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When temples become khaki-free, what does it mean

When temples become khaki-free, what does it mean

A uniform spells both authority and neutrality for the police. Changing it to a pujari’s clothes will do away with both elements

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Last Updated : 17 April 2024, 05:28 IST
Last Updated : 17 April 2024, 05:28 IST
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Inside Varanasi’s Kashi Vishwanath temple, policemen now wear ‘sanatani’ uniforms to ensure that ‘devotees feel respected’.

Meanwhile, in the same city, the police commissioner deployed both police and paramilitary forces, including the notoriously communal PAC, last week for Eid-ul-Fitr, the most important religious occasion for Muslims.

The same officer described the new saffron uniforms of policemen posted outside the temple’s sanctum sanctorum as a move to dispel the “negative perceptions” evoked by police disciplining devotees. The attempt he said, was to make the sanctum sanctorum ‘khaki-free’.

Eid, of course, has never been khaki-free. Is the nationwide customary display of khaki outside mosques during Eid aimed at ensuring the safety of Muslim devotees, or letting them know who's the boss?

In Uttar Pradesh, the display might well be to ensure that Muslims obey the ban on namaz in public spaces, introduced by the Yogi Adityanath government. Under this ban, you can get booked even for offering namaz just outside a mosque which is too full to accommodate you. So far, 200 have been booked after Eid for this ‘offence’; last year’s count was 2,000.

But you can be hauled up even if you offer namaz along with others in the confines of your own home or office. It seems the very sight of Muslims praying, collectively or alone, acts like a red rag for UP’s Hindutvawadis. When they pray inside mosques, Muslims remain invisible, and apparently, cause no offence. But a mass of Hindu devotees jostling to seek darshan? Now that’s a completely different sight. They must be treated sympathetically, spared the ‘negativity’ that a khaki uniform evokes.

One wonders what the police force feels when one of their own, someone they report to, describes them in these words. This reasoning also begs the question: ‘Should the ‘negativity’ evoked by a police uniform be done away with only for Hindu devotees?’

This question should be posed to Adityanath, for the Kashi Vishawanath temple is managed by the UP government. The decision to make police personnel posted inside the temple dress like pujaris, greet devotees with ‘Har Har Mahadev’, and tell them which temples to visit, obviously came from above.  

But it would be foolish to ask such a question of a chief minister who directs his officers to shower petals on kanwariyas when they start their annual yatra. This is the CM who declared in the Assembly: “I don’t celebrate Eid, I am proud of being a Hindu.” It is under his rule that Muslims were told to postpone Friday namaz by two hours, for Holi fell on that day. The police planned to make Holi revellers wind up early, but Adityanath would have had none of it, as he boasted at an election rally. Incidentally, in Adityanath’s second term, mosques are covered with tarpaulin on every Holi. Namaz in public can be banned, but imagine banning Hindus from throwing colour on mosques!

These double standards for citizens who must be treated equally by the Constitutional head of the State, have now become commonplace in UP. However, the latest change in police uniforms leads to other questions of constitutional propriety.

A uniform spells both authority and neutrality for the police. Changing it to a pujari’s clothes will do away with both elements. Already, the police commissioner has said that devotees would rather obey pujaris than policemen. Why then post policemen inside a temple at all? Why not just have an internal temple security force dressed in saffron?

Also, if devotees don’t like being ordered around by policemen, why not train the policemen to change their behaviour? Or is there a deeper problem here of a diminishing fear of the law?

There have been enough incidents of members belonging to Hindu Right-wing groups bashing up policemen in UP who try to restrain them from breaking the law. The 2018 lynching of Inspector Subodh Singh in Bulandshahr by a ‘gau-rakshak’ mob was a lesson in what can happen once appeasement of Hindutvawadis becomes state policy. This latest decision is but another example of such appeasement.

Most clashes between the police and Hindu devotees anywhere take place either because of extremely large crowds or because VIPs are given priority for darshan while commoners wait endlessly. The UP government seems to feel that devotees would feel more comfortable knowing that the policemen urging them to hurry up or stay in line are devout Hindus.

Judicial commissions and news reports have shown that during communal riots, the police tend to identify with the Hindu side. Now, the UP government, by making its police dilute both its authority and its neutrality by wearing ‘sanatani’ gear to please Hindu devotees, has taken one more step towards becoming a Hindu Rashtra.

(Jyoti Punwani is a senior journalist.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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