- The Temple: A Shiva temple that was the rallying point for the mob that lynched Mohammed Akhlaq over a beef rumour
- The Controversy: The new priestess wants to ‘purify’ the village for ‘cow slaughter’ using gangajal and cow urine
- The Sadhvi: The new priestess is a former lawyer and follower of Mahant Hari Giri of the Juna Akhada
It’s the village where Mohammed Akhlaq was lynched on September 28 on a baseless rumour of beef-eating. It’s the temple from which loudspeakers were used to hail the lynchmob. And its new priestess, the 35-year-old Sadhvi Harsiddhi Giriji Maharaj, is determined to keep the village and the nondescript Shiva temple in controversy with a ‘purification’ ritual involving the use of gangajal and gaumutra, or cow urine.
For now, the district administration has staved off the ritual. But, as investigation continues three months on into the senseless killing and what provoked it, it’s unclear where the former priest, Sukhdas, who was present when the lynching happened, has disappeared and how the sadhvi came to take charge. In September, after Akhlaq was killed, Sukhdas had been detained by the police. He had told investigators that some villagers had forced him to open the temple gates and let them use the loudspeakers to rouse a crowd. He’d also said he was earlier in Gujarat and had come to the temple only in June.
The villagers are tight-lippped about the new priestess, who arrived here barely a fortnight ago. But the sadhvi, her forehead adorned with sandalwood paste, strings of rudraksh around her neck, agrees to speak. She says she was a lawyer in Kaithal, Haryana, for five years before taking the spiritual path in June last year, and that she came to the Bisada temple in response to a newspaper ad. She is evasive about who had placed the ad and in which newspaper it appeared.
“I have come to this village at a time it has acquired such infamy after a cow was slaughtered here. No other sadhu wants to come here,” she says, seated on a wooden cot covered with a saffron sheet. “I suggested to the pradhan, Sanjay Rana, that a cleansing ceremony ought to be conducted in this village, and he readily agreed. He has said that he and everyone else in the village would support the ritual.” The pradhan is a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Dadri, and his son Vishal Rana had been arrested as one of the prime accused in the killing of Akhlaq and the murderous assault on his son Danish.
The sadhvi says she is a follower and devotee of Mahant Hari Giri, general secretary of the All-India Akhada Parishad and a leading figure of the well-known Juna Akhada of ascetic babas. He was recently in the news for lending support to the anointing of Radhe Ma as a high priestess. Photos and videos of this godwoman dressed in a bright miniskirt and cavorting with disciples had gone viral.
Speaking of her spiritual transformation, Sadhvi Harisiddhi says she undertook rigorous spiritual practices for three months in Haridwar. She claims to have had visions of Lord Hanuman on three occasions during this time. After successful completion of the initiation process, Mahant Hari Giri asked her to go and work in Varanasi. “Even there,” she says, “I took up works of national importance, such as highlighting the importance of cleaning the Ganga.”
She insists she has no links with either the BJP or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). But she can’t resist the temptation of adding that Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP has invited her guru and that the latter would call on the CM one of these days.
“It is actually Azam Khan of the Samajwadi Party who is trying very hard to have this peaceful activity cancelled,” she says of the administration’s crackdown on the ritual she has been forced to postpone. “But we will surely cleanse the village soon after all this tension dies down. The shuddhikaran alone can bring back peace and harmony to this village.”
But throughout the conversation, which lasted over an hour, she did not once talk of the village seeking atonement for the murder of an innocent. After all, it had turned out that Akhlaq did not have any beef in his refrigerator, as the mob alleged. Shuddhikaran on her mind, she says she isn’t going away anywhere from the temple, tucked away in the small Sankeertan Bhawan complex, beside a narrow canal.
“The villagers don’t want me to leave,” she says. “Though I will be visiting Delhi because a devotee wants me to take charge of a temple near the Yamuna, I’ll be staying here and looking after that temple too.” And she adds, “The devotee also wants to give me an Alto car, as his business did well after he followed my suggestions.”
By Pavithra S. Rangan in Bisada