'Hindu Khatre Me Hain'?: Four years of Yogi Raj witnessed 42 sadhus killed in Uttar Pradesh
Reports that at least 42 sadhus or holy men have been murdered in different districts in Uttar Pradesh have sent shockwaves through the state. In most cases they seem to have been killed by disciples
The death of Mahant Narendra Giri, President of Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (ABAP), and Mahant of Baghambri Gaddi Math in Prayagraj has opened a Pandora’s box. Sordid details of property, disproportionate assets, temple employees' lavish lifestyle and tussles and disputes to control sects, followers and wealth are tumbling out.
A report has suggested that in the last four years at least 42 sadhus have been murdered in different districts of the state for reasons ranging from property disputes to the fight for supremacy. The majority of the cases remain unsolved.
Congress state president Ajay Kumar Lallu had earlier claimed that at least 20 holy men had been killed in the state in the past two years.
“Crime related to a religious place always involves political patronage, pressure and protection. Be it murder in temple or mosque, the real culprit is seldom arrested because in the majority of the cases the culprit is an insider and a powerful person of that institution, whom no one dares to touch,” a senior police officer who is following the `sequence’ that led to the death of Mahant Narendra Giri.
Many of the akharas in the state have been involved in using their land for commercial use with the help of property dealers. Niranjani Akhara in which Mahant Narendra Giri held key posts had faced allegations of selling its land after making flats.
There are several high-profile cases which have remained unsolved. Take the example of the death of Mahant Ashish Giri, secretary of Shri Niranjani Panchayati Akhara, in suspicious circumstances in 2019. Another case that still remains unresolved is the murder of Sadhu Sajjaram, Harbhajan, and their one disciple in Deoria in 2018. The trio were killed and their bodies were found with their hands tied to a cot.
In another case, two sadhus namely Garibdas alias Jagan Das and Sher Singh alias Sevadas of Bulandshahr were found murdered in April 2020. The mutt with which these Sadhus were associated had a property dispute and after these murders’ government receivers were appointed to manage the mutt.
Even the death of Narendra Giri is linked to a property dispute. Giri and his disciple, Anand Giri — named in the former’s suicide note and who is now under arrest for abetment to suicide — were embroiled in a bitter property dispute, with Anand opposing Giri’s decision to sell land of Baghambari mutt in UP to individuals.
Most of the land owned by akharas — there are 13 of them in the country, with ABAP as their apex body — is either acquired at highly concessional prices or gifted for social and religious causes by patrons. Temples are often built on these donated lands. In the recent past, there have been allegations in Haridwar that akharas are illegally selling their land for commercial use.
Social activist J P Badoni who had filed several Right to Information (RTI) applications over the years on the sale of land and property by the akharas claims that he has evidence of wrongdoing and have written several letters to the authorities.
He claims that Akharas have sold land for personal purposes.
·In 1984 Mahant of Basatiya Patti Shubhkaran Das was killed and his body was found dumped in a well of Hanumangarhi. Upendra Das of the same Mutt was named as an accused.
· Mahant Haribhajan Das was shot dead outside Sagariya Patti mutt in Ayodhya in 1987.
· Priest of Ladli Mandir Mahant Jagat Narain Das was killed in a broad daylight near Hanumangarhi in 1988.
· Priest of Shukla Mandir was shot dead in 1996. He had a dispute over the property of the temple.
· Baba Ram Kripal Das was killed near Ram Ghat in 1997. Temple’s property dispute was the reason was behind his killing.
· In 2000 Mahant Jagdish Das was shot dead.
· Mahant was Sona Temple in Kanigaj was kidnaped in 2001 when he opposed the sale of temple property. His whereabouts are still not known.
With the holy men and their orders enjoying enormous political clout, no investigation is expected to go into details. Hindu holy men, however, seem to be vulnerable to their own Hindu disciples.