The annual monsoonal rally of the kanwariyas—Shiva devotees originally supposed to be marching to a place of pilgrimage on foot, though trucks, cars, scooters, have become de rigeur—has been lately featuring in the news for all the wrong reasons. Last year, kanwariyas pelted policemen in a locality in Aliganj, Uttar Pradesh, when the latter arrived on scene in response to complaints by residents over loud music being blasted from trucks by the kanwariyas. On Wednesday, raging over a driver brushing past one of them, kanwariyas vandalised a car—turning it turtle after smashing its windshields and breaking its doors—in Delhi’s Moti Nagar area. On Thursday, they attacked Uttar Pradesh police personnel in Bulandshahr, forcing them to flee. It is ironic that the Uttar Pradesh police, as The Indian Express reports, had issued “red card” warnings to 250 families—saying that it had reason to believe that these families will stir up trouble—in the Aliganj locality where kanwariyas had clashed with the police last year. And if a senior police official showering kanwariyas with flowers from a helicopter—paid for from public funds, without doubt—isn’t enough of a perversion of police duty, surely Ghaziabad cops lining up by the side of the road to shower helmet-less “marchers” riding by on scooters is?
The traffic snarls aside, processions like kanwariyas’ has also become a cover for thugs and vandals to defy the law with brazen wantonness. Understandably, many have called for harsh clamping down on the marches of the “devout”. However, the criminality on the part of some shouldn’t become an excuse to summarily crush religious freedoms. If an Uttar Pradesh genuinely wants to do good by the kanwariyas, and the rest, it needs to ensure that law & order crises, traffic snarls, etc, don’t arise. There are many ways this can be ensured—by making certain roads with less traffic and away from residential areas, designated kanwariya routes, or by marking specific hours of the day for kanwariya processions to pass through, by strictly enforcing decibel ceilings, etc. Kanwar organisers, for their part, should learn to separate the thugs from the bhakts.