Camera: Shiv Kumar Maurya
Video Editor: Vivek Gupta, Deepthi Ramdas
Two body guards and a policeman deboarded the SUV first and walked towards us to block our cameras. Clad in saffron, Narshinganand Saraswati - the head priest of Dasna Devi Mandir - was led out of the car by a follower, bending to touch his feet.
Staring us down with suspicion, he asked, “Where are you from?”
“The Quint, sir.”
Next we know, he directs the policemen, who stay stationed at the temple for ‘security purposes’, to ask us to ‘leave the premises immediately.’
Following requests and confirming that both the reporters are from Hindu community, Narsinghanand agreed to talk to us about the incident where a Muslim minor boy was thrashed inside the temple premises last week for drinking water.
“My followers beat up that Muslim boy because they are suspicious of all Muslims. We don’t want any Muslim inside this temple, not even a Muslim journalist or a government official. This is a temple for the devotees of Sanathan Dharma.”Narsinghanand Saraswati
‘What’s My Crime, Drinking Water or Being a Muslim?’
Outside the temple at the entry gate, a big board states, “This temple is holy for Hindus. The entry of Muslims is strictly forbidden, as per instructions of Narsinghanand Saraswati.”
*Sultan, 14, says he missed the board while on his way back from his day job as a ragpicker. “I was very thirsty and I spotted a tubewell inside the temple so I went inside. When I was exiting, two Pandits stopped me and started interrogating me. When they found out my name, they started thrashing me, hitting me on my private parts.”
Narsinghanand says the board has been up for many years now “to prevent Muslims from harassing Hindu women inside the temple or stealing artifacts.”
Both Narsinghanand and another ‘sevak’ at the temple Suneta Nandan claimed that the boy had come to steal from the temple when he was thrashed. However, they couldn’t provide us any evidence to back their claims and neither were they present at the spot when the incident took place.
But, Narsinghanand says he will fight “tooth and nail” to free his two disciples who have been arrested by the police in connection with beating the child. “They are my followers, and I will do anything for them,” says Narsinghanand.
The main accused, Shringi Nandan Yadav, who is seen holding weapons and sharing inflammatory speeches by Narsinghanand, hails from Bihar and had allegedly taken shelter at the temple after losing his job during the lockdown, media reports said. Shringi Yadav and his accomplice, who recorded the video of the incident, have been charged with Sections 504, 505, 323 and 352 of the IPC.
The video of the crime was first uploaded on an Instagram handle called @HinduEktaSanghh, which has now been deleted. The Instagram handle used to repeatedly upload islamophobic and hate-filled posts. In the caption of the Muslim minor boy’s video, Shringi Yadav was praised for ‘successfully neutering Muslims’ through his ‘brave act.’
Hate Speech to Weapon Training: The Many Controversies of Narsinghanand Saraswati
The chief priest of Devi Mandir at Dasna, Narsinghanand is also the leader of a Hindutva organisation called Hindu Swabhiman and president of the Akhil Bharatiya Sant Parishad.
Narsinghanand has been calling for a “final war against Muslims” and believes that “Islam must be removed to save humanity”.
On number of occasions, his name has come up in connection with raising the communal tensions in western Uttar Pradesh, including the areas adjoining Delhi.
Saraswati had allegedly made several incendiary comments a day before the 23 February communal riots in northeast Delhi, such as “Humanity can be saved only if we finish off Islam” and “If we don’t remove an evil like Islam from society, how will we survive?”
In 2017, a video of gunshots being fired at the Dasna Devi temple went viral, exposing how people were being trained in the use of guns at the temple. On being asked if the guns being used are legal, Saraswati’s response was, “License? When the war with ISIS begins, these laws won’t make a difference.”
In a documentary by The Quint in 2015, Narsinghanand’s aides could be seen telling a child that he needs to learn how to use weapons to “fight Muslims who are exploiting Hindu women.” The documentary also reveals how Narsinghanand himself was spreading hatred against Muslims.
Although the recent case of the 14-year-old has grabbed headlines, Muslims in the area say this was not a sole incident and that they have been living on the edge for years, due to Narsinghanand.