Abhishek Chauhan, a Bajrang Dal worker who has been killed in communal violence in Nuh, often ran into arguments with his family. The reason? The impact on his job due to regular participation in the group’s activities.
“We did not have a problem with him joining the group because they preach Hinduism. But they organise two to three meetings in a day. How can anyone with a regular job allocate so much time for them? So we would ask him to focus on his work,” said his cousin Yogesh.
Abhishek, a 22-year-old resident of Panipat’s Dhamija Colony, had dropped out of college to support his family of six – including his parents, sister, brother and sister-in-law – with an automobile repair shop. He had joined the Bajrang Dal one year ago, and participated in his first rally on Monday, when he was allegedly murdered by a mob near a temple in Nuh.
His father Satpal, who works with a gas agency, now stares at uncertainty. “I am turning old and cannot lift gas cylinders. When he started working I thought I could retire now. My biggest worry is who will support the family now.”
A neighbourhood transformed
The murder seems to have transformed Dhamija Colony, a dusty neighbourhood on the outskirts of Panipat, with the presence of a posse of news cameras and BJP and Sangh Parivar cadres.
An administrative blind spot with no roads, waterlogged rains and garbage dumps, the area mostly houses daily wagers, who work in textile waste segregation units to make ends meet, earning around Rs 300 for 12-hour shifts.
But now, amid a looming threat of communal violence, about 40 Muslim families have fled the area, most Muslim-owned shops are shut, and many others have locked themselves in their homes.
“We had visited Abhishek’s house to mourn his death. But we could see hatred towards us,” claimed a Muslim resident.
Meanwhile, at Abhishek’s house, the family insisted that his association with Bajrang Dal did not have communal overtones. “Why else would he run a shop with his Muslim best friend,” asked his mother Rajo Devi.
Jyoti, Abhishek’s sister-in-law, pointed to a picture of Abhishek and his friend Mohsin hanging in the living room. “He is a good Muslim. He wears a tilak and follows Hindu rituals,” said Rajjo Devi. Mohsin and his family could not be reached for comment.
The family maintained that Abhishek had joined the Bajrang Dal only because of his faith, after he frequently attended Hanuman Chalisa recitations organised by the group at a temple nearby. His mother said that he subsequently became “aware of his religion and patriotism”. “He would tell us to not buy fruits or vegetables from Muslim vendors. He would also say that Hindus must unite against Muslims,” she said, adding that he convinced at least 20 people from the neighbourhood to join the Bajrang Dal.
Inspired by Abhishek, his cousin Mahesh and his uncle Sanjay also joined the Bajrang Dal six months ago. Mahesh, a 25-year-old school dropout who works as a driver, had participated in the procession in Nuh earlier this week and was hurt during the violence. He credits the Bajrang Dal for making him “aware”.
“They opened my eyes. After Hanuman Chalisa recitation in the temple, we would learn how Muslims are conspiring to rule over us like Mughals by increasing their population and taking over our land,” said Mahesh. “In the future, they would not even let us visit temples. When I went to Nuh, I saw that all we have learnt is true. It is like a mini Pakistan.”
With Muslims making up nearly 80 percent of its population, Nuh district is often referred to as “mini Pakistan” by right-wing groups and sections of the media.
Karan Singh, chief of Haryana Bajrang Dal’s akhada vertical, told the media that the Manohar Lal Khattar government should have either taken “charge or allowed us to use weapons”. He said Abhishek was a “dedicated” member and his death is a “big loss” to the organisation.
Abhishek’s neighbours said he had made many youngsters in the locality join the Bajrang Dal. “My son also joined the Bajrang Dal after Abhishek convinced him. These days, many youngsters from our colony are joining Bajrang Dal,” said one of them.
A Muslim meat seller in Dhamija Colony claimed that “hatred” has been “gradually building up” in the locality, pointing to the modified entrance which blocks the view to his shop. “Locals in this area have recently started objecting to meat being sold in the open. Once there was a huge fight because a chicken feather flew towards the road and the locals accused us of spreading impurity. These fights have become regular now.”
“Joining Bajrang Dal has become a trend for youngsters. Because these days, TV channels and social media are propagating that it is good to be a Hindu nationalist. But these youngsters are immature,” said a police officer from Panipat who did not wish to be named.