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Adivasis: A Cultural Cooption -- The Fallout of Shabri Kumbh in Gujarat
04/07/2006
By Ram Puniyani

From 1987 Sangh (RSS) has activated its offshoot Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA) into higher gear of activity. Adivasis, the most neglected part of society are being wooed through newly devised cultural mechanisms.

To begin with Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram used the word Vanvasi, instead of the correct nomenclature, Adivasi. The claim put forward by Hindutva is that these are parts of Hindu society who went to jungles to escape the conversion by Muslim kings. Due to their long stay in jungles they became untouchables and drifted away from the fold of Hindu society. This assertion kills many birds in one stone. On one side it tries to project that despite Aryans coming here from outside, Arctic zone, are not foreigners like the Muslims and Christians. Then aggressiveness of Muslim Kings is restated and the inner cruelty of Brahminical Hinduism is hidden as Adivasi 'problem' is projected to be coming from outside. A shifting of the 'blame' of inner ills to outside forces! Another aim achieved through this formulation is to bring Adivasis to Hindu fold and claim that its not a conversion but mere Ghar Vapasi, returning home, of these wretched of the earth. At the same time for the political project of intimidating the Christian missionaries working in the villages a ground is prepared to attack them as foreigners.

The forays of Sangh in Adivasi areas intensified from mid eighties when it was realized that by directly attacking dalits, the way they were attacked in 1980 and 1986 in Gujarat through caste violence, will be counterproductive at electoral level. The strategy evolved was to 'use' them as foot soldiers against Muslim minorities. At the same time electoral arithmetic brought to their attention this substantial chunk of population of Adivasis trying to come up through modern education and thereby disturbing the status quo, prevalent in the far off villages. Its here that the Christian missionaries were perceived as a big threat to the project of Sangh, which wants to maintain status quo vis a vis Adivasis dalits and women. Through the network of schools spread in the far off areas these Missionaries, whatever be their own motives, were instrumental in getting a section of Adivasis empowered and in the process the upper caste affluent base of Sangh was getting jittery.

The posting of RSS volunteers into the forest work was very systematic. Apart from attacking the Christian missionaries as foreigners the Ghar vapasi was brought in at a big scale in all the Adiviasi areas scattered from Gujarat to MP to Orissa. Around this time many a swamis, descended in these areas, Lakkhanand in Phulbani area, Aseemanand in Dangs, Asaram disciples in Jhabau and many other such efforts were unleashed. In Adivasi areas they resorted to intimidation, you are Hindus, Hindu rituals are like this and so these have to part of your life. Dilip Singh Judeo, of the 'God is money' fame, of Chattisgarhg, had the record number of Adiviasis converted in to Hinduism by newly devised baptizing techniques.

At the same time Hanuman was popularized as the God in this area and lately Shabri, the destitute women who had the privilege of offering wild berries to Lord Ram is being projected as the Goddess of Adivasis. The cultural symbolism cannot be missed in the selection of these deities. Hanuman was the unquestioning devotee of Lord Ram, with muscular power as the main virtue. He is capable of flying while carrying a huge mountain. But all the more he is carrying the mountain because he cannot identify the herb needed for treatment of Laxman, Lord's younger brother. This is what is the signal to Adivisis, unquestioning loyalty to Lord Ram, no need to have education. So what are the Christian missionaries doing here? Why should they be trying to educate you? They are foreigners. So Pastor Stains is picked up for the treatment which they want to meted out to the white robed priests and nuns.

Shabri, the embodiment of poverty is being glorified on purpose. Your great ancestress had the privilege to offer wild berries to the Lord. She is your role model, poor, powerless and with blind reverence and devotion for the upper caste. The recently held festival in Subir, Dangs district of Gujarat, celebrated Shabri and lakhs of Advasis were brought from neighboring Adivasi areas for the festival. The local people were scared that Sangh's festival may create the trouble and they may try to forcibly do the conversions to Hinduism. It was declared that Christians and Muslim are foreigners and are a threat to Hindu religion. This Kumbh is meant to protect the Hindus from the foreigners. In the beginning it was announced that conversions are the aim of Kumbh and than silence was kept on this point once various groups questioned their motives. This was boldly stated in the CD produced by Shabri Kumbh organizers. By the time the court ruling came to ban this CD was given, lakhs of its copies were already circulated and had the desired effect of threatening the Christianity community.

The Shabri samiti distributed saffron flags to the villagers and spread the word that those who do not put the flag will be regarded as anti Hindu, those who do not visit the Kumbh will also be regarded as anti Hindu. In this intimidating atmosphere the intervention of Human rights groups resulted in the Central government sending its observers. Also the Adivasi leaders realized the game being played by Sangh and mercifully a large section of native adivasis kept away from the festival. But Sangh has succeeded in spreading the seeds of hate and intimidation far and wide.

During Kumbh the inflammatory speeches were delivered by different leaders of Sangh. It remains to be seen as to what will be the long term impact of this festival. One thing is sure that the whole Adivasi area at some level has been shaken by this festival in which the major organizers were the city based traders, contractors and other supporters of Sangh. The native Adivasi festivals and gods are being undermined in various ways. Adivasis never used to have the temple or place of prayer within the four walls, most of their Gods were in the open. The festivals, dancing and feasting also were held in the open. With the new influence things are changing. The rift between the 'Hindu' and 'Christian' Adivasis is widening which surely will have adverse impact on the life in the area. In pursuance of the same tactics, now summer festival and Anjani mahotsav (festival) are being planned. Anjani, mother of Hanuman was never the object of veneration. Now she will be occupying a place amongst the deities.

During the festival of Shabri (Feb 11-13) in Ghubadiya, a place near Subir, the graveyard was dug up, the crosses on the graves were burnt. Not much notice of this has been taken in the local media and administrative circles. The increasing influence of Sangh and the religiosity is taking deeper turns. One understands that from the villages young girls in the age groups of 14-15 are being picked up to be trained as Sadhvis who can give recitation of Ramayana and other Hindu scriptures. The whole emphasis is on the cultural manipulation and the basic issues of Adivasis like land, education and health are being cleverly sidetracked through this culturo-religious manipulation.

One can see the social engineering in practice. The positive experience is that it seems that intervention of Human rights groups can partly change the direction of events in a healthy direction. Just before the Kumbh, human rights teams had investigated and put out a reort, which was taken note of by the authorities and local leaders. This put the Gujarat Government and Hindutva forces on the defensive. THeexpected turn out did not materialize and even the Ghar Vapasi was muted. The scare amongst the minorities was a bit less and the event passed off relatively peacefully as Hindutva forces had to be restrained. Question is, are the human rights groups willing, do they want to bring the real Adivasi issues on the social focus? Can we ask for social auditing of the activities of the relgio-cultural groups working in these areas? Can we halt the process of spreading hate against the minorities in these areas?