Are Adivasis Hindus?

Ram Puniyani

Forthcoming Census and RSS campaign

Currently massive protests are going on against NPR, NCR and CAA. At the same time we are going to begin the process of decadal census in 2021. Already RSS is active in promoting NPR, NCR and CAA. At the same time RSS wants that Adivasis should register themselves as Hindus rather than ticking the column of ‘Others’. As per their spokesperson in the 2011 census many Adivasis groups ticked that column because of which the population of Hindus came down to by 0.7 percent point to come down to 79.8 %. This has sent signals to this Hindu nationalist organization and is planning to ensures that Adivasis tick the column of Hindus in this census.

As such RSS has a very clever attitude in defining the term Hindu. The first formulation was by Savakakar who said that all those who regard the land east of Indus as their Holy land and Father land are Hindus. This left out Muslims and Christians, and brought all others in the ambit of Hindu fold. From the decade of 1980s due to electoral compulsions they have been trying to articulate that all those who are living in India are Hindus. Murli Manohar Joshi stated that Muslims are Ahmadiya Hindus and Christians are Christi Hindus. Recently there was a controversy when they restated that Sikhs are not a separate religion but are a sect of Hinduism. Many Sikh organizations stood up to say that Sikhism is a religion by itself and recalled the book of Kahan Singh Nabha, “Hum Hindu Nahin”

As far as Adivasis are concerned in contrast to what is being planned by Hindu nationalist RSS, many Adivasis groups have been meeting from last couple of years to demand just the contrary. As per them there should be a column where they can tick their identity of Adivasis.  There are active campaigns among Adivasis groups to uphold their Adivasi identity in Census. As per them in the first census which was conducted in Independent India, the column, Aborigines, was there, which was later removed forcing them to club themselves with other religions.

After 1951 in addition to Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain and Buddha, the column ‘others’ was also there which was removed in 2011. Even during British period if you look at the censuses of the British era (from 1871 to 1931); there was provision for tribes to choose Aborigine as an option. There are nearly 83 religious practices being followed by Adivasis. Few major of these are Sarna, Gondi, Punem, Adi, and Koya. What they share in common is that they are animists, worship nature and spirit of ancestors; do not have priestly class or Holy Scriptures and Gods and Goddesses characteristic of the broad Hindu pantheon.

RSS as per its political agenda of Hindu Nation regards them as Vanvasi. They pontificate that they have been part of Hindu society who were driven away to forests to escape the forcible conversion being done by the Muslim invaders. This concoction is contrary to the interpretations based on the studies from population genetics. The Hindu nationalist argues that Aryans have been the original inhabitants of the country from where they spread to other parts of the World. The book by Tony Joseph, ‘Early Indians’ tells us that away from the race theory, we are all mixed up. The first inhabitants in our land were the ones who emigrated from South Asia over Sixty thousand years ago.

The Indo-Aryans came here nearly three thousand years ago and they pushed the aborigines to the forests and hills and that’s what constitutes the Adivasi community of India.

Hindu Nationalists like all the nationalists who construct their nationalism around their religion claim to be the most original inhabitants of the land, and their interpretations of past are molded according to that. RSS right from beginning has not been using the word Adivasi, it calls them Vanvasi. As per its agenda it wants them to be part of Hindu fold, despite Adivasis themselves saying that they are not Hindus, they have beliefs and practices which are far away from Hinduism in whatever form.

To enhance its political reach from the decades of 1980s in particular its work in Adivasis areas has been intensified. While ‘Vanvasis Kalyan Ashram’, part of RSS Combine which was formed much earlier, it was in the decades of 1980s that their work was jacked up by sending more Pracharaks in Adivasi areas. We see that in Gujarat, Dangs and nearby area, Swami Aseemanand, in MP, centered around Jhabua-the followers of Asaram Bapu and in Orissa Swami Laxmananad stationed them. They saw Christian missionaries working in the field of education and health as an obstacle to Hinduization of Adivasis. Their propaganda against Christian missionaries led to the ghastly murder of Pastor Graham Stains. It was this propaganda which led to anti Christian violence in various forms, the most horrific being the Kandhamal violence of 2008.

In order to culturally co-opt them into the fold of Hinduism they began series of religious congregations, Kumbhs. Shabri Kumbh in Dangs and many other Adivasis predominant areas created an atmosphere of fear, Adivasis were asked to be part of it, saffron flags were distributed and they were made to put it in their houses. Two religious icons were popularized in these areas, one was Shabri and other was Hanuman. To cap it all, Ekal Vidyalayas, started spreading RSS’s interpretation of history in these areas. The other angle of the whole thing is that Adivasis are living in the areas rich in minerals, which the BJP supporter Corporate World wants to take over.

World over aborigines have similar pattern. They are animists and what they practice is a culture as such. Many have converted to other religions out of their choice for sure, but finally in these matters what is important is the self perception. Hemant Soren the Chief Minister of Jharkhand pointed out that “Adivasis are not Hindus. ”Keeping that in mind; the column of Aborigines needs to find its place in our census forms.


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

Social organisations and political parties need to cultivate Indian fraternity again.

Noam Chomsky is one of the leading peace workers in the world. In the wake of America’s attack on Vietnam, he brought out his classic formulation, ‘manufacturing consent’. The phrase explains the state manipulating public opinion to have the public approve of it policies—in this case, the attack of the American state on Vietnam, which was then struggling to free itself from French colonial rule.

In India, we are witness to manufactured hate against religious minorities. This hatred serves to enhance polarisation in society, which undermines India’s democracy and Constitution and promotes support for a Hindu nation. Hate is being manufactured through multiple mechanisms. For example, it manifests in violence against religious minorities. Some recent ghastly expressions of this manufactured hate was the massive communal violence witnessed in Mumbai (1992-93), Gujarat (2002), Kandhamal (2008) and Muzaffarnagar (2013). Its other manifestation was in the form of lynching of those accused of having killed a cow or consumed beef. A parallel phenomenon is the brutal flogging, often to death, of Dalits who deal with animal carcasses or leather.

Yet another form of this was seen when Shambhulal Regar, indoctrinated by the propaganda of Hindu nationalists, burned alive Afrazul Khan and shot the video of the heinous act. For his brutality, he was praised by many. Regar was incited into the act by the propaganda around love jihad. Lately, we have the same phenomenon of manufactured hate taking on even more dastardly proportions as youth related to Hindu nationalist organisations have been caught using pistols, while police authorities look on.

Anurag Thakur, a BJP minster in the central government recently incited a crowd in Delhi to complete his chant of what should happen to ‘traitors of the country...” with a “they should be shot”. Just two days later, a youth brought a pistol to the site of a protest at Jamia Millia Islamia university and shouted “take Azaadi!” and fired it. One bullet hit a student of Jamia. This happened on 30 January, the day Nathuram Godse had shot Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. A few days later, another youth fired near the site of protests against the CAA and NRC at Shaheen Bagh. Soon after, he said that in India, “only Hindus will rule”.

What is very obvious is that the shootings by those associated with Hindu nationalist organisations are the culmination of a long campaign of spreading hate against religious minorities in India in general and against Muslims in particular. The present phase is the outcome of a long and sustained hate campaign, the beginning of which lies in nationalism in the name of religion; Muslim nationalism and Hindu nationalism. This sectarian nationalism picked up the communal view of history and the communal historiography which the British introduced in order to pursue their ‘divide and rule’ policy.

In India what became part of “social common sense” was that Muslim kings had destroyed Hindu temples, that Islam was spread by force, and that it is a foreign religion, and so on. Campaigns, such as the one for a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Rama to be built at the site where the Babri masjid once stood, further deepened the idea of a Muslim as a “temple-destroyer”. Aurangzeb, Tipu Sultan and other Muslim kings were tarnished as the ones who spread Islam by force in the subcontinent. The tragic Partition, which was primarily due to British policies, and was well-supported by communal streams also, was entirely attributed to Muslims. The Kashmir conflict, which is the outcome of regional, ethnic and other historical issues, coupled with the American policy of supporting Pakistan’s ambitions of regional hegemony, (which also fostered the birth of Al-Qaeda), was also attributed to the Muslims.

With recurring incidents of communal violence, these falsehoods went on going deeper into the social thinking. Violence itself led to ghettoisation of Muslims and further broke inter-community social bonds. On the one hand, a ghettoised community is cut off from others and on the other hand the victims come to be presented as culprits. The percolation of this hate through word-of-mouth propaganda, media and re-writing of school curricula, had a strong impact on social attitudes towards the minorities.

In the last couple of decades, the process of manufacturing hate has been intensified by the social media platforms which are being cleverly used by the communal forces. Swati Chaturvedi’s book, I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army, tells us how the BJP used social media to spread hate. Whatapp University became the source of understanding for large sections of society and hate for the ‘Other’, went up by leaps and bounds. To add on to this process, the phenomenon of fake news was shrewdly deployed to intensify divisiveness.

Currently, the Shaheen Bagh movement is a big uniting force for the country; but it is being demonised as a gathering of ‘anti-nationals’. Another BJP leader has said that these protesters will indulge in crimes like rape. This has intensified the prevalent hate.

While there is a general dominance of hate, the likes of Shambhulal Regar and the Jamia shooter do get taken in by the incitement and act out the violence that is constantly hinted at. The deeper issue involved is the prevalence of hate, misconceptions and biases, which have become the part of social thinking.

These misconceptions are undoing the amity between different religious communities which was built during the freedom movement. They are undoing the fraternity which emerged with the process of India as a nation in the making. The processes which brought these communities together broadly drew from Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar. It is these values which need to be rooted again in the society. The communal forces have resorted to false propaganda against the minorities, and that needs to be undone with sincerity.

Combating those foundational misconceptions which create hatred is a massive task which needs to be taken up by the social organisations and political parties which have faith in the Indian Constitution and values of freedom movement. It needs to be done right away as a priority issue in with a focus on cultivating Indian fraternity yet again.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED