can we not say we will establish Hindu Rashtra?” Pandey asked. “In every state, this is our agenda, BJP’s. Ram Rajya and Hindu Rashtra are the same.”
Pandey said he did not believe that he had incited the violence or deliberately mobilised the mob at the square. “It’s not incitement to stand in favor of CAA, is it?” he asked. “I’m working in favor of CAA, I did in the past and will do in the future as well,” he said. Indeed, his efforts to mobilise the local Hindus on 23 February was not the first time he had done so. On 22 December 2019, Pandey took out a march in support of CAA. It was the same day that Modi held a rally in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, and just days after the CAA had been enacted by the Parliament, leading to protests across the country. Pandey went live on Facebook that day, leading a mob in his video as he shouted, “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko”—Shoot the traitors of this nation.
Pandey has previously been a swayamsevak and flaunted his association with the RSS proudly on social media, including photos of himself in the Sangh’s uniform—khaki shorts and a white shirt—while riding a horse and holding a rifle. He told me he did not believe he had mobilised people on communal lines.
Rawal, the local unit president of the BJP’s Kisan Morcha, had also appealed for Hindu unity in his livestream. The 28-year-old is a vice president of the All India Kshatriya Mahasabha and runs an akhara—a traditional outdoor wrestling and exercise compound—in the Ghonda locality of northeast Delhi, where he resides. Rawal said that he went to Maujpur square after receiving a call from his friends in Bajrang Dal. “The Hindu organisations around here, they asked me, so I went,” he told me. Rawal said many people in Ghonda had received messages from “organisations such as Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad” to gather at Maujpur.
Verma, the BJYM’s Naveen Shahdara district executive member at that time, told me he went to the square for “apne Hindutva”—our Hindutva. In fact, throughout his video, the most striking aspect was Verma’s happiness of being present at the site as a Hindu soldier. With a tilak on his forehead and donning a saffron kurta, Verma walked around holding his camera high, humming, singing and dancing along the whole while, greeting people with proud chants of Jai Shree Ram, who were laughing at each other’s communal abuses. He jumped and danced so recklessly that at one point, a man held Verma and told him, “Brother, take it easy. You are stomping on my feet.”
At another point during his broadcast, someone in the crowd asked Verma to stop filming, telling him that media organisations could see it later. Verma reassured the man, “Live hai, live, saare Hindu bhai hain”—It’s live, they’re all our Hindu brothers. He won the crowd’s trust by asserting his Hindu identity and continued his broadcast. The scene was chaotic. There were several groups making their own circles and shouting their own slogans. Verma told his viewers, while pointing his camera at the stones that had now fallen to the ground, “It’s time to show Hindu unity! Hindu Ekta Zindabad!” As he walked away from the stones, he appealed to his viewers, “Friends, by morning, we must gather in large numbers. We must show our strength, the strength that we have.” He then panned his camera to a man who was blowing a conk, a declaration of war in Brahmanical literature. Verma spoke with pride, “The conk is being blown. This is our Hindu unity.”
The use of the Hindu unity narrative to mobilise the masses did not stop on the first day of the violence. Mohit Kaushik, a BJYM state executive who was then in-charge of the youth wing’s Ghonda assembly, was live streaming on Facebook from Maujpur Chowk on 24 February as well. “I appeal to all mothers, sisters and our brothers to come out here and show their support,” Kaushik said. He panned his camera to show a mob, which included several women, all shouting, “Jai Shree Ram!” He also posted on his account that day. “I don’t know about whole of Delhi, but Maujpur’s Hindus have awakened. Jai shree ram,” he wrote. The next day, he posted a long text message on Facebook, “I appeal to all patriots and devotees of Sanatan Dharma”—orthodox Brahminism—“it’s not just a difficult time for people of Maujpur, it’s also the time for your test.”
After making a thinly veiled accusation that Muslims—“people from a particular community who protested against the CAA”—had participated in vandalism and arson, Kaushik called upon his readers to go out into the streets and seek revenge. “Gather yourself and give a befitting reply to protect your families,” he wrote. “You yourself should go out and gather your acquaintances. Don’t do it to help me, but for your country, your family. Jai Hind, Jai Bharat!”
I asked Kaushik about the post. He said the whole situation had affected him at a “personal” level. “Maama ke ghar par hamla hua tha, hamare maama ke bacche bhi the. Toh usme thoda apne wali baat ho jati hai na,” he said. (My maternal uncle’s house had been attacked, he has kids in that house. So it becomes a personal issue, no.) He said his maternal uncle was in the Delhi Police. But he also insisted that he did not go to Maujpur to mobilise or instigate the crowd. Kaushik told me that he went to Maujpur on 24 February to attend a Hanuman Chalisa event—a sixteenth-century hymn in praise of the Hindu god—at a temple at Maujpur square. (The livestreams showed that the previous day as well, a small group had been broadcasting videos from that temple, calling upon Hindus to join them.) When I asked why he was mobilising local Hindus to come to Maujpur if he was simply attending a religious ceremony, he evaded the question.
Kaushik was not the only one to broadcast videos from the Hanuman Chalisa event—Anjali Varma, who had identified herself as Hinduvadi, went live on Facebook from there as well. On 24 February, at 10:06 am, Anjali went live from Maujpur, sitting among a small group of men and women in front of the temple, as speakers blared the Hanuman Chalisa from behind. “It now feels like the Hindu has woken up,” she said. “So I want people to come in large number in support of the CAA. We are sitting here to chase away Muslim women who are sitting in Jafrabad. We won’t leave till we have them removed.” Anjali’s video had over 265,000 views.
The previous day, she had posted on Facebook, “Prepare for the civil war, only then will the skull cap-wearing Muslims learn.” As the Chalisa ended, a man’s voice came through the loudspeakers, “Jai Shree Ram, Vande Mataram,” and the crowd sitting outside responded by repeating with the same. Anjali told her viewers, “The time has now come to show your unity for Hindus.”
Anjali had been sitting at Maujpur Chowk since 23 February with a group of men and women—including Ragini Tiwari, whose brazenly communal Facebook broadcast has been among the few to gain media attention. Early morning on 24 February, at 5.35 am, Anjali went live to show Tiwari leading a mob of around dozen men to shout, “Modiji, lambe lambe latth bajao, hum tumhare sath hain; jarurat padi toh humme bula lo, hum tumhare sath hain”—Modiji, beat them with sticks, we are with you; if needed then call us, we are with you. Tiwari continued, “Bharat mein yadi rehna hoga, Jai Shree Ram kehna hoga”—If you want to live in India, you have to chant Jai Shree Ram. Anjali then told her viewers, “We have been at Maujpur the whole night. We didn’t leave. I am invoking all Hindu brothers to reach here. Aaj bahut bada tandav karna hai”—We have to create a huge ruckus here. Before ending the broadcast, she added, “Now that the Hindu has awakened, we shall not retreat. Let it not become Pakistan.” The video had over 49,000 views.
Intrinsically linked to the call for Hindu unity, was the age-old Hindutva bogey that “Hindu khatre mein hai”—Hindus are in danger—and the broadcasts revealed that it played a significant role in the mobilisation at Maujpur. For instance, to justify her broadcast, Anjali told me, “Hindu religion is no doubt in danger. You should know this too.” She referred to the widely debunked myth of an increase in Muslim population threatening India’s nearly 80 percent Hindu population. “If the population will increase, Hindus would obviously be in danger,” Anjali said. “If the population control law will be brought, those whose population is increasing, it will slow down automatically… so Hindus are waking up slowly.” She said she did not remember posting the message calling for a civil war against the Muslims.
Rawal, too, believed that the anti-CAA protests threatened Hindus, and suggested that the mere existence of Muslim-majority neighbourhoods put him in danger. “Listen, at that time, obviously Hindus were in danger,” he said, matter-of-factly. “From all around, our village Ghonda is stuck in between Maujpur—I mean Maujpur and Ghonda are stuck in the middle of Mohammdan population.” He added, “In this, our sisters and daughters were also in danger.”
Rawal’s livestream—on 23 February, from Maujpur Chowk—indicated that his response to this supposed threat to Hindu women was to make implicit but violent and graphic threats of rape against Muslim women. Through it, he also mocked the chant for “azadi,” or freedom, which was popular in the anti-CAA protests. Together with the crowd, Rawal chanted during his broadcast, “Ghus ke denge; samane toh aao; thok ke denge; daal ke denge; puri denge; lita ke denge; ulte hoke lo”—We will barge in and give it; just come infront; we will hammer you and give it; we will put it in and give it; we will give it fully; we will lay you down and give, turn around and take it. Rawal broadcast the scene on Facebook and participated in the violent, abusive chants, and at each prompt, he joined the mob in shouting in chorus, “azadi.” The chants only grew more abusive: “Teri maa ko denge; teri behan ko denge; teri khala ko denge; teri bua ko denge; teri chachi ko denge”—We will give it to your mother, we will give to your sister, we will give it to your aunts. Once again, each time, the crowd yelled back, “azadi.” They laughed as they chanted.
Rawal defended the abusive chants by accusing the anti-CAA protesters of trying to replicate the chakka jam at Shaheen Bagh. “Chakkar kya hai na, ye jo inhone Shaheen Bagh mein kara tha, wahi ye yahan karna chah rahe the”—The thing is, they wanted to repeat what they did in Shaheen Bagh—Rawal told me. “Matlab samaj rahe ho na aap? Aap bhi samajhdar hoge. Toh isme jo hamari local ki janta hai, ya hamari sankhya hai, ya hamara samaj hai, ya jo bhi hai, usko pareshani hai.” (You understand what I mean, right? You also must be sensible. So, because of this, our local people, our numbers, our community, whoever they are, they have an issue with it.)
Other Hindu leaders also said that a sit-in anti-CAA protest somehow threatened the local Hindu populace. Jahnvi Divya Singh, one of the women in Anjali’s broadcast, told me the protesters had “threatened” the existence of Hindus and that she “could not tolerate it.” During the broadcast at 10 am on 24 February, she called upon Anjali’s viewers, “I want to ask this that there are so many Hindu lionesses on Facebook—where are they? Hindu women otherwise would say we work shoulder to shoulder, but there is no one around now. We are only four women present here.”
Singh is from the Rajput community and told me with pride that she is a member of an organisation founded by the freedom fighter Chandrasekhar Azad—the Hindustan Republican Army. The HRA is a Rajput group that is now run by Chandrasekhar’s grandson, Amit Azad. (The group was originally called the Hindustan Republican Association, and changed its name in the late 1920s to the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association to reflect its ideals. According to a report in Frontline, the organisation published a manifesto titled “The Revolutionary” in 1925, “declaring its commitment to secularism and revolution.” Frontline noted that the manifesto was published “precisely when Hindu communalism was consolidating itself in the form of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha.” Under Amit, who had termed the anti-CAA protesters as “rioters,” the organisation appears to have dropped the word “socialist.”)
Singh was emphatic that Hindus were in danger at the time. “Indeed, there was a danger,” she told me. “When constantly slogans—such as ‘Hindus, vacate Delhi!’; ‘Delhi will become Pakistan’; and ‘Hindustan will become Pakistan’—were being raised, then what else could it be?” I asked her when such slogans had been raised, but she could not point to a single instance. Instead, she replied with contempt, telling me to research it myself. “When you have searched so many things about me, you could find that too.”
In reality, BJP leaders such as its social-media head, Amit Malviya, and its Delhi spokesperson, Tajinder Bagga, had spread misinformation about such slogans, and had been promptly fact-checked by news organisations. On 16 December 2019, Malviya and Bagga had shared a video on Twitter of Aligarh Muslim University students shouting, “Hindutva ki kabr khudegi, AMU ki chhhati par”—Hindutva will die at the hands of AMU’s students. But Malviya falsely captioned it as, “Hinduon ki kabr khudegi,” claiming that the students were threatening to kill Hindus. Bagga shared the video with a message that the slogans were a “clarion call for ethnic cleansing of Hindus.” Over a year after the Delhi violence, there has been no evidence that anti-Hindu slogans were ever made at any anti-CAA protest sites. During two months of reporting on the protests in Delhi, Kanpur and Bijnor, I never come across any such slogans either.
But Singh even justified the “goli maaro saalo ko” slogan that called for anti-CAA protesters to be shot. She challenged me, “Toh aap ek baat bataiye, toh kya kehna chahiye, desh ke gaddaron ko Bharat Ratna do?”—You tell me one thing, what should we say then, that award the traitors of this nation with the Bharat Ratna?—she asked me. Singh said she did not consider the anti-CAA protestors as “lawful citizens of the country.” She believed they were “all illegal immigrants who wanted to burn the country.”
This is part one of Sagar’s investigation into the Hindutva mobilisation ahead of the Delhi violence. Read part two here and part three here