When Radha Semwal Dhoni was invited to a Holi celebration organised by the Hindu Raksha Dal last week, she was felicitated with a bouquet of flowers and introduced by the emcee as someone who has “demolished 370 mazars, and has a target of 540.” “Demolishing mazars isn’t easy; to demolish a mazar is to demolish a certain mentality...the mentality of those who have faith in mazars,” the emcee goes on to say.
Radha Semwal Dhoni is a woman with a mission. The mission in question is a “mazar-mukt Uttarakhand” or an Uttarakhand free of mazars (shrines), and the path to achieving that, according to her, is to demolish them all. A Dehradun resident, Radha spends a good portion of her day traveling through the dense forests of the state capital, as well as those of several other districts, to spot mazars and then destroy them. She makes it a point to capture almost all her outings of this nature on her Facebook live.
Speaking to The Quint, she said, “It’s important to spread awareness. I have been doing this for four years. This is such a big problem that even if we work all our lives to end it, it might still not be enough.”
Besides uploading graphic videos of either she or her team tearing down shrines, Dhoni also indulges in other acts: she is seen harassing Christian NGO workers in one case, yelling at Muslim vegetable sellers in another, and is even badgering Hindu men carrying cows in yet another video. She doesn’t spare Hindu youtubers either, if they happen to take a secular stance.
Dhoni's Anger Against BJP
In one of her videos, Dhoni, 45, walks through a cemented road that purportedly leads up to a mazar, questioning why such a “good road” was built for a mazar by the government. In a separate video, she walks up to a building with two minarets on top, asking why that was allowed to be built in Mussoorie. “How is this being built on government land...Sarkar kahan so rahi hai? (Where is the government sleeping?),” she asks. “Sarkar kuch kare na kare atikraman zaroor kara deti hai (The government may not get anything else done, but surely gets encroachments done),” she goes to say.
On 14 March, Dhoni shared on her Facebook that an FIR has been registered against her “by the BJP.”
“If this continues like this, then BJP should start counting down to its end. If Hindutva followers unite then you will soon have to face your end,” she wrote in the caption.
Interestingly, the BJP government in Uttarakhand led by CM Pushkar Singh Dhami has itself avowed action against mazars. “The government will not tolerate encroachments of its land and action will be taken against these mazars,” CM Dhami had said at an event celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) magazines Organiser and Panchjanya in May 2022. As per reports, the Dhami government last year demolished 15 mazars built in the Dehradun range.
Despite this, Dhoni and her team aren’t convinced that the state BJP government is doing enough. “The government just makes promises, nothing else. This shouldn’t be our job, we are doing government’s job,” says Bhupesh Joshi, a close aide of Dhoni’s.
Speaking to The Quint, Joshi says that he along with Dhoni and others are fighting against “land jihad”. Joshi describes Dhoni the “most valiant woman in the country”. “Even if we have to step out at one in the night, she is ever ready,” he says. Joshi says that every day he dedicates 10 am to 3 pm “to Hindutva” and then after a few hours ventures out again at night “for operations.” When asked what he means by ‘operations’, Joshi cryptically says “aap samajh jao (You can understand).”
Dhoni’s anger isn’t just directed towards the government, but also towards the Hindu community. Mazars are unique places of worship because they have traditionally had believers from across faiths and communities visit in high numbers.
Last month, Dhoni released a recording of her conversation with a village pradhan in the Simlas Grant region of Uttarakhand, in which she is arguing with him for “allowing” mazars to grow in the area. At one point, she asks the pradhan, Sandeep Pal, how he can allow mazars to exist “despite being a Hindu.” To this, he responds, “Hindus only go there, madam.” She then says, “Hindu namard hogaya hai islie jata hai (Hindus have become impotent, that is why they are going to mazars).”
Speaking to The Quint, the pradhan says that since Dhoni released that recording, he has been getting many calls from unknown people asking him if he is building mazars. “It’s such a lie and has caused so much nuisance in my life,” Pal tells The Quint.
Dhoni put out a video earlier this month, that subsequently went viral, where her team is destroying a mazar. The song Aarambh Hai Prachand by Piyush Mishra from the movie Gulal has been used as the background track in the video.
In the comment section, one individual, a Muslim, criticised her actions in response to which she wrote “But brother, shrines are forbidden in Islam, so who are they being built for in Uttarakhand’s jungles.”
Joshi, echoing Dhoni’s sentiment, says that “Muslims don’t go to mazars. They just fool Hindus and take money from them at the mazars.”
Hindu Cow Owners, YouTubers Not Spared Either
Last month, Dhoni halted a truck carrying two cows near the Asha Rodhi checkpoint on the outskirts of Dehradun. “Look at this, Hindus are now taking cows to be killed,” Dhoni says in the video she posted. “This isn’t Afghanistan,” she warns them. Subhash Chaudhary, whose cows were being transported, tells The Quint that he was “abused” and “harassed” but he couldn’t say much in response. “A woman treating you like this...there isn’t much you can say. She was very ill-mannered,” Chaudhary says.
Chaudhary has been running a dairy farm in Dehradun for the last three decades, and when a cow gets old and cannot produce milk any longer, he transports them to a bigger farm in Haridwar. “That is where the cows were being sent. I am a cow-lover, I have been involved in pashu-palan (animal husbandry) for decades. But she didn’t listen to me,” Subhash tells The Quint.
In the video, an unidentified police officer standing near the check post can be seen praising Dhoni for doing “good work.”
Speaking to The Quint, police in-charge for the check post, Amit Kumar says that it was finally found that Subhash “had nothing to do with cow smuggling.” “It was found that he was just shifting the cows to another farm, there was no smuggling,” he tells The Quint. However, Subodh claims that Radha only agreed to let him go after taking Rupees eleven thousand from him. “So she was clearly only interested in money,” he says.
Dhoni’s attack on Hindus isn’t limited to Subhash. Last month, she filed a police complaint against Nainital-based youtuber Smriti Negi for allegedly hurting Hindu sentiments in a YouTube video. The YouTube video here is one in which Negi is seen visiting the Nainital cricket stadium where a saffron flag with ‘Jai Sri Ram’ inscribed has been hoisted. “I am a Hindu, so this flag should have made me happy. But this is a government property...so this flag shouldn’t be here. The stadium is for people of all faiths,” she says in the 1.5-minute-long video.
Since the police complaint, Smriti has received several hate comments, and has also told the media that she has been inundated with gangrape threats.
Role of Police
In another one of her viral videos, now deleted from her profile, Dhoni is heckling a group of Muslim vegetable vendors for “pretending to be Hindu.” She accuses them of “lying to feed your spit-laden vegetables to us.”
A Hindu man later arrives on his scooty, defending the vegetable vendors, telling Dhoni to “not trouble poor men just trying to sell vegetables”. “Do you even know the meaning of being Hindu?” he asks Dhoni.
Later, in another video, Dhoni and her team are seen protesting at Dehradun’s Mahendra Chowk asking for “outsiders” who are “running mandis (vegetable shops)” to be removed. The police officer responds saying, “what the society says will happen” and that “I am like your child”, “I have to live amongst you after retirement.”
The video ends with Dhoni and her team sloganeering, “Abdul tere baap ka naam; jai sri ram, jai sri ram.”
On her Facebook, Dhoni has uploaded photographs of her felicitating police officers with flowers for “putting cow murderers behind bars.”
Speaking to The Quint, Sanjeet Kumar, the in charge of the ISBT station being appreciated by Dhoni in the post, denies that the police works in tandem with Dhoni and her team. “She was just giving us flowers. Anyone can give flowers to appreciate good work. That is all.”
Assaulting Christians, All Allegations Proven Wrong
In January, Manish Gagat and his two colleagues from a Dehradun-based NGO called Medical Ambassadors visited a village in the city’s Prem Nagar to check on some of their students who hadn’t been keeping well. The NGO on its website says that it is a “registered society facilitated by Christians who subscribe to the values and teachings of Jesus Christ and are committed to serve the poor and marginalized”. One of its programs includes holding classes for underprivileged children of the nearby slums.
Dhoni and her team showed up at the village and in multiple videos she later posted, she can be seen accosting them and accusing them of forceful religious conversion. She can also be seen slapping one of the NGO workers, a woman, and then getting physically aggressive with the others too while threatening them.
Speaking to The Quint, Manish says that they were “very humiliated” by Dhoni and her team. “She then uploaded those videos all over the internet, so we continue to relive the trauma. All three of us had to start treatment for depression after the incident,” Manish tells The Quint.
When police officials showed up at the spot, they didn’t find anything incriminating on the NGO workers to prove Dhoni’s allegations. “There was no proof that there is any forceful conversion taking place, so both parties mutually agreed to resolve this dispute without any charges, and moved on,” Sandeep Pawar, sub-inspector of the Prem Nagar police tells The Quint.