Religion is a big part of the lives and identity of a majority of Indians, and there is therefore an abundance of religious leaders. In these polarising times, the firebrands among them often get away with saying outrageous things which attack the egalitarian fabric of India’s diverse society and push regressive, divisive ideologies. Here are a few such figures from the recent times:
Sadhvi Saraswati: The violence quotient was overt and high in Saraswati’s militant rhetoric, as she spoke at the inauguration of a four-day All India Hindu Convention in Goa, organised by the Hindu Janajagriti Samiti, of stocking up arms and public executions for what would normally be people’s choice of food or mate. Speaking on the beef issue, she said “Jo vyakti apne (gau) ma ka maas khaane ko apna status symbol maanta hai, aisi vyaktiyon ko Bharat sarkar se nivedan karti hoon, phaansi pe latkana chahiye, beech chaurahey pe latkana chahiye… tab logon ko pata chalega ki gau mata ki rakhsa karna hamara kartavya hai (People who take it as status symbol to eat beef … I request the Centre to hang them in public. People will then understand that cow protection is our responsibility)”. She also said, “Agar hum shastra nahi rakhenge toh aanewale samay mein hamara vinaash hoga (if we do not stock arms, we will be destroyed in future)”, upon urging Hindus to save their daughters from “Love Jihad”.
Yogi Adityanath: The firebrand successor of priest Mahant Avaidyanath of the Gorakhpur Math temple, in his pre-CM days, was displeased at Shah Rukh Khan in November 2015 for speaking about his comment about climate of intolerance. “Shah Rukh Khan should remember that if a huge mass in society would boycott his films, he will also have to wander on streets like a normal Muslim. I am saying these people are speaking in a terrorist’s language. I think there is no difference between the language of Shah Rukh Khan and Hafiz Saeed”, said Yogi Adityanath, who has never been a stranger to controversy. SRK’s comment had also drawn vitriol of Pakistan loyalty from fellow figures like Kailash Vijayvargiya and Sadhvi Prachi.
Read also: 100 days of Yogi Adityanath in UP
Swami Ramdev: The yoga guru and founder of Patanjali group said last year at a RSS conference at Rohtak, Haryana, “We respect this country’s law and Constitution, otherwise if anybody disrespects Bharat Mata, we have the capability of beheading not one but thousands and lakhs”. It was his violent response just days after the fatwa issued by Darul Uloom Deoband that deemed chanting “Bharat Mata ki Jai” as unfit by Islamic tenet against idol worship, suggesting slogans like ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ and ‘Madre Vatan’. In the recent years, Ramdev has made many controversial statements in relation to political leaders — but none as exaggeratedly violent as this one. Very recently, a non-bailable arrest warrant has been issued against him for it by a Rohtak court.
Syed Sha Atef Ali Al Quaderi: On a lighter note, cleric Syed Sha Atef Ali Al Quaderi, the vice-president of West Bengal United Minority Council, made national headlines in April this year by jumping in to respond with a comic effect to Sonu Nigam’s tweet protesting loudspeaker “gundagardi” of azaan calls from the mosque in his neighborhood for supposedly disrupting his sleep. Quaderi seemed to take it as a personal affront to Islam.
“If anyone can shave his hair, put a garland of old torn shoes around his neck and tour him around the country, I shall personally reward that person with Rs 10 lakh”, said Quaderi, said in response to the singer’s dramatic protest statement. Nigam, of course, went ahead and shaved his head, which still left Quaderi dissatisfied about his other two ‘demands’.
Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati: Women “should not feel triumphant and stop all the drum beating” about finally being allowed into the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra, Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati told reporters in April 2016. “Ab Shani ki drishti Mahilaon par padengi aur jo rape ki ghatnaen aur badhengi … Mahilaon ne jo Shani ka darshan karke anarth kiya hai, uska parinam ye anarth aur badhenge” (Now Shani will target women and incidents like rape will increase. They have committed a disastrous mistake and now disastrous incidents against them will increase),” he said.
Clearly the Shankaracharya, long known for his fiery anti-Sai baba rhetoric, was not pleased to learn that women would be allowed into Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra. The statement was made in the wake of Bombay High Court’s ruling, that it was a fundamental right for women to enter and worship in temples, in the favour of activists from the Bhumata Brigade. It’s hard to digest Swaroopanand’s lack of sensibility and restraint in openly “warning” an entire gender about increase in rapes.
Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti: “Aapko tay karna hai ki Dilli mein sarkar Ramzadon ki banegi ya har**zadon ki. Yeh aapka faisla hai (you have to decide whether Delhi will get a government of those born of Ram or of those born illegitimately.)”, said Sadhvi Jyoti as a Union Minister to a public rally in Delhi in December 2014 — using an unparliamentary word that embarrassed the BJP in the Parliament and otherwise. She was made to retract and apologise for it later.
Maulana Nurur Rehman Barkati: Shahi Imam of Tipu Sultan Mosque Maulana Nurur Rehman Barkati issued a fatwa against PM Narendra Modi early in January this year, soon after the demonetisation scheme was announced. He announced a reward of Rs 25 Lakh for anyone who would “cut off the Prime Minister’s beard, shave his head and smear him with black ink” for inconveniencing innocent people by making them stand in bank queues. Explaining why he had singled out Modi’s beard, Barkati had said, “People who keep beard are mostly religious like maulanas, sadhus, sufis, sikh gurus.. But Modi keeping beard is bhondami (bluffing).”
Read also: Kolkata: Barkati to be sacked as mosque Imam
Sadhvi Prachi: Firebrand Sadhvi Prachi from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has several controversial remarks, speeches and incitements to violence to her credit. One of them, which also generated an FIR against her ‘for disturbing communal harmony’, was made on June 7, 2016 in Roorkee. “Now that we have achieved the mission of making a Congress-free India, it is time to make India, Muslim-free. We are working on that,” she said, bluntly voicing the ‘final solution’ of her vicious ideology.
Zakir Naik: The televangelist Islamic scholar, Salafi ideologue and preacher, who makes controversial comments on a regular basis, has an international following in many countries with significant Muslim populations. According to his logic, secularism is the result of other religions being unsure of their “true” status, which Islam is not. For instance, “How can we allow this (building of churches and temples in an Islamic nation) when their religion is wrong, their worshipping is wrong”, the scholar ‘reasoned’ on the religious QTV. Among other things, he has also propagated the conspiracy theory that George Bush himself ordered the felling of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 and has controversially defended Bin Laden. Naik has been banned from visiting in countries like Britain, Canada and Malaysia for his views.