[sacw] Unholy city Ayodhya

Harsh Kapoor aiindex@mnet.fr
Fri, 9 Jul 1999 00:48:29 +0200

(South Asia Citizens Web)
The Week
July 11, 1999

Unholy city Ayodhya:
Many sadhus raise their hands not to bless but to kill. They peddle drugs
and swear by rum, not Ram.
By Ajay Uprety

Ayodhya wakes up to the first rays of the sun playing on the swift
waters of the Sarayu. Hundreds of semi-clad sadhus, wet clothes hugging
their austere bodies, squat on temple floors chanting hymns and mantras.
The chiming of bells rents the air and the smell of fresh flowers
invades the lungs.
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! Sadhus enjoying their drink in Ayodhya
Beneath this facade lies the slimy underbelly of the holy city where
criminals in the guise of sadhus indulge in activities that will shame
even the most ruthless underworld shark. Fights between different
factions to gain control of 4,000 maths in Ayodhya have turned the city
into a bloody battlefield. Most maths have large land holdings and get
thousands of rupees as charawah (offering) every month.
Criminalisation of Ayodhya began about two decades ago. Kamdev Singh, a
don from Bihar, took refuge in a math. He died in an encounter but by
then more criminals had realised the advantage of disguising themselves
as sadhus. The police seldom raid a math, questioning a sadhu's past is
against tradition, and he can hide behind a new name, often a derivation
of his guru's name.
Ram Kripal Das of Mungerv in Bihar, migrated to Ayodhya in the mid 80s
after killing a local politician. He became the chela (disciple) of
Mahant Laxman Das of Basantia Patti, Hanuman Ghari and for over a decade
he lorded over the Ayodhya underworld with his gang of sadhus. Two dozen
cases of murder and loot were registered against him in Ayodhya before
he was killed in November 1996.
"Ram Kripal was an expert bomb maker," said a former associate of his,
"and the Samajwadi Party helped him become the mahant of Sanatan
Mandir." A police officer said the political connections of the sadhus
often came in the way of combating crime.
A police attempt two years ago to identify sadhus with criminal
connections failed because of the large number of temples and maths in
Ayodhya, almost every house in the town has a temple. But the number of
criminal cases against mahants and sadhus has crossed the century mark.
Some of the murder cases relate to property. In September 1991, the
70-year-old mahant of Janki Ghat, Barasthan, was strangled in his
bedroom. Three sadhus, Janmejai Sharan, Balgovind Das and Kamlesh Das,
were accused of killing him to usurp the temple property worth Rs 15
crore. Janmejai became the mahant while the case is pending.
There have been several killings for control of the Hanuman Ghari temple
complex, where 600 sadhus live. It started in 1984, when mahant
Harbhajan Das was shot dead by his own men. In 1992 Deen Bandhu Das, the
head of the temple complex was killed; three years later it was the turn
of the mahant of Hanuman Ghari, Baba Ram Agya Das. Das was at
loggerheads with his guru, Baba Triyugi Das, over a piece of temple
In a fight for the mahant's seat at Lakshman Quila temple last year,
country bombs were lobbed into the room of Mahant Maithali
Sharanacharya. The appointment of Sharanacharya was challenged by Sanjay
Jha alias Maithali Raman Sharan, a former mahant's driver who had the
support of Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas chief Ramchandra Paramhans and BJP state
vice-president Vinay Katiyar. Raman Sharan usurped the mahant's seat,
and the sadhus supporting Sharanacharya launched an agitation in
protest. Finally, the district administration intervened and handed over
the temple keys to the agitating sadhus in March this year.
Sometimes the local people also have to pay with their lives for the
greed of the sants. Thus in November 1998, disciples of Mohan Das alias
Mauni Baba opened fire on the residents of Guptar Ghat, killing four
persons. The Baba and his disciples had allegedly planned to grab the
land adjacent to their Guptar Ghat ashram.

Baba Gyan Das, mahant of Sagaria Patti, admitted that many criminals had
made maths their hideouts. He blamed the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) for
the criminalisation of Ayodhya. "The VHP wants to control all the
temples and it has turned many mahants into killers," he said.
Tears ran down the cheeks of Guru Ram Kripal Das, mahant of Bhakt Mal
Bhavan, while narrating the harassment he was undergoing. A hundred
sadhus attacked his math last April and, though he escaped death by
hiding himself, he had ever since been receiving nasty calls asking him
to leave Ayodhya. Blaming Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, deputy chief of the
Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, for the attack he said Gopal Das was after the
Bhakt Mal Bhavan property. "His men have forcibly occupied the land and
have even started construction there," said Kripal Das. "I cannot do
anything because he has the VHP's support."
Besides grabbing land, many sadhus are into gun-running. A police
officer said a large number of prominent sadhus carried guns and those
who had legally obtained weapons rarely renewed their licences.
In the holy city, where selling of meat is banned, smack and other
narcotic drugs are available on its subterranean tracks. It is home to
about 70 drug peddlers like 'Asharfi Maharaj', who takes his customers
to a sadhu in a dingy temple-cum-house. Smack comes from the opium
fields of Barabanki, 100 km from Ayodhya.
A small packet of smack costs between Rs 50 and Rs 150 in Ayodhya. The
peddlers, in the guise of sadhus, operate from the nondescript maths and
it is the other sadhus who are the main customers. Liquor flows, too,
and one can see sadhus relishing their rum on the banks of the Sarayu.
Drugs, drinks and arms have become a way of life for these swamis who
hide their deeds behind their saffron clothes and sacred ash. The
mortals of this world dare not touch these godmen. They drink from the
cup of life till their past catches up with them in the form of bullets
or bombs.

Interview/Gyan Das, mahant, Sagaria Patti
VHP criminalising Ayodhya
Former wrestler Gyan Das, the 46-year-old mahant of Sagaria Patti,
Hanuman Ghari, wields tremendous influence in the religious circles of
Ayodhya, and is known for his anti-VHP stance. Das spoke to The Week at
his temple about the growing criminalisation of Ayodhya.
Do you agree that the crime rate is shooting up in Ayodhya?
Yes, there is no denying the fact that Ayodhya has more criminals in the
guise of sadhus today. I hold the VHP responsible for this. It not only
whips up religious sentiments to serve its political ends but also takes
the help of criminals.
There are a lot of court cases relating to temple land grabbing.
Becoming all in all in a temple means lots of money and power. The more
temples you have under you, the more powerful you are. Temples are
frequently captured in the name of religion.
Who are the people involved in this?
They all are influential mahants of Ayodhya. What Mahant Nritya Gopal
Das has been doing here is an open secret. He has captured many temples.
If I take more names it will create ill will among the sadhus.
Of late Ayodhya has been witnessing bloody incidents like the one in
Guptar Ghat.
Such things happen because of the desire of certain people to capture
land. Those involved in it are from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Though the sale of liquor and narcotics is strictly prohibited in
Ayodhya, it goes on covertly.
I have no hesitation in admitting that it goes on here. Those who use it
are not true sadhus. Because of them the sacred name of Ayodhya is
getting soiled.

Interview/Ramchandra Paramhans, mahant, Digambar Akhara

The fight for supremacy is
not a new phenomenon

Ramchandra Paramhans, the 90-year-old mahant of Digambar Akhara, is also
the chief of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas.
Excerpts from an interview with him.
How do you explain the criminalisation of Ayodhya?
I don't agree that Ayodhya is a city of criminals. There have been
clashes between different groups of sants, but they are basically fights
for acquiring rights.
But of late Ayodhya has been witnessing bloody clashes for establishing
supremacy over different maths and temples.
This is not a new phenomenon. The fight for establishing supremacy has
been going on in our society since time immemorial. Even highly revered
saints like Vishvamitra and Vashistha fought for supremacy. Without such
disputes society will not progress. There is no criminalisation in it.
So you agree that there are fights.
(Smiles.) Are there no fights among the journalists? What you call
fight, I term it as a struggle for principles. All the clashes revolve
round the question, who should be made mahant and who should not be. If
someone comes to capture Digambar Akhara, I'll definitely fight him.
What about the Guptar Ghat shootout?
It was due to a land dispute. Those involved were not mahants from
Ayodhya. Some anti-social elements had captured the land belonging to
the temple and when the sadhus tried to remove them it resulted in the
death of four.
Many mahants with criminal records are living in Ayodhya.
It may be possible. Ayodhya is a big city with 4,000 temples. You will
come across hundreds of beggars who call themselves sants and mahants.
Mahant Gyan Das has accused you and the VHP of supporting criminals.
Gyan Das is like a son to me. So I take his allegations indulgently. But
the VHP is a reputed organisation that does not need to resort to such
petty things.


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