On the evening of 12 April, a procession of around three hundred people participated in the “Ram Shobha Yatra,” a rally in Delhi organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad—an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—along with a few other religious organisations, to celebrate Ram Navami, a festival marking the birth of the Hindu deity Ram. The procession passed through multiple Muslim-dominated localities of the capital city. Most of its participants were men—of all ages—sporting orange turbans, several of them armed with swords. Raj Kumar, a member of the VHP, told me that the rally did not have a political agenda, and did not seek to threaten the Muslim residents. But Kumar also said, “Yeh rally Hinduon ki rally hai. Ab ki baar, Hindu sarkar”—This is a rally of Hindus. This time, a Hindu government.
The rally started at the Ram Leela Maidan—where the VHP’s Delhi unit, called the Indraprastha Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and the other religious organisations had held an event earlier that day—and passed through the Muslim neighbourhoods of Sadar Bazar and Daryaganj before coming to an end at Karol Bagh. Vaghish Issar, the working president of the Indraprastha VHP, told me that the Ram Shobha Yatra has been an annual affair for 15 years. He said the rally usually passed through Chandni Chowk, but due to construction work in the area this year, they crossed Daryaganj instead.
At various points during the rally, the participants raised their swords to chant “Jai Shri Ram.” Kumar was one of them, but claimed that it was not a sharp-edged sword, and that it would not be used to hurt anyone. When I asked him why swords were necessary for the procession, he said, “If weapons are not required, why were they used during the war between Ram and Ravan?” I tried to ask him about the effect such a procession would have on the Muslim population living nearby, but he cut me off. “We have just swords, they have AK-47s in their hands,” he said. “They don’t have flowers in their hands either.”
A tableaux of popular Hindu deities, on trucks and bullock carts, followed the procession. “Hum sirf apne dharam ke upar prachar kar rahe hai”—We are just promoting our religion— Kumar said. One such tableau on top of a truck depicted a temple, with a banner that read, “The future Ram Mandir in Ayodhya,” with text below that stated, “Ramlalla, we will come and make a grand temple.”