India: Muslim Man Alleges Son Taken to Hindu Camp

Rohit Wadhwaney

151026-IN-gulzar-620 A photograph of Gulzar Ahmed in his RSS uniform appears next to an image of his RSS card that identifies him by a Hindu name, Vijay Kumar.
Courtesy of Mahboob Ahmed

The Minorities Commission in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state said Monday it was investigating allegations that a Muslim teen was fraudulently sent to a “radical Hindu training camp” on the pretext of an educational trip organized by the boy’s school earlier this month.

Mahboob Ahmed, a resident of Siddharthnagar district, some 220 km (136 miles) from the state capital Lucknow, filed a complaint with district authorities last week, alleging that his 15-year-old son, Gulzar, was kept in a training camp organized by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) from Oct. 10 to Oct. 17 and “forced to recite anti-Muslim slogans.”

The RSS, a rightwing Hindu organization that has openly voiced sentiment against India’s Muslim and Christian minorities on several occasions, is the ideological mentor of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Ahmed, a daily wage laborer, said he deposited 450 rupees ($7) at Gulzar’s government-run school for the trip, which, he was told, was an educational tour.

“Gulzar wanted to go on the trip because three of his classmates were going,” Ahmed told BenarNews on the phone from his village, which is situated near the Nepal border.

“For a poor laborer like me, rupees 450 is not a small amount. So, I went to the school on Oct. 8 and met the principal, who assured me it was a study tour that would benefit the boy,” he said.

“But when Gulzar returned home on Oct. 18, clad in a white shirt, khaki shorts and a black cap, I was shocked,” Ahmed said, describing the RSS uniform.

On being questioned about his attire, Gulzar narrated his eight-day ordeal to his parents, after which they lodged a complaint against the school, Purva Madhyamik Vidyalaya, with the District Magistrate and Minorities Commission, the boy’s father said.

Ahmed said he withdrew Gulzar and his two other kids from the school.

Gulzar, Meet Vijay

“As soon as we got on the train, I was told that my new Hindu name is Vijay Kumar and all my friends were asked to refer to me by that name,” Gulzar told BenarNews.

The 15-year-old said his group was asked to get off the train a few stations later and was led to the Surya Mahavidyalaya, a college about 35 km (21.7 miles) from his village, where a few hundred boys were being paraded.

“They took my photograph and gave me an I.D. card. The name on the card was Vijay Kumar,” Gulzar said, adding that he did not believe anything to be out of order because his accompanying teachers assured him it was mandatory to have a Hindu name for the duration of the camp.

“For the next eight days, our mornings started with yoga followed by the collective chanting of anti-Muslim slogans,” Gulzar said.

“We were told that Islam is a bad religion and its followers are India’s enemies. We were given a bunch of poems we had to recite every morning. Most of them were about the ills of Islam,” said Gulzar.

The allegations come amid a growing number of reports of Hindu extremist and RSS-affiliated rightwing outfits forcibly converting Muslims and Christians, often in India’s remote areas that house the country’s massive illiterate population.

“We have no doubt that the RSS is holding such training camps to forward its agenda of turning India into a Hindu nation,” Shafi Azmi, spokesperson for the U.P. state Minorities Commission, told BenarNews.

“It is clear they are targeting Muslims, but we won’t let that happen,” Azmi said, adding that an inquiry into the allegations levied by Gulzar’s parents was underway.

“If found guilty, we will take the strictest action against Gulzar’s school principal and the three teachers who accompanied him to the RSS camp,” said Azmi.

Anyone can enroll

Purva Madhyamik Vidyalaya’s principal, Sri Ram Mishra, declined comment when contacted via phone.

However, RSS worker Sri Prakash, who organized the training camp, denied that cadres were taught any anti-Muslim literature.

“Anyone, regardless of race or religion, can volunteer to join these training camps, which are held once a year for a period of seven to 10 days in every district across the country,” Prakash told BenarNews.

The volunteer cadres, he said, were taught yoga, character building and the history of India among several other things, “but not anti-Muslim ethics.”

Jagdambika Pal, a BJP parliamentarian who owns the college where the RSS camp was conducted, said Muslim fundamentalists were trying to malign the image of his party and the RSS.

“Some anti-BJP, anti-RSS Muslim fundamentalists have coaxed this family into making false allegations,” Pal told BenarNews.

“Our inquiries have revealed that the boy (Gulzar) himself enrolled in the camp with a Hindu name and wasn’t forced into doing so by RSS workers,” Pal said.

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