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Indian-Canadian film-maker Nisha Pahuja spent years trying to get inside Durga Vahini, an Indian camp for radical Hindu women. She was finally granted permission and made the documentary The World Before Her. Here she describes what she saw in that camp.
BBC | London | 9 November 2014:: It is the final day of the 10-day Durga Vahini camp.
Eighty girls are on their way to march and chant through the streets of the western city of Aurangabad. They are about to proudly proclaim India a Hindu nation.
All across the country many such parades are under way or being planned by the Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) – the cultural arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the largest Hindu nationalist group in India.
Durga Vahini literally means Army of Durga – named after the goddess who is among the fiercest in the Hindu pantheon.
There is camaraderie and excitement on the bus. The girls are dressed in white salwaar kameez (pyjamas and long tunics) and saffron-coloured dupattas (scarves). Two of the camp leaders are at the front of the bus leading the girls in a chant: “Hindustan is for Hindus. Pakistan can go to hell!”
As the girls repeat the chant I’m struck by their eyes – they reflect the headiness of transgression.
‘Die for beliefs’
The leaders grin: “You could be put in jail for what you are saying!”
“We’ll die for our beliefs!” postures one young girl. “We’ll kill anyone who gets in our way!” yells another.
Ten days earlier the majority of these girls and young women, aged 13-25, were soft-spoken, shy and naive.
22For most, this was the first time – and probably the last time – they were away from home without their families.
Many of them came from small villages, had little education, were from the lower castes and likely to be married in the next few years. Before they got to the camp, many were also free of the deep-rooted prejudice against Muslims and Christians that so defines the mindset of the VHP and the RSS.
But a lot can change in 10 days.
Apart from the military-style combat training, the girls are fed a revisionist history that promotes Hindu supremacy and posits Hinduism as the only legitimate religion of India. They are also taught to see their role in the defence and propagation of Hinduism as a service to their country.
And they are trained to be warriors and wives – they must be strong enough to break the bones of the enemy but docile enough to never question their husbands. The Durga Vahini leadership is blind to this duality – but that it has repercussions is abundantly clear.
No-one has been more marked by this duality than Prachi Trivedi, one of the leaders of the camp and quite possibly the most enigmatic woman I’ve ever met. In her world of limited choices, working for the Durga Vahini – which she admits is problematic – affords her a degree of dignity and freedom.
Prachi is the reason I am here, allowed to witness and document this camp. It has taken me nearly two years to get access to this world and thus far ours is the only camera crew to have ever been allowed in.
“Durga Vahini is a Hindu Women Empowerment Group fighting against various social evils, upholding norality and Bharthiya traditional values, regenerating Hindu warrior spirit and serving our Motherland with positive dynamics”. ~ ~ ~ Upananda Brahmachari.