The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Innocuous as a weapon, the trident can still be used to signal religious militancy that could endanger the harmony among different communities

Nowadays no one goes to war dragging a battering ram. It could be used in certain specific instances to good effect, but technically it has been outstripped many times over. It is imp- ractical. So are swords, although Don Quixote did not notice. But they can be used too, more purposefully than the battering ram. In the same way, a trident cannot be considered a weapon. This is what a local court has ruled in Rajasthan, while granting five Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists anticipatory bail. This is perfectly reasonable, who would go to war wielding a trishul'

The basic incongruity of the situation, however, is exposed by the fact that a court should be sitting in order to judge this at all. And the incongruity is less absurd than dangerous. Tridents in the hands of certain orders of holy men of the Hindu faith are a common enough sight, they have never been charged with violating the Arms Act for that. The trident question has gained an edge only with the antics of the VHP leader, Mr Praveen Togadia, who has evolved a brilliant plan for exhibiting the militant face of Hindutva by an unprecedented ceremony called trishul diksha, in which hundreds of Hindutva activists are handed the modern version of a trident. Without questioning the wisdom of the court regarding the uselessness of the trident as a weapon, the context of the handing out of the tridents has also to be borne in mind. Activists of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal have never distinguished themselves in peacefulness, and their leaders, like Mr Togadia, are famous for their skill in incitement rather than restraint. Instead, it is the Bharatiya Janata Party, the big brother in the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre, that has shown admirable restraint. It has limited itself to vague throat-clearings and gentle lookings-away, and has never come down heavily on the activists of the militant wings of the sangh parivar, whether they threatened people and vandalized property on occasions such as Valentine’s Day or a beauty pageant, or descended in all-out attack against members of minority communities, verbally or physically.

In this context, particularly since Mr Togadia decided to repeat the trident ceremony in Delhi after having been arrested for it in Rajasthan, and also visualized tanks and missiles in Lahore and Islamabad while doing so, the innocuousness of the trident as a weapon becomes rather irrelevant. Carried as a defining mark of the faith, any weapon becomes symbolic, it has no practical use. Indians are used to having certain minority communities carrying a weapon ritually, as part of their regular apparel. The effect is similar when an order of holy men carries the trident, because it is the favourite of one particular Hindu god. But the trident is not a defining symbol of the religion, nor has it been traditionally carried by all Hindus. Its use in processions now can carry only one message, a message that is alarming for minorities and secular-minded people alike. And it can be used as more than a message. It is pertinent to recall here that the VHP is planning a set of arms training camps in Gujarat and in other states, where its activists will be taught to shoot. The VHP is not the least shy about making its purposes known. The trident may not be considered a weapon, but perhaps it is time to see who is wielding it and why.

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