Kerala: Swords in children's hands that need books
Place books, not swords, in the hands of your children.
The unlikely advice to Kerala underscores the depth of the rot fundamentalism and polarisation can inflict even on a state that is considered among the most progressive in the country.
Harish Shivaramakrishnan, singer and front man of the popular band Agam, issued the appeal after the emergence of video clips that showed children carrying swords at a recent march near the capital, Thiruvananthapuram.
The marchers are said to be volunteers of the Durga Vahini, women's wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
The visuals have surfaced close on the heels of another clip that shows a child shouting incendiary slogans against Hindus and Christians at a rally in southern Kerala.
Several people have been arrested so far in connection with the offensive sloganeering, led by the child and chorused by others, at the “Save the Republic” rally held by the Popular Front of India (PFI) on May 21 in Alappuzha. The PFI, whose leaders are mostly Muslim, says it champions justice, freedom and security for all but critics describe it as an extremist outfit.
The Durga Vahini event took place a day later. The images show a march by women and young girls wearing white churidar-kameez and saffron sashes and bandannas. At least three girls at the head of the march can be seen carrying swords while the rest appear to be carrying long sticks.
Some of the marchers, including those carrying swords, seem to be minors. The video clips appear to show the girls marching to beats from an accompanying band and chanting slogans such as “Bharat Mata ki jai”.
Known leaders of the Durga Vahini and the VHP did not answer calls from this newspaper.
A portal quoted a VHP leader as saying on Monday that the swords were “dummies”. The leader seemed oblivious to the message such a march is spreading, regardless of the material with which the swords were purportedly made.
Kerala police have now filed a case against the Durga Vahini. Officers said the organisers had informed the local police station about their route but did not say the marchers would be carrying swords.
A source at the Aryancode police station where the FIR was registered on Monday said the march organisers and the about 200 participants had been booked under the Arms Act and several sections of the penal code.
The march was held at Keezharoor in Neyyatinkara, Thiruvananthapuram district, as the concluding part of the Durga Vahini’s Shaurya Prashikshan Varg — a seven-day “valour training camp” — at the Sree Saraswathy Vidyalayam. Schools in Kerala are now closed for summer vacation.
The event became widely known after several video clips and images were circulated on social media over the weekend, prompting the police to register the FIR on their own.
The FIR invokes penal provisions under Sections 143 (unlawful assembly), 144 (unlawful assembly armed with a deadly weapon), 147 (rioting), 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and 149 (common object in unlawful assembly) apart from Section 4 of the Arms Act read with Section 25(1b)(b), which relates to possessing a deadly weapon.
Similar events are regularly held in neighbouring Karnataka where the Bajrang Dal allegedly imparted training in airgun shooting to boys at a camp in Kodagu district earlier this month.
The young volunteers also participated in a “trident initiation” where each of them was given a small trident, one of the emblems of the Sangh parivar.
Shivaramakrishnan, the singer, wrote a Facebook post saying: “Place books, not swords, in the hands of these children. Teach them about brotherhood and peace, and not revenge and hatred. Teach them to live as human beings.”
Congress Lok Sabha member T.N. Prathapan blamed the CPM-led state government.
“It’s clear that such dangerous demonstrations continue to take place in Kerala because of the home ministry’s failure,” he wrote on Facebook, directly targeting chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan who handles the portfolio.