"Sambhal Ke Jana, Kawar utha ke le jayenge!" is a very commonly heard phrase in Delhi and it can either be used to tease someone or actually warn them! Kanwariyas are a large group of Shiva Bhakts who travel through Delhi every year and unlike most pilgrimages which are peaceful processions, the Kanwar Yatra is often compared to a swarm of locusts that destroys everything in its path.
Historically, The Kanwar Yatra was a small affair till the late 1980s where saints and older devotees used to travel to religious places like Haridwar and Gangotri to collect holy waters from the Ganges river. They used to carry pots of water back and pour it on to their local shrines. Eventually, the Kanwar Yatra started gaining popularity and with an estimated 12 million participants in the year 2011, the Kanwar Yatra has become the largest annual religious gathering in India.
But the reason people compare Kanwariyas (pronounced Ka-wad-iya) with locusts is that they have turned a religious procession into a massive rave party on wheels! Every year as monsoon is about to reach its peak, the city of Delhi braces for an invasion of orange-clad men carrying weapons like hockey sticks and baseball bats, openly smoking dope in the city while blasting music from loudspeakers tied to large trucks.
Heavy security measures are taken in order to give safe passage to Kanwariyas so that they be civilised throughout their journey but they do exactly the opposite. When Kanwars enter Delhi, they take complete control of the traffic. They will block roads with their trucks and cause a lot of commotion. And if someone questions their authority, they simply destroy his vehicle without thinking twice, even if people are sitting inside. In 2018, a number of videos went viral where Kanwariyas were seen vandalising a vehicle over a minor dispute while the police stood by silently.
The Kanwars have destroyed public property and there have been a number of cases where Kanwars have stolen things from roadside stores. This whole procession is an alcohol and dope fueled outrage that can't be stopped. So politicians in Delhi decided to help them out by giving them temporary shelter and food by setting up special camps for them. But the Kanwars turned these camps into huge afterparties where they blast loud music all night while openly consuming alcohol and drugs. As they depart from these camps, they leave a huge heap of garbage behind that the city has to deal with. While most Kanwariyas are humble people on a spiritual journey, its the young blood that creates all the ruckus and puts the group in a bad light.
Politicians and policemen have been known to favour these Kawariyas because a group of 12 million people sums up to be a pretty large vote bank. Last year a few politicians and an on-duty Aditional Director General of Police thought that it's a wise idea to shower petals on Kanwariyas from helicopters!
After looking at substantial video and written evidence, we came to the conclusion that if you, unfortunately, get caught in an incident with Kanwariyas, you would be in big trouble. So how does someone deal with a situation like this? Who better to ask than a Delhi local?
Gursanjam says, "If you come across them or are stuck in an area where they have suddenly taken over, its best to stay away from them and don't engage in any conversation with them. They are always on drugs and alcohol and blast cheap music on loudspeakers till the sun comes up. The Kanwars have destroyed Delhi many times and they continue doing so every year. There is no controlling them and its best to walk away."
The Kanwar Yatra stands as proof that religious mob lynching is thriving in India. Despite various efforts taken by the Delhi police and government, these Bhakts cant be contained. Till the authorities figure our a solution to this infestation of sorts, it is advised that locals stay away from the Kanwariyas.