There are many who wonder how the Islamic State has somehow not managed to make an impact yet in India. The country has a sizeable Muslim population, certain volatile regions like Kashmir have been fighting for independence for decades and it is in close proximity to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
But just 40 kms from Delhi, they aren't waiting around for IS to strike. Instead, an outfit known as Hindu Swabhiman is raising and training what it calls a "dharma sena" to wage war against Islamic State.
A report in The Times Of India speaks of how the "dharma sena" believes IS will occupy western UP by 2020. And to take them on, its leaders claim there are already 15,000 "soldiers" who are ready to die to safeguard their faith.
This vigilante army is wrong at many levels, but prime among them are:
1. The camps are located in the communally sensitive belt of western UP. If something does go wrong, and we saw that happen in Muzaffaranagar in 2013 (the group has 5 camps there), then there's an army like this just waiting to cause chaos in the name of faith. This is a huge security risk. The Gau Rakshaks are there just to protect the cows and they have caused enough angst. Imagine what an armed vigilante force like this could do...
2. The outfit has even enlisted child soldiers, some of them as young as eight years old. All were being taught to use swords and firearms. In short, the children are being brain washed.
One of the Hindu Swabhiman's leaders, Chetna Sharma, who is also a member of the VHP's Durga Vahini, told TOI on Monday:
"Our motto is simple — catch them young... For the first six months, we train them mentally. We teach them verses from the Gita. Hindus must not be afraid of death because we are reborn. The children here are fearless."
Eight-year-old Seema Kumari (name changed) told TOI:
"I am learning to fight because our mothers and elder sisters are threatened. I have to protect them as well as myself."
Is this what we want to teach our children or do we want them to grow up without prejudice?
3. How is this any different from what the IS is doing? The IS draws followers in the name of faith, the 'dharma sena' does exactly the same. The IS catches them young and brainwashes them, the 'dharma sena' does exactly the same. The radicalisation has to end. For all you know, this will make other communities uneasy.
4. The government is also at fault for just sitting and watching a private army take root. Just what do they think an army like this is going to accomplish? They are clearly not on a peace-keeping mission and given that some of the camps are public, there is no way the police don't know about them.
5. India prides itself on being communally inclusive and a melting pot of cultures but initiatives such as this defeat all that the nation stands for. Time the Central Government took note and brought an end to this nonsense.