Chaos unfolded at the New Delhi World Book Fair in Pragati Maidan today when a group of over 30 people attacked a stall belonging to Gideons International, a Christian non-profit.
At least 15 eyewitnesses and non-profit volunteers told Newslaundry that the group of men approached the stall at around 2.15 pm. Some of them wore saffron scarves, and some had tikas on their foreheads.
The stall, like several other booths exhibiting spiritual books at the fair, had posters indicating that visitors could pick up free copies of religious texts. In this particular instance, the posters said “Free Holy Bible”. The group “tore the posters” and grabbed copies of the book New Testament: Psalms and Proverbs.
Newslaundry was told that the group then raised slogans of “Jai Shri Ram” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, sat down around the stall, and refused to leave for 20 to 25 minutes. They also began reciting the Hanuman Chalisa while “yelling” at those running the stall. They also asked the stall’s volunteers to “stop distributing copies of the Bible for free” and to “stop converting people to Christianity”.
It should be noted that this is just one of many stalls run by religious organisations. The Delhi Book Fair houses other stalls run by Hindu, Muslim and Sikh groups too, some of which also distribute free copies of religious books to passersby.
Newslaundry reviewed two videos of the incident. The videos show security approaching the “protesters” who were sitting near the stall. The protesters, wearing saffron scarves, can be seen chanting the Hanuman Chalisa and shouting “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “free Bible bandh karo”. Stop free Bibles.
At the time of publishing this story, Gideons International had not filed a complaint with the police in the matter.
A torn poster.
The Gideons International stall at the book fair.
Copies of books at the stall.
In one of the videos, an unidentified onlooker can be heard criticising the protesters: “I am Hindu but this isn’t the work of Hindutva. This is the work of politics. People are distributing Gitas, people are distributing Satyarth Prakash, every person is propagating their own ideology. You can't chant slogans like this. Chant Ram’s slogans at home. This is politics.”
When Newslaundry visited the spot later in the evening, volunteers were replacing some of the torn posters. David Philip, a volunteer at the stall said, “They accused us of converting people. They shouted and abused us. One of us went to call security but they took 25 minutes to come.”
Gesturing at a spot near the stall, Philip said the men “sat down on this stretch and went on sloganeering for 25 minutes”. “We pray for such people and bless them,” he added. “We’ve been having a stall here for more than 10 years. We have never faced this before. This is the first time.”
“The way people are distributing Bhagavad Gitas on the other side of the hall, others are distributing Bibles here,” said a volunteer at another stall. However, the volunteer added that the men “didn’t do much except make some noise and take photos and videos”.
A security officer patrolling nearby in the evening told Newslaundry that men from a “shakha” had visited the stall and “created a ruckus”. Another senior security officer said a “small” incident had taken place but had been resolved. He said the stall was subsequently given “routine security” and that the protesters were told to “move away”.
A volunteer at a neighbouring stall said the group of men had “refused to move” until the security “convinced them”. “It is not okay for them to come and create such an atmosphere here,” they said.
Newslaundry emailed a questionnaire to the book fair’s organisers to ask about what happened. This report will be updated if we receive a response.
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