The quiet lanes of fashion street in South Mumbai were filled with communal slogans on a Friday afternoon. A group of around 300 to 400 saffron-attired men, women, and some children, carrying posters and flags were part of a Hindutva rally, protesting against what they call "Land Jihad".
"Nahi chalega, nahi chalega Gad-durg pa Islamic atikraman nahi chalega (The Islamic encroachment of forts will not be tolerated)," they screamed, alleging that historic forts in Maharashtra are being encroached upon by the Muslim community.
The rally organised on March 3, 2023, was spearheaded by Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) along with several other smaller Hindutva organisations under the banner of Maharashtra Gad-Durg Rakshan Samiti to protest against the alleged 'Islamic encroachment' of historical forts of Chhatrapati Shivaji. They demanded that the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government constitute a high-powered committee to address the issue.
BOOM has previously reported on HJS's convention in Bengaluru in May 2022, where their speakers had discussed how to build a Hindu rashtra (Hindu nation) and their discussions had reeked of communal bigotry.
The video below shows the the said slogans being chanted.
The rally started at Metro Inox Cinema in Marine Lines and ended at Azad Maidan where around 20 speakers delivered their speeches most of which were filled with hate as they demanded Hindus to unite in order to save their religion.
At the rally, attended by hundreds, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti's Maharashtra chief Sunil Ghanwat told reporters that more than 50 forts have been encroached upon in the state. He blamed "Islamic atikraman", "Islamic encroachment" refers to the communal theory that Muslims in the state are trying to take over historic forts to 'Islamize' and are secretly vandalizing these forts to take over them.
The state has over 400 forts, of which approximately 350 forts are on government records, which is the highest of any state in India reported Deccan Herald on June 27, 2021. The issue of encroachment of forts has been a longstanding issue and there are several court cases going on over ownership of land near historic forts between the state government and tenants living nearby. However, the "Land Jihad" claim assumes that there is an alleged land grab to take over the forts just by the Muslim community adding a religious angle to the issue of encroachment.
Recently on February 16, 2023, the Bombay High Court stayed the demolition notices issued to over 100 tenements around the famous Vishalgad Fort in Kolhapur till March 10, 2023, and asked if there is a policy to deal with old settlements within a protected monument. The petitioners in the case had alleged religious discrimination claiming lack of action against alleged Hindu encroachers in the village.
Right-wing groups in the state have been protesting for the past few months targeting the Muslim community. From raising issues like "Land Jihad" which is just like the other conspiracy theory of "Love Jihad" where right-wing groups claim that Mulsim men are luring Hindu women and converting them and asking for laws against inter-faith marriages.
The latest instance of yet another communally charged rally comes just a month after the Maharashtra government assured the Supreme Court that clearance to such gatherings would be given only on the condition that no hate speeches are made by the participants. The state government had told the Supreme Court that permission for February 5, 2023, public meeting being organised by the Sakal Hindu Samaj (SHS) in Mumbai was subject to the condition that no hate speech will be made by the participants.
SHS an umberella body of Hindutva organistions also includes the HJS. SHS had held more than 20 rallies in Maharashtra's 36 districts with several alleged instances of hate speech being reported from these public meetings.
A Rally Filled With Communal Hate Speeches
"If they (Muslims) can come together to break the nation, then can't we come together to save our religion?": Ashutosh Jha, Hindutva activist
"These forts that established our existence as Hindus, today they need our help that's why we are at Azad Maidan," said Ashutosh Jha, a Hindutva activist and a YouTuber with 219 thousand subscribers while addressing the rally. Jha then went on and asked "Hindus to unite" and save the historic forts which he claimed had been taken over by "Mughals".
Jha then talks about the 2020 anti-CAA protests and terms the protest as, "Muslims coming together to break the nation". At 1.47 minutes in the video below Jha refers to the historic Lohagad fort in Pune saying, "Someone said that the Lohagad fort has been encroached on by Muslims. What are we doing? For one year they jammed the streets of Delhi, they disrespect our constitution. So then If they (Muslims) can come together to break the nation, then can't we come together to save our religion?"
Jha also later went on to call for the boycott of shops run by Muslims and asked Hindus to only buy from shops of their community. "When we buy halal stuff from Muslims that money goes to Mulsim organistaions for funding these encroachments," he went on to claim.
"Dargahs, mosques are not religious places and can be removed, compared to temples": Ranjit Savarkar
Addressing the crowd, Ranjit Savarkar, introduced as the great-grandson of Hindu Nationalist ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and chairman of ‘Swatantryaveer Savarkar Rashtriya Smarak’ asked why are Hindus hesitant to tackle "Islamic encroachment", while giving an example of another Gad-durg sammelan (fort conference) in Mumbai he said, "There was a Gad-durg sammelan in Mumbai and there were around 25-30 thousand people showed up, and here why there are fewer people? Because whenever we say remove Islamic encroachments, then they tell us why this Hindu-Muslim animosity. Tell me one thing, these Islamic encroachments, and dargahs, are they even religious?""
He then went on to claim that dargahs and mosques are not religious places and can be removed, unlike temples which are considered holy. "It is clearly stated in Quran that dargahs, madaris, and mosques are not religious places, they are just useful places meant to pray. In contrast to our temples which are considered sacred, because our Gods reside there and that's why we worship there."
At the 25 seconds timestamp this can be seen in the video below
Savarkar further on in his speech compares Saudi Arabia demolishing religious structures to justify the removal of dargahs located near historic forts in the state which he terms as "Islamic encroachment".
"Forts in Pune are becoming Islamic and are going to "Islamic terrorists"": Parag Gokhale, HJS
Parag Gokhale of the HJS during his speech alleged that the forts in Pune are becoming Islamic and are going to "Islamic terrorists".
"Today I want to talk about what's happening in Pune. In Pune the two forts - Lohagad and Sinhagad are there which are examples of corruption and encroachment. Lohagad was liberated by Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and he established a Hindu kingdom. But my brothers, today the situation is such that at Loahgad that Shieks have built a tomb there and placed a fakir (saint) there. To affect Hindus they started a Urus and started distributing meat there. Now they are converting that tomb into a dargah," Gokhale said.
He further went on to ask, "Lohagad fort is going to Islamic terrorists...In the coming days will Lohagad become Islamic? this is our fear."
The saint and incident being referenced is Haji Hazrat Baba Umarshahwali whose Urs or anniversary celebration was intended to take place inside Lohagad fort on January 6, 2023. After opposition from right-wing organisations to Urs, the Pune rural police issued prohibitory orders at the historic fort located near Lonavala hill station reported The Hindustan Times on January 5, 2023. The Indian Express reported quoting officials stating that even though the Urs or observance was intended to take place on January 6, 2023, no permission had been granted by the police and other authorities for it
"If this fails we know how to use other nitis like Dand (to punish):" Ved Murthy Dhananjay Shastri
While several speakers at the rally expressed their trust in the current Maharashtra government, and that it would address their concerns, one of the speakers Ved Murthy Dhananjay Shastri proclaimed, "This rally is part of our Saam niti (persuasion policy), but if this fails we know how to use other nitis like Dand (to punish) and bhed (to threaten)."
He then goes on to say later, "We are the followers of lord Ram, we will not take one coin, nor one soldier, but we will bury Ravan."
Shastri then adds again, "We have full trust in this government till now, but if this government breaks our trust, then we will have to use other nitis. The government should listen to everyone on this stage."
Minors boys at the rally
BOOM also noticed several minor boys at the rally, as the group of boys seen in the photo below, who had told us that they had come from Khar, Mumbai, and were there for the cause of preservation of historic forts.
After the rally got over, a group of woman volunteers were collecting the placards in a bag from protesters sitting near the stage. Manisha Shivsagar, a senior citizen and resident of Thane, 39 km from Azad Maidan spoke to BOOM about why she was present there.
"Around 25-30 of us have come together from Thane. We are here because we are fort admirers and we see there is a lack of awareness about our historical forts. Our main demand is that the Islamic encroachment of forts should be removed," Shivsagar said. "The Gad-durgs (forts) are of Hindus and they should remain for Hindus," she added.
On being asked if she has witnessed any "Islamic encroachment" of forts near Thane, she cited the Durgadi fort near Kalyan in Thane district, which she used to visit and claimed that, 'Hindus are frightened to go there now".
The Durgadi fort in Kalyan has been at the center of communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in the area with tensions flaring up in the past, as the fort premises has the Durgadi temple and a dargah.
The placard below reads, "Remove, Remove, Islamic encroachment on forts should be removed."
BOOM asked Satish Kochrekar, Spokesperson of the HJS whether the Maharashtra Gad-Durg Rakshan Samiti or HJS would be approaching the court on the issue of encroachments of forts to which he said, "We should remember the Hindu samaj observers law and order and this rally is part of this. But we have seen that when the court is approached and the decisions are given, they are not satisfactory. If I have a thing and someone comes and encroaches on it, the court says that person should also stay there and I should also stay there. This is not acceptable. That's why we have now come to the court of public opinion on this issue."
A day after the rally, the Gad-Durg Rakshan Samiti stated that their rally was success as Maharashtra Minister for Tourism Mangalprabhat Lodha had met their delegation at Azad Maidan and assured them that a "Gad-Durg Corporation" (Fort Corporation) will be set up in the next three months to preserve, conserve, protect and remove encroachments.
On March 4, 2023, Lodha also tweeted on visiting the rally and interacting with a delegation from the organisers assuring them a positive decision on their demands.
Lodha tweet when translated reads, "Visited the Gad Durg Defense Mahamorcha organized by the 'Maharashtra Gad-Durg Rakshan Samiti' at Azad Maidan in Mumbai. On this occasion, after interacting with the delegation of the committee, he assured that a positive decision will be taken on their demands. (March 3, 2023)"
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