- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2001

NEW DELHI — The youth movement of the militant World Hindu Council, the Bajrang Dal, is providing extensive arms training it says is designed to protect the Hindu faith against "enemy forces."
About 100 young men between the ages of 21 and 26 gathered at a camp early this month in the northern city of Lucknow. There they learned how to fire guns and attack people with judo moves and knives.
Similar 10-day camps are being conducted in other Indian cities, attracting mostly unemployed Hindu men and young women from the lower sections of society.
The teachers insist that the training is "totally above board and not dangerous" because the air guns used at the camp do not require licenses.
However, said Ved Prakash Sachchan, a senior Bajrang Dal member and teacher, "A number of these young men and women do apply for proper gun licenses at the end of the training and go on to buy revolvers, or … other sorts of guns."
The Bajrang Dal, often found to be connected to communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in India, was at the forefront of the demolition of a 16th-century mosque by a Hindu mob in the town of Ayodhya in December 1992.
They claimed that the mosque was built over a temple destroyed by Muslim invaders. The demolition unleashed communal violence across India and the case is still in court. But the Hindu extremists are determined that a temple will soon be built soon over the ruins of the mosque.
"By giving this gun training, we want to create the same sense of urgency and excitement in the youth that was there when the mosque was demolished but which has since frittered away," Mr. Sachchan said.
Critics of the Bajrang Dal believe that the training will only increase the fear of Hindu extremists within Indian society.
At the end of the 10-day session, one of the Bajrang Dal youths, Vikas Babu Mishra, told the Times of India newspaper that the training had taught him how to "beat those people who do not respect Hinduism."
In New Delhi, the leader of the World Hindu Council, Ashok Singhal, said in an interview that he believed that all Indians should be given arms training.
"What is wrong with that? It's good for the nation," he said, surrounded by three security guards armed with submachine guns.
"It's good that these unemployed young men are learning something. Otherwise, they would be out on the streets misbehaving with young women and creating havoc," said another World Hindu Council leader, Giriraj Kishore.
The Bajrang Dal plans in August to teach about 50,000 members how to fight with the trident, the symbol of the group.
"We are ready for the Muslims anytime, anywhere," said another trainee who declined to be named.
Mr. Sachchan insisted that the training was not intended to increase violence between religious communities.
"We are merely preparing them to face any eventuality. With the Pakistani intelligence spreading its tentacles, these people are really just being trained how to challenge anti-Hindu forces. Or would you rather we were sitting ducks ?"
With the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party leading the government, anti-Muslim groups have been gaining in confidence as well as in numbers throughout the country.
The Bajrang Dal says that it would like to see more than 200,000 members attending training camps by the middle of next year.
The Indian government has so far not reacted to the increasing presence of the camps.

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