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Kanwar Yatra has come to an end but Kanwariya hooliganism is here to stay

The rowdy gangs have marked their territory.

 |  7-minute read |   09-08-2018
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DJ music 

Drugs  

Batons/tridents  

Vandalism 

They come out in packs, fuelled by chillums and ear-splitting DJ music, wielding lathis and tridents every time they feel someone else is walking onto their territory. Meet the hooligan-pilgrim of new India, 'honoured and authorised' by government authorities and police.

The Uttar Pradesh government this year took special care to tick off all must-haves on its bucket list to ensure a safe, convenient and grand Kanwar Yatra — the annual pilgrimage where Shiva devotees walk to river Ganga in Haridwar, Gaumukh and Gangotri in Uttarakhand to collect the holy water and return to Shiva shrines in their local areas. This year, the yatra started on July 28 — and how.

Flower shower and temporary meat 'ban' in UP

In Uttar Pradesh, the armies of kanwariyas were welcomed with rose petals showered from a helicopter. In a video which went viral, the Additional Director General of Uttar Pradesh Police (Meerut zone), Prashant Kumar, is seen showering rose petals on the yatris from a helicopter. Earlier, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath conducted an aerial survey of the Kanwar Yatra route.

flo_080918071454.jpgFlower shower for the kanwariyas — many engaged in destroying vehicles below. (Screengrab from the video that went viral).

According to various news reports, most meat shops and restaurants offering non-vegetarian food were ordered either to shut temporarily or serve vegetarian food during the yatra. Rajesh Kumar Pandey, SSP (Meerut), thanked all those engaged in the meat business for “cooperating” during the yatra. “I am thankful to them that a majority closed down shutters for the period or have switched to the vegetarian mode,” he was quoted as saying in this report.

Vandalism in Delhi

In a season of viral videos, Kanwariyas were earlier seen vandalising a car in West Delhi. A video shows as many as 20 kanwariyas severely damaging the car’s windows and windshield, even as two cops are seen sauntering in the vicinity. The car’s occupants, according to the police, fled the scene, fearing for their lives, and refused to file any complaint in  writing. The cops also claimed that the car had hit a Kanwariya, who was also reportedly slapped by one of the occupants of the car. 

kanwar-reuters_080918071353.jpgHe's got their back: UP CM had allowed DJs, ordered pruning of 'inauspicious trees' along routes taken by kanwariyas. (Credit: Reuters photo)

In a separate incident, a group of kanwariyas were captured on video attacking a vehicle in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr. The target of the kanwariyas this time was a black SUV of the Uttar Pradesh Police. According to this India Today report, in the video, at least two people are seen attacking the police car with sticks even as a large crowd is seen gathered around the car. Police personnel are seen wading through the crowd and getting into the car before the vehicle reverses and flees from the area. The crowd is then seen running after the vehicle. The video ends with the group of kanwariyas running away in an unknown direction. Uttar Pradesh Police has begun an investigation into the incident.

Residents fleeing

The UP Police reportedly descended upon Khelum village in Bareilly, issuing "red cards" to deliver a “psychological message” to those who “may cause trouble” during the yatra. According to a report in The Indian Express, the residents were also made to pay a “symbolic bond of Rs 5 lakh", which they will have to pay up if the administration deems that they have created a disturbance.

According to the same report, the police have also been searching the homes of residents – both Hindus and Muslims – in addition to issuing “red cards”. The crackdown prompted about 70 Muslim families to lock their houses and leave the village as they fear they could be falsely implicated if there is a repeat of last year’s violence that erupted between the Kanwariyas and members of the Muslim community.

The police also reportedly established a “control room” in one of the houses, whose occupant has since left the village. CCTV cameras have also been installed along the yatra’s route.

Not a new trend

Last year, the Uttar Pradesh CM had reportedly ordered pruning of "inauspicious gular (fig) trees" along the routes to be taken by Shiva devotees while fetching water from the Ganga in the Shrawan month. 

The decision, according to this report, was taken at a meeting that reviewed preparations for the kanwar yatra, and was presided over for the first time ever in the state by a chief minister. Earlier, chief secretaries used to head such meetings.

"Gular adi jaese kanwariyon dwara apavitra mane jane pedon ki chhantai tatha mishrit jansankhya wale kshetron me CCTV camera ki wyawastha ke nirdesh bhi adhikariyon ko diye hain (Officers have been asked to trim cluster fig trees, which are considered inauspicious by the kanwariyas, and install CCTV cameras in the areas of mixed population)," a media statement issued by the Uttar Pradesh information department said.

Must-must DJ music

The kanwariyas returned the UP Police's favour with praises for the Yogi government.

According to the same Indian Express report, "They responded by prostrating on the highway as the chopper passed and raised slogans in praise of the chief minister while the DJs blared, “DJ bajwa diye Yogi ne, Bhole nachwa diye Yogi ne (Yogi switched on DJ, Yogi made the devotees dance)”.

The DJs also took a dig at the previous Samajwadi Party government which had banned loud music during the Kanwar Yatra. “Akhilesh ne hukum sunaya tha, DJ per ban lagaya tha, 2017 ke chunav me Bhole ne usey haraya tha. Chakke chuda diye Yogi ne. (Akhilesh had announced their order, DJs were banned; And in 2017 Lord Shiva ensured his defeat; Yogi has cut him to size).”

Is no one bothered?

It's not that no one foresaw the situation. Earlier, Uttarakhand’s principal secretary reportedly wrote to home secretaries in Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, asking them to conduct checking of all kanwarias and their vehicles, and remove tridents, sticks, baseball bats and hockey sticks from their possession, to avoid untoward incidents.

On July 9, Principal Secretary (Home) Anand Vardhan in his letter said: "Last year the footfall was around 3.7 crore, and it is only expected to increase this year. Most of the time, kanwariyas carry tridents, baseball bats, hockey sticks and they don’t hesitate to use these weapons whenever they have an argument or fight with anyone. They also fight with shopkeepers and local public, which becomes a major law and order issue.”

The letter also claimed that some of them "consume drugs, which is another challenge for law and order enforcement officers".

“Kanwariyas initially came walking, but later some of their groups came in tractors, trolley, trucks, etc., to Haridwar. It was observed that they start competing while returning home, driving rashly and causing road accidents. Their vehicles are also equipped with big music systems, which increases the possibility of road accidents,” it states. He said the Uttarakhand police always removes these weapons and music systems. 

Thankfully, the yatra has come to an end — but the hooliganism perhaps will continue.

And we all know why.

Also read: Why kanwariyas can get away with drugs and a rave party on the highway

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