By Vasudha Venugopal
NEW DELHI: The room in Delhi’s RK Puram has three people answering phone calls, but this is no ordinary help centre. The three people answering calls are working out of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad office and this is part of the Hindu Helpline, which aims to be a one-stop shop for all things related to the faith — from advice on rituals to guidance on what’s to be done if your daughter is being harassed by “Muslim boys”.
It’s a helpline planned by VHP’s Pravin Togadia for the country’s majority community and the people staffing the phones insist India’s Hindus need a service such as this. A caller who identifies himself as Pankaj Pradhan from Ranchi says he’s in Ramanathapuram and needs help in getting a Navagraha puja conducted. The next is from Atmaram in Mumbai who says his plot has been taken over illegally by a Muslim builder. There are a few calls asking about the most auspicious time for rakhi.
Then comes the kind of call that everyone at the help centre knows is important. “I am speaking from Gurgaon. A group of Muslim boys has been harassing my daughter for a while now. Can you help?” Deepak Kumar, the coordinator of the Hindu Helpline in New Delhi, immediately takes charge and asks the caller to drop by the VHP office. Kumar, who runs a business of selling water purifiers, meticulously writes down the details.
“Do they also click pictures when your daughter walks by? Has he talked to her yet? Does your daughter have a phone?” The call centre functions mainly out of Pune but has help centres in nearly 50 cities, including Delhi.Handled 85,000 Calls in 2 YearsVHP, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next week, says the service is run by 40 people who answer calls full time and boasts of a nearly 30,000-strong network ready to respond to any Hindu’s call for help.
The helpline project was launched with the sole purpose of showing “the Hindu brotherhood in action”, Togadia told ET. “From clearing doubts on Hinduism to ensuring a hassle-free stay in an unknown city and providing advice on legal problems, we try to provide instant help to the caller. The attempt is to make the Hindu feel proud of being part of a network of over 100 crore Hindus,” the VHP leader says.
The service has handled about 85,000 calls in two years. For helpless and frustrated callers, the community initiative offers hope that their concerns will be addressed, Kumar says.
“There have been cases where people have alerted us of cows being taken into madrasas,” suggesting that the schools could also be doubling up as illegal abattoirs. “We have rescued them by going in groups. We are doing it for the Hindus, like Christians and Muslims help their people. Our attempt is to make sure no Hindu feels helpless in this country,” Kumar says.
Volunteers say they receive at least 80 calls daily, ranging from issues such as Hindu tourists stuck in pilgrimage spots to complaints about Muslim neighbours. Hindus curious about rituals are told about the “scientific principles” that underpin them and advised on auspicious days and timings for religious activities. Legal, financial and medical help is also provided to Hindus, according to brochures for the helpline, which has eminent retired senior civil servants, doctors and lawyers on its advisory board.
The service is publicised by Hindu organisations, ashrams and temples. The volunteers are mostly businessmen or students selected for who they know and their willingness to serve the Hindu community, besides having access to resources, such as a vehicle that can be used in an emergency.
Dealing with the ‘harassment’ of Hindu girls is a significant part of their work. “We get a large number of calls about Muslim boys harassing Hindu girls — at least 20 in Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi alone, everyday,” Kumar says. Of course, the VHP men are scrupulously law-abiding, he’s quick to add. “We don’t take these matters into our hands but we make sure the police and the community know it and do something about it.”
The helpline has a policy of not getting involved in public agitations, Togadia says. “In cases of harassment we quickly inform VHP members and the police in the area.”
As soon as calls like this are received, the helpline alerts Bajrang Dal activists and youths associated with the Hindu Samaj. Of late, helpline volunteers have also been getting calls from Hindu women married to Muslims and wanting to return to their families, especially since many of these men are big-time bigamists, Kumar says.
“Their families are not ready to accept them but we will try to rehabilitate them,” Kumar says. “The culture and nature of a Hindu and Muslim is very different. There is no way a Hindu girl will be happy in a Muslim family. Our women cannot even see their husbands laugh and talk to other women, and there she has to see him share his life with three or four other wives. Eventually, because she is alone and with no support, she is left with no one to care for her.”
The helpline says it’s been able to help in cases where members of a Hindu family have died in accidents by arranging tickets and with last rites. It’s also been able to help in emergencies.
“Last year, a girl from Chandigarh developed severe abdomen pain while on a train to Delhi. Her father called us frantically and in an hour, our volunteers reached her in Sonepat,” says Shibubhai, a member of the organisation.
Devendra Apte from Nashik says he called the helpline once when his brother passed away in New Delhi on an official trip. “Not only did they help with the formalities of post mortem, but also arranged for the body to be sent to Nashik.”
The greatest urgency is reserved for calls related to forced conversions. “We consider every call as an emergency call and our strength is our network that we put to use instantly,” Shibubhai says.
Then there are Muslims who buy homes in Hindu areas, something Togadia himself has said needs to be actively discouraged.
“Sometimes Hindus living in areas meant for Hindus sell their houses to Muslims, and the situation becomes grave when the latter doesn’t vacate, despite neighbours having problems with him,” says a volunteer. “We have gathered support in such cases too.”
Earlier this year, Togadia was seen on video telling a meeting in Bhavnagar in Gujarat that Muslims who buy property in Hindu-dominated areas should be driven out and how this should be done.
Users of the helpline have good things to say about it. A teacher in Mumbai, Rajni Shah, first came to know about the helpline from her brother-in-law, Nirmesh, who says he calls the number at least twice a month. “I am a salesman and have to visit many small cities. I call the helpline and ask for cheap lodges run by Hindu families with vegetarian food.
I have never been disappointed.” Rajni herself has used the service twice. “When my daughter wanted to dress like Hanuman on her fancy dress day in school, I wanted to know if such a thing was permitted as Lord Hanuman is a Brahmachari. They were very nice to talk to,” she says.