India’s ever growing population coupled with soaring unemployment is bringing along its own bagful of woes. The vast diversity, the caste ills, a political system divided into a secular Left pitted against a hardcore Right, all acting as facilitators coaxing people to align into groups, alliances and fraternities with complex justifications not restricted to simple caste or creeds.

Like minded men and women, thus get driven by ideologies and agendas, some to protect and defend themselves for survival, while others, more militant in nature, to commit aggression and violence.

Though initially formed to safeguard their own or group interests and common welfare, like the private security agencies of big malls and complexes, these groups evolve and adapt with the changing times.

Even some of the peaceful ones, not to mention the ones whose foundations got laid on hatred and crime, often graduate into sophisticated Private Armies and militant groups that get difficult to reckon with. Such groups and private armies, both peaceful and those militant in nature have had their presence all through history. In earlier times these were more localised geographically and socially and thus had minimal presence felt outside their areas of influence.

With Social Media leaving no aspect of human life untouched, these groups of militant minded men and women have now become net savvy, exploiting the digital revolution to the hilt, and organizing themselves well enough to not only get their voices and influence acknowledged but also have a say in politics and governance.

The phenomenon, though seemingly alarming, is not only restricted to any particular country or region but has always been there across the world evolving through ages. From the ferocious Moqtada Al Sadr followers in Iraq to the notorious Koo Klux clan in the US, from the original Talibans of Afghanistan to the well trained Kurdish Peshmergas from Turkey’s border, from the world’s most powerful private army, the Blackwater to the Aegis Defence Services (ADS) of UK,  all having the element of commonality, that of not being on the State payrolls as regular armies.

Added to this were the books like Jeremy Scahill’s best-selling “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” and Robert Young Pelton’s “Licensed to Kill: Privatizing the War on Terror.” that hyped it all with an element of chivalry thrill and added to the Love for Private Armies and their rise.

As for Indians while inherently peace loving, governments have always upheld the rule of law and imparted justice to all, playing an important role in keeping the citizens happy and with a sense of security, thereby largely stifling any voices that called for militancy and violence.

However, despite all the claims, India has been a home to an array of such militant groups and private armies that at times pose serious law and order problems. Furthermore, to keep the federal structure of governance alive, the govt often has to use violent means using the Reserved Police Formations and even the Army to contain such pvt. armies or by banning them altogether.

The more recent examples of use of force by the Indian state to contain such groups and private armies was the quelling of Rampal’s RSSS in Hissar, Haryana and the eviction of the cadres of Azad Bharat Vidhik Vaicharik Kranti Satyagrahi and the Swadheen Bharat Subhash Sena led by their leader Ramvriksha Yadav, from the sprawling 280 acre Jawahar Park in Mathura.

Another shortcut to raise and maintain a Private Army in India is through launching a Security Agency and thus operate at will under the very nose of the state. To add to it, getting gun license in the name of such security agencies (after getting them registered) as well as in the name of individuals employed by them help in the burgeoning growth of Private Armies in the garb of such Security Agencies.  Also the public perception of social prestige associated with armed guards have led to constant revenues to these ‘private armies’ virtually invading the areas that traditionally belonged to government security personnel.

To name a few established ones that exist since the last couple of decades, aspiring as well as novices, functioning as private armies or militant organizations operating in India, many of which might be familiar to you:

The Rashtriya Samaj Sewa Samiti (RSSS)

Headed by: Rampal               Members: 8000 Approx

RSSS is the name of the group / private army of Rampal. The guy started his career as a junior engineer in Haryana government’s Irrigation department in 1977. He established Satlok Ashram in 1999 in Hisar while still being in government service, and started spreading its wings in Haryana. In 2002, he was removed from his post, charged with carelessness at work and first came to limelight after making derogatory remarks against Swami Dayanand Saraswati.

At the peak of its existence, RSSS had 8000 members associated with Satlok Ashram. Many of them used to keep themselves armed with pistols and rifles. The RSSS men also carried walkie-talkies and the RSSS intelligence wing used to monitor movements in Hisar, Haryana

In November 2014, Haryana Police on the orders of High Court, seized Rampal’s Satlok Ashram in Hisar’s Barwala after week’s of stiff resistance put up by his followers with guns, stones and Petrol Bombs.

private armies of india
Sant Rampal’s Private Army Guards at his Satlok Ashram in 2014 (File Photo)

As revealed by the Police later, Rampal’s Private militia battalions were divided into well structured companies and platoons, each headed by a commander. The fighters comprised of many Ex Army personnel who worked with military precision in safeguarding Rampal.

Presently Rampal stands charged with murder, forgery and waging war against the state, while many of his followers are facing cases of assault and criminal intimidation.

HINDU YUVA VAHINI

Head: Founder Yogi Adityanath

Strength: Though unverified but reports put the count in tens of thousands.

The Hindu Yuva Vahini is a Hindu youth group, founded by Yogi Adityanath, the present Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in April 2002. Wikipedia describes the organisation as a militant organisation, that has been complicit in communal violence as seen over the years. The organisation is headquartered at Gorakhpur.

Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) often referred to as Yogi’s Private Army, in its own words, describes itself as “A fierce cultural and social organisation dedicated to Hindutva and nationalism.” As has been seen in recent months and years, Cow protection, fighting Love Jihad and performing Ghar Wapsi have been the top priority on the Hindu Yuva Vahini’s agenda

 

Private Armies - Hindu Yuva Vahini
The Hindu Yuva Vahini was largely seen as a collection of ragtag elements until its ascent to power. Its members are seen here campaigning in the recent U.P. elections and is believed to have played a major role in BJP’s sweeping win in UP | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

Though earlier considered to be a rag-tag army, but now no more. Post winning of the elections and the ascent of Yogi Adityanath as CM, Uttar Pradesh, the organisation has got a new lease of life.  From meticulous recruitment drives, to regular contact and formation of neighborhood cells to monitor and keep an eye on anything that could be remotely anti-hindu, the organisation has come a long way to present sophistication.

Even the membership profile has slowly changed in the past couple of months. From the unemployed youngsters of its origins to a bit more mature in the age bracket of 25 to 35 years middle-class businessmen, shopkeepers, contractors and teachers have joined the organisation.

Several cases of inciting riots, murder and arson against Yuva Vahini and its leaders including Yogi Adityanath remain pending in courts. The prominent cities where riots broke out and have been allegedly linked to the Hindu Yuva Vahini were Mau (October 2005) and Gorakhpur (January 2007).

Private Armies in India
Hindu Yuva Vahini vigilante members take part in a rally in the city of Unnao, India, April 5, 2017. Picture credits: REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Allegations of Hindu Yuva Vahini members involved in violence fighting Love Jihad, recent mob lynchings by gau rakshaks have flown thick. Weeks back, three members Of Hindu Yuva Vahini were arrested on charges of rape and assault. View Report here >>

Concern: Under the blessings and patronage of the state, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a loose group of mostly males till now, has a potential to become a strong militant force that Independent India has never seen in its past 70 yrs. The group takes its dictats from the Gorakhpur mutt in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh.

Bhim army (Bhim sena) 

Headed by: Chandrashekhar Azad (Ravan)

Strength: Huge, As visible in rallies but no counted estimates.

Founded around two years ago by Chandrashekhar Azad in Saharanpur, the Bhim Army is slowly but steadiy making a mark as a popular force amongst Dalits not only locally but nationally. The outfit organised one of the biggest Dalit meetings in the national capital in recent times. Its leader Chandrashekhar alias Ravan is considered to be a very strong and principled young man. Dalit youths now have videos and audio messages of Chandrashekhar on their mobile phones, which they run on loop.

Private Armies of India Bhim Army
File Photo

As young a 2 years, the Bhim Army has shaken the roots of stalwarts like Mayawati, who remained the only populist face of the Dalits and the backwards till now. The popularity and strength of the Dalits could be gauged from the mass rallies that spontaneously got organized after the Una flogging and later at the Jantar Mantar where its leader Chandrashekhar made a filmi entry to address the huge and unprecedented gathering.

“I am getting so many calls from across the country for membership that I have had to switch off my phone. We do not yet have the wherewithal to handle such expansion,” said Vinay Ratan Singh, the Bhim Army’s ‘national president’.

Private Armies of India Bhim Army Jantar Mantar
Bhim Army protest at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi (File Photo)

Caution: Being a novice organisation, Bhim Army is being wooed by many seasoned political parties to have a sway towards themselves that will eventually benefit the political parties in the elections. From BJP to Congress to its more natural ally BSP all stirring up into action, seeing the popularity and potential reflected in Bhim Army and its youth leaders. 

Dera Saccha Sauda

Headed by – Gurmeet Ram Rahim                         Size – 8,000 approx

Dera Sacha Sauda or DSS is a non-profit social welfare and spiritual organization, established on 29 April 1948, by the ascetic Mastana Balochistani, as a centre for spiritual learning. Its main centre is situated in Sirsa, Haryana. The organization has swiftly spread to 46 ashrams / divisions across India with functional branches abroad, in the US, Canada, UAE, Australia and in UK. DSS presently is claimed to be having more than 6 crore (60 millions) followers worldwide.

Private Armies of India - Dera Sacha Sauda

The organisation has structured itself into the following:

  • Administrative wing
  • Political wing
  • Youth federation wing
  • Social welfare wing (Shah Satnam Ji Green ‘S’ Welfare Force Wing)
  • Medical wing
  • Educational wing
  • DSS IT wing

The head of the DSS, Shri Gurmeet Ram Rahim isn’t only a self styled godman but he’s also an actor who has released films like the MSD etc. As is common in India, people of eminence or fame are often found involved in controversies and so is in the case of Ram Rahim. The latter is alleged to have been involved in cases of murder etc. Organisations as huge as DSS, often have to keep a large number of personnel to maintain the safety, security and orderly conduct in the organisation at all times.

Ram Rahim’s Sirsa ashram is spread across hundreds of acres of land and its here that the perception is that regular training sessions for his personnel are conducted . This huge security paraphernelia is the one that the media projects as Shri Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s private militia that comprises of thousands of armed guards who can take the battle on the state if ever it tries to do a Rampal with him.

Caution: Technically not a private army but an army of security guards to mann the sprawling complex and to maintain order within the organization. Media seems to have gotten obsessed with “Ram Rahim” and has dragged him at every opportunity, right or wrong. Fairly peace loving and promoting sanatan dharma (equal treatment to all religions).  

Baba Ramdev to raise army of pvt. guards

Long back when the erstwhile central government (Congress) was pursuing and investigating Baba Ramdev, for various irregularities from financial to criminal, under a fit of rage, Ramdev had threatened to raise and train a “nationalistic army” of 11,000 followers to take on the security forces in the aftermath of any further crackdown on him or his supporters.

However, with the central and state govt’s busy with the more important issues, Baba Ramdev followed up on his promise and announced raising an Army of Private Guards who’ll be ‘prepared to die’ for India

Private armies of India
Baba Ramdev (File Photo, Representative only)

“Our security guards will be different from others because they will be trained in arms and scriptures and will be mentally, physically and spiritually stronger than others,” per Baba Ramdev’s office.

When we talk of private armies of India, it will be incorrect to overlook those scores that exist at state levels as small caste based private armies. To name a few:

Ranvir Sena: Ranvir Sena is the most powerful and most organised. It is a private army of upper-caste landowners and is known to be operating in central Bihar.

Sunlight Sena: Formed in 1989, the Sunlight Sena represented the Pathans and Rajputs of the area. Its sphere of influence was also quite large and had its presence and interests protected in Palamu, Garhwa, Aurangabad and Gaya in Bihar.

Bhumi Sena: Bhumi Sena was formed in 1983 to look after the interests of Kurmis and allied castes. It had its area of Operation covering Patna, Nawada, Nalanda and Jehanabad

Sawarna Liberation Front: The Sawarna Liberation Front was formed by the Bhumihars from the Gaya and Jehanabad region. It started its operations from 1990 and was a major force to reckon with.

Many such small armies keep mushrooming across India but the present ones that sprout at state or national levels are worth in the near future.

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