It’s a day after the VHP-held Dharma Sabha in Ayodhya, to mobilise masses and support for a temple at the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi site. The crowds have left, the town is relieved the day ended peacefully, and the heavy deployment of security forces has been eased. Over at the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas’s Karvsevakpuram — not far from the disputed site — where work is on over parts of the proposed temple, Swadesh Kumar, 63, too is enjoying a relaxed day.
The day before, Kumar recalls, he got more than 15,000 visitors. A full-time RSS worker, Kumar has been deputed by the VHP to keep an account of donations of Rs 51 and above received for the proposed temple from visitors to Karsevakpuram. Kumar accepts the money, and issues receipts in the name of the Nyas. Donations of lesser amount are put in the daan patra (donation box) nearby, placed before a model of the temple.
The collection of donation in cash at the VHP workshop started soon after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992.
Around 11 am, Deen Dayal, who has come from Faridabad, Haryana, walks over with an offering of Rs 21, demanding a receipt. When Kumar tells him he needs to pay at least Rs 51, Deen Dayal’s wife Shakuntala urges him to pay up, for “the holy cause of Ram temple”. Taking out the money, Deen Dayal says that “being a Ram bhakt”, he wants the receipt so as to frame it for display at home.
As Deen Dayal leaves, Kumar puts the cash in the right pocket of his kurta, leans back in his wooden chair, and starts chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram, Sita Ram’. The table over which the receipt book is kept is a temporary one, made from sandstone blocks.
Kumar keeps the chant going till the next devotee, Sushil Singh of Delhi, walks over with Rs 100. Over the next two-and-a-half hours, people keep dropping in regularly.
As he notes down their details and issues receipts, Kumar says he has been doing this work for two years. A native of Ballia district in Uttar Pradesh and a graduate in Arts, he joined the RSS in 1980 and served as pracharak before being asked in 1987 to move to Ayodhya and work for the VHP. “During the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, I was here,” he says.
Kumar never got married, and hardly goes home to Ballia now. Every day, finds him at his wooden chair at dot 9 am.
A large portion of the 3-acre complex is taken up by sandstone brought from Rajasthan for the purpose of the temple, as well as bricks with ‘Ram’ written on them in different languages, including foreign. While at one time there were 150 artisans carving the stones, now there is only Rajnikant. The 55-year-old can be seen at work in a tin shed, a mask covering his face against the dust.
By 1.30 pm, his lunch time, Kumar estimates to have received Rs 4,500 in that day’s donations. With the help of a walking stick, he goes to his living quarters, provided by the VHP in the complex. Kumar’s 120- sq ft room contains a table, a single bed and two chairs for furniture. On the wall hangs a photo of the late VHP leader, Ashok Singhal. The space on the table is almost entirely taken up by books on Ayodhya, a Hindi newspaper and notebooks containing record of donations collected in the past one month.
The ‘Sita rasoi’ where Kumar heads for lunch is adjacent. Meal is cooked here for the little over 50 people living on the campus. Kumar picks up a steel plate, rubs some sand over it and then rinses it under a tap. “Sometimes the staff does not clean the plates properly. Sand removes the oil,” he explains.
As he sits cross-legged on a carpet, spread out on the ground next to the cooking area, he and two others are served khichdi, with a sprinkling of ghee, and radish and pickle. Kumar says he likes the food as it tastes like home. Occasionally, he eats out.
After finishing his lunch, Kumar cleans his plate before heading to his room, where he takes a nap till 4 pm.
While the 63-year-old is eating and resting, another VHP worker, Shivanath Pandey, deputed as Kumar’s reliever by the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, takes his place. Pandey, 65, has been with the VHP since 1992 and gets an honorarium of Rs 3,500 per month, along with food and accommodation.
Kumar, though, does not draw any salary. “I am doing it for Lord Ram,” he says.When he returns to the donation spot around 4 pm, Pandey hands over the cash to him and leaves.
With just two more hours to go, Kumar estimates he may wrap up earlier compared to other days due to “lesser visitors”.
Around 1,000 people turn up on an average at Karsevakpuram in a day, with the number rising on occasions like Dussehra, Diwali, and the days kept for parikrama around the makeshift Ram temple. “Around 2,000 receipts were issued yesterday, when the Dharma Sabha was held,” Kumar says, while refusing to reveal the money collected.
Barring some odd days, when all the donations are below Rs 51 and hence go into the daan patra, he always collects some cash, Kumar says. A few months ago, he recalls, they got Rs 50,000 in one day. On an average though, the amount is Rs 4,000-Rs 10,000.
At the end of the day, Kumar takes the cash he has been stuffing into his kurta pocket to cashier Virendra Verma at the Nyas’s office in Karsevakpuram. Only the office employees are allowed inside. The next day, like it is done every day, Verma will deposit the amount in the Nyas’s account in a bank.
While the money is meant for Ram temple construction, the payment to over a dozen staff at the workshop, including those supervising the carving, the artisans, the tractor drivers ferrying the stones, the labourers, guard etc, is also done from it.
Just as Kumar takes care of the higher cash donations, Annu Bhai Sompura supervises the daan patra. The 78-year-old Sompura came to Ayodhya from Ahmedabad in 1990 for carving of stones and is now settled in Karsevakpuram with his family, like some of the others here.
Sompura says the drop box is opened once a month, in the presence of other staff. Generally, they get around Rs 1 lakh a month. While currency notes are made into bundles and also deposited at the Nyas office, Sompura says the problem are coins. “Every month, we get around Rs 20,000-Rs 25,000 worth of coins. Banks refuse to accept such a huge quantity. Hence we put the coins on display, or give them to traders, who give us currency notes in exchange.”
Kumar admits the visitors often demand to know when the temple will be built. He says he and the others give the same reply, which he gives to visitor Kailash Meena, who is here from Jaipur, “Jab Ram ji ki ichcha hogi. Abhi to maamla court mein hai. Lekin mandir banega zaroor, yeh taye hai (Whenever Ram wants. Currently the matter is in court. But temple will be built, that is certain).”