Last Updated on September 22, 2020
Sadhvi Rithambara is a Hindu nationalist ideologue and the founder-chairwoman of Durga Vahini. She is primarily noted for delivering speeches against Muslims, her speeches played a major role in the demolition of Babri Masjid.
Indicted by the Liberhan Commission, she is an accused in the ongoing legal case.
Ritambhara was born as Nisha in a lower class, lower caste home at Doraha town in Ludhiana district of Punjab.
She got her diksha from Swami Paramanand, at the age of sixteen and having became his disciple, followed him to his ashram in Haridwar and then, in his tours across India, while being primarily trained in oratory.
She entered the Sangh Parivar as a member of the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, the women’s arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Rithambara gained public prominence through her roles in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). In order to justify the involvement of ascetics (incl. herself) in mainstream politics, she went for a reconstruction of Hinduism through selective reading of Bhagvad Gita.
During 1989-1992, Rithambara disseminated several public-speeches that urged for waging a war against Muslims ; cassettes of those vitriolic outbursts were played at numerous temples and public places in India. Filled with rage and shrillness, the speeches heavily borrowed from gendered imagery; portraying the Hindu nation as a female body undergoing desecration by non-Hindus (and thus losing her morality), she drew parallels with rapes of Hindu women during partition and appealed to Hindu masculinity for reclaiming their lands, attracting large numbers of men, in the process.
Vividly organic and sexual imagery were used as well, from equating the Muslims with lemon in milk to comparing them with flies, who were allegedly mass-breeding to out-populate the Hindus. With highly selective and vague historical sketches and blended in with ample mythology, they subsumed various classes and castes under a common banner of Hindu nationalism; some scholars have identified this agglomeration as the most valuable objective, fulfilled by Rithambara and associate women.
Rithambara has been widely noted to be the single most powerful voice behind the whipping up of anti-Muslim sentiments across the nation, in the run-ups to the demolition of Babri Masjid; there was an overwhelming sense of passion, urgency and spontaneity, oft-accompanied by dramatic physical posturing, which instilled a non-rational collective feeling, among the audience. She was one of the three key women leaders of the movement, the other two being Uma Bharati and Vijayaraje Scindia; their leadership was largely responsible for the involvement of women in the movement and the form it took.
Scholars note that she operated far outside the traditional boundaries of feminine domains.
Rithambara’s skills at oratory made her a star-campaigner for Bharatiya Janata Party in both the 1989 and 1991 Lok Sabha elections and several state-legislature elections.
Demolition of Babri Majid
Rithambara was present during the demolition, cheering the crowd whilst standing atop the terrace of the Masjid. Three days after the demolition, she was arrested on grounds of inciting communal tension.
The Liberhan Commission that probed the Babri Masjid demolition held Sadhvi Ritambhara along with sixty-eight others of being individually culpable for leading the country “to the brink of communal discord” for their role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992.
A CBI court has framed criminal charges against Rithambara in May, 2017.
She retreated from her public role, soon after the demolition and kept a relatively low profile for a few years.
In 1993, Sadhvi Rithambara attempted to establish an ashram near Vrindavan and Mathura on land that the Uttar Pradesh BJP government had granted her for a minimal fee. However, the proposal fell through as the Kalyan Singh-led government was dismissed, and she was not allowed to take possession of the land by the subsequent Mulayam Singh Yadav led state government. In 2002, the state government led by Chief Minister Ram Prakash Gupta granted 17 hectares of land in the area, valued at Rupee 200 million, to her Paramshaktipeth trust for 99 years for an annual fee of one rupee for this philanthropic cause. Besides cultivating devotion in women, the Vrindavan Ashram has also imparted training in karate, horse-riding, handling air guns and pistols, with the stated aim of relieving the women from their traditional societal roles and making them confident and self-reliant. She also runs ashrams for unwanted infants, ladies and widows in Indore, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh.
In April 1995, Rithambara was arrested in Indore for inciting communal passions, after she referred to Mother Teresa as a “magician”, in the course of a speech denouncing Christian missionaries, who she alleged were converting Hindus. Rithambara’s address sparked off a riot and led to several arson, leading to the arrest of 169 people. During the 1995 Gujarat elections, she returned back to the campaigning fold for BJP and alleged about a Hindu-phobic attitude of Congress (I); this helped in mobilizing public electoral sentiments, especially that VHP was banned in Gujarat. She was arrested, soon after.