ON FEBRUARY 14, an organisation called Hindu Samhati held a rally in Kolkata and, in what is seen as a first for Bengal, presented 14 members of a Muslim family as an example of “ghar wapsi”, while calling for similar programmes across the state. When its members assaulted journalists who tried to speak to the family. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee promised action, four persons were arrested on charges including attempt to murder; they were granted bail Thursday.
While all this has brought attention, Hindu Samhati has been at the forefront of several right-wing activities, often aggressively, ever since it was founded in 2008 by Tapan Ghosh, 64, a former member of the RSS and the VHP, which he quit in 2007. Chief patron Ghosh was among those arrested and granted bail.
The outfit, which accuses the RSS and VHP of a soft approach, claims to have grown to about 50,000 members in the state — most of them former RSS pracharaks — and spread to Assam and Jharkhand in the last two years. Along the way, it has been probed in several cases relating to communal violence; Ghosh himself has been arrested at least seven times in connection with a number of cases.
What it does
The narrow Bhuban Dhur Lane leads to house number 5, atop which stand two CCTV cameras stand out against the rest of the North Kolkata neighbourhood. Inside, the walls are lined with books including volumes of the Quran alongside Hindu religious books and files of court cases.
Debtanu Bhattacharya, who used to be as an RSS pracharak from 1992 to 2007, working in Bengal and the Northeast, joined Hindu Samhati in 2013 and is now president.
In a conversation days after Ghosh’s arrest, Bhattacharya described how Hindu Samhati is different. “I have seen villages that have had RSS shakas for three decades, yet Hindus are displaced from there. When it comes to direct action, RSS seems to take a step backward,” Bhattacharya said. “Our leader Tapan Ghosh stands by our cadres… We say we did it, we are prepared to go to jail. We take care of families of cadres who are in jail; the Sangh disowns its followers when they land in trouble.”
He stressed that Hindu Samiti is not affiliated to any political party. It is known to have lobbied for support abroad; the Samhiti website mentions an address by Ghosh at the House of Commons after he had been invited the National Council of Hindu Temples, UK.
Bhattacharya described the outfit’s work. “We work at village level, where we prepare for Hindu resistance. Self-defence is a constitutional right. We ask villagers to keep weapons that are legally allowed. There are guns and bombs in every village, and if those are used during a clash, what else can we do?” he said. “So far, we have facilitated marriages of over 300 Muslim girls to Hindu youth in our anti-love jihad campaign and settled them in various parts of India. We have rescued over 200 Hindu girls who had either married Muslims or tried to. We gave them shelter.”
Sujit Maity, Samhati assistant secretary, added: “We provide financial and legal support to families of arrested or convicted youth.” The outfit claims to be providing regular assistance to the families of 11 youths convicted in a 2014 case in Birbhum, involving the alleged gang-rape of a tribal girl who was in a relationship with a Muslim .
It is also backing a schoolboy who had posted a Facebook comment in 2017, when he was 17, leading to communal clashes in North 24-Parganas, where one person died, followed by clashes in Bashirhat. The trial is in progress.
“The boy cannot return home. So, after talking to his family, we are now his guardian and have arranged for his shelter and education,” said Samir Guha Roy, Samhati vice-president, a former ABVP leader from Bengal.
The organisation says it doesn’t believe in training or owning assets. “We do not even bother about membership drives or setting up offices. We channelise men and funds for village defence and other work,” said Bhattacharya.
The outfit has 100 members who work daily and are provided travel allowance, while 15 are full-timers whose entire expenses are borne by the outfit, it said.
It claims to run on donations. It has a monthly bulletin paper, apart from websites in Bengali and English. It details what it calls “attacks on Hindus” and its programmes in its mouthpiece, and online, with the help of a seven-member amateur online team.
Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim called it an “unruly and barbaric organisation”. “It should be banned… The government has taken strong action,” he said. Praveen Tripathi, joint commissioner of Kolkata Police (headquarters), said: “We have started a case [assault] and arrested four persons. The case will continue. We are keeping a watch on them,”
The Opposition accused the ruling party of being soft on the organisation. “Such outfits have links to the RSS, however hidden that is,” said CPI(M) leader Shyamal Chakraborty. “It is the present government that allowed them to hold a rally in the heart of the city, whereas Opposition parties like us are denied permission.” Congress leader Om Prakash Mishra said , “It is an alarming development. Though such outfits have their own organisation, they share the worldview of RSS… They are also soft on Trinamool Congress.”
The VHP disassociated itself from Hindu Samhati’s activities. “We do not support such organisations,” said Sachindranath Sinha, VHP organisational secretary in Bengal. “They are in no way connected to us. Some of their leaders may have once been with VHP, but they left. They are a reactionary force and history has shown us that in India reactionary forces do not last long.”