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Communalism: Narratives in Chhattisgarh

The expansion of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram's activities amongst tribals in Chhattisgarh shows the influence of communalism in these areas. The strategies used by the organisation along with other Hindutva outfits in Jashpur, for example, delineate how communalism works to crystallise religious identities by playing upon the socio-political and cultural background there.

Communalism: Narratives in Chhattisgarh

Saumya

[Pandey 1993] often leading to the processes of political construction of community identities along religious lines. Identity is essentially a matter of being and it is this consciousness of belonging to this or that collectivity and of being a member of an imagined community that determines

The expansion of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram’s activities amongst tribals in Chhattisgarh shows the influence of communalism in these areas. The strategies used by the organisation along with other Hindutva outfits in Jashpur, for example, delineate how communalism works to crystallise religious identities by playing upon the socio-political and cultural background there.

The article is based on the author’s PhD thesis. The author is grateful to Manoj K Jha whose insight on the theme helped develop a right perspective during the doctoral work and to broaden the author’s horizon. The article has also benefited from comments and criticisms of friends and family members. The usual disclaimers apply.

Saumya (saumyapandey@yahoo.co.in) is a lecturer at Delhi School of Social Work, Delhi University.

T
he processes of communalisation and the outbreak of communal violence has predominantly been an urban phenomenon. However, the mobilisation of people during ‘rath yatra’ and after the demolition of Babri masjid, the communal animosity spread in the villages and engulfed the entire country. People are becoming more and more vulnerable today to the ideology of communalism mainly because religion tends to provide all the input for intensifying frustration among the poor. The reason lies in the specific combination of economic and political factors during this period and the conscious attempt to spread communalism as an ideology. It is this combination, which has provided a more fertile psychological ground for communal consciousness to take deeper roots among various sections of people. Communal riots involving adivasis directly is also a recent phenomenon dating to 1990. The kind of communalisation one comes across is not a macro level discourse imposed on the common masses here in the context of Chhattisgarh and that might hold meanings for several such areas housing people and communities which have relatively less opportunities and weapons of resistance. In fact the communalisation of contemporary times is an everyday affair, a routine discourse in closed doors making it appear seemingly natural and even desirable. It is interesting to see that the Hindutva agenda with its mechanism to incorporate every day struggle and consolidation of hate have made significant inroads not only in the psyche of the people and communities but also in terms of cultural forms obtaining out of the area.

Meaning and Manifestation

In its common Indian usage the word “communalism” refers to a condition of suspicion, fear and hostility between the members of different religious communities the form of this identity. Identity formation usually is a cultural construct, a process of inclusion and exclusion of values and symbols defining “we” and “they” or “us” and “others”. Relationships between “we” and “they” are not inevitably always conflicting or competitive but when it takes a political form, differentiations between “we” and “they” get pronounced, prejudices become prominent and boundaries for interactions get redrawn wherein commonality is ignored or underplayed and differentiations are stretched or re-invoked. Towards such an end, symbols are evolved, legends are invented and history is reinterpreted.

Several programmes are launched in order to develop communal identity and consciousness of the two religious groups. Hatred against each other is invoked and exhorted [Shah 1994:1133-40]. Simply put, communalism is the belief that because a group of people follow a particular religion they have, as a result, common social, political and economic interest [Chandra 1984]. In other words, socially engineered prejudice, tension and conflict between religious communities constitutes communalism. India being a religiously plural society and communalism being a highly complex phenomenon, it is perilous to attempt at one definition. The concept has been described as “an ideology” [W C Smith, cited by Engineer 1984], “a false consciousness” [Panikkar 1991; Chandra 1994], “struggle for scarce resources”, “competition for jobs” [Engineer 1984], “an instrument of ruling class politics”, antagonism towards other than itself [Pandey 1992; Vanaik 1997; Ludden 1997] and so on.

A large number of ideological, social and cultural elements contributed to the rise and growth of communalism. The term “communalism” was first used by British colonialists to describe colonies like India and Malaysia, where substantial religious minorities existed alongside a

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religious majority. The colonial use of the term gave it a negative connotation of bigotry, divisiveness and parochialism, thus helping to justify its civilising mission. It was also a way of understanding Indian history as colonialists saw and lived it, apparently corresponding to its pattern of expansion-defeat of the Mughal empire, of Hindu princely kingdoms, of Ranjit Singh’s Sikh empire [Vanaik 1997].

At this juncture, it is pertinent to point out that secularism and communalism arose together inside the institutions of modernity. Communalism, as opposed to secularism, has come to mean, consciousness which is prompted by one’s belonging to a distinctive religious community. This perception itself is inseparable from the perception of an other religious community as the adversary [Chakravarty 1994]. If secularism is a thesis concerning the separation of the religious and the political [Bhargava 1994: 1784-91], A B Bardhan (1994) says communalism is the negation of all true religions. It cannot be equated with religion. Communalism has nothing in common with religious devotion, piety and a deep spiritual outlook. It converts one of the deepest spiritual experiences, religious belief, into a marketable commodity for votes, for political power.

From the views expressed above by scholars a common causal factor for the genesis and spread of communalism can be deduced. Communalism survives on emotive appeal based on religious sentiments which is methodically planned, organised, controlled and implemented by political parties.

Communalisation

The processes of communalisation can be understood through upsurge of religious consciousness in society and its mobilisation for political ends which is achieved by underplaying communal antagonism and highlighting religious solidarity. Communal politics involves playing the card of one religious community in opposition to the other religious community. The various ways adopted for communalisation by either communal parties or parties which use communalism are premised on the existence of a dormant communitarian feeling which could be activated. The two components of this dormant consciousness

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are religion and religious communities. The communal forces are today engaged in reinforcing and activating the religious and communitarian identities. In fact, in many cases, a communal division is created by a riot in an area where no communal tension existed before, where even a communal consciousness did not exist. Therefore, Panikkar remarks, that riot often becomes the beginning of communalisation. Today communal riots are being manipulated for reinforcing the communal divide and instilling communal ideology to the tribals and dalits who were earlier not the target groups of the Sangh parivar. Riots in return reinforce the communal identity. An individual who has internalised communal consciousness may or may not parti cipate directly in riots but tends to legitimise violence.

Generally, it is the relatively poor and the deprived who are the victims of riots. Riots are very potent instruments because once a riot takes place the division is immediately established. The notion of “us” and “they” which did not earlier exist among the tribals and dalits vis-à-vis other religious community is infused in their consciousness. Panikkar remarks that apart from the arena of culture, there are certain other specific undertakings related to religion. There are two religious institutions which are extensively used. One, the institution of ‘bhajan mandalis’ (devotional song group) and the second one is renovation of temples. Bhajan mandali is not only limited to recit ation of hymns and prayers but are sites for communal propaganda as well. Similarly, the movement for renovation of temples to which people are drawn purely for religious reasons has helped the communal cause. There is an element of coercion inbuilt into these efforts in the name of religion and by introducing politics into religious congregations.

Ideology of Hindutva

The Sangh parivar’s Hindutva campaign has to be understood as one formulation remarkably compact and coherent – of our religio-cultural past as an agenda for present political action leading to a future vision of Indian society [Aloysius 1994: 1450-52]. Hindutva is an attempt at semitising Hinduism, the closest English translation of the term “Hindutva” would be “Hinduness”; it is an ideological-political formulation. The uniqueness of Hinduism lay in its extreme liberalism, tolerance and vision of one divine reality residing in all. By trying to project Hinduism as a self-assertive, aggressive, and strictly monotheistic religion, Hindutva could destroy it [Jhingran 2003]. Answers to the “who is a Hindu?” question had to be sought precisely because there was no self-evident and universally acceptable answer but multiple and overlapping ones [Pandey 1993]. This question most preoccupied Hindu cultural right wing organisation. This was a radical, modernist current to be distinguished from Hindu traditionalists and conservatives who were focused on remoulding the “Hindu community” and “Hindu society” not to conserve it. The operative term for them was not “Indianness” but “Hinduness” or “Hindutva”.

The “foreigner” was not the non-Indian or simply the outsider beneficiary but all those not fully assimilated into Hinduness. The first important synthesiser and proponent of Hindutva, Veer Savarkar, saw this as a racial, cultural, religious – spiritual unity, a unity of culture and territory [Savarkar 1969]. Hinduism was a part of Hindutva but Savarkar would not give it as prominent a role as M S Golwalkar, the second head of the RSS did [Golwalkar 2000]. What united the proponents of Hindutva before independence and unites them now is not agreement on specific definitions but common assent to a certain chain of reasoning [Vanaik 1997]. Golwalkar developed the ethnic-racist and national content of the concept of “Hinduness” and Hindutva was thus marked with high discipline, puritan, ritualistic and rigid hierarchies – important constituents of the boundaries required for the spread of RSS.

The construction of a homogeneous monolithic Hindu identity not only debunks historical and civilisational complexities but also reduces the entire diversity of sects and cults within and other distinctive multifaceted aspects of India’s plural social personality into “straitjacketed monolithic Hinduism” [Chakrabarty 2003]. The distinctiveness of India as sociocultural conglomeration lies, as Yogesh Atal (2001: 3460) argues, in “plurality of people and multiplicity of identities (that) characterise the conglomerate Indian culture”.

India’s emergent composite culture, he further asserts, allowed for the survival of diversities – insiders of the composite culture of India simultaneously enjoy outsider and insider statuses through their membership of “the various subcultures and groups within the broader society”. Ludden (1997) remarks that the Sangh promotes Hindu majoritarianism, cultural nationalism, and national “unity and diversity”, based on its own definition of India’s Hindu cultural heritage. From the Sangh perspective, communalism is alien to its own programme, because Hindu nationalism does not represent one community fighting others in India, but rather the real India struggling to become itself. Communal conflict is an unintended byproduct of Hindu national self-assertion that results from adverse reactions from minority communities and from the Indian state. The Muslims and the Christians to a lesser extent present a hurdle to a pan-Indian traditional-cultural hegemony leading to the strengthening of the upper caste dominance. This in turn would facilitate to maintain their hegemonic dominance over the lower caste masses, through the manipulation of religio-cultural signs and symbols.

Politico-Religious Dynamics

Faith-based organisations have existed since the 1840s in central India, with special emphasis in the Vidarbha and Gondwana regions. Much of this had been a Christian missionary presence and a response to it by Hindu organisations beginning in the early 20th century. Both of these formations have attempted to use the situation created by the lack of developmental initiatives and the marginalisation of tribals in the regional polity to forge a tribal identity in line with their perceived objectives. In the last three decades this competitive religious formation has given space to a systematic penetration of the Hindu right in the entire central Indian belt.

The work of the Hindu right wing organisations in the tribal areas can be traced to the very beginning of the formation of the Hindu Mahasabha. This development also affected native states like Sarguja and Raigarh where the rajas aided the work of organisations like the Arya Dharam Sevak Sangh and others who competed with the Christian missionaries to provide educational and health facilities in tribal areas. Since then, and especially with the banning of Christian missionary work in the fifth schedule areas in the 1960s, the work on the Sangh parivar and its affiliates has only grown in scope and influence.

The politico-religious dynamics of Chhattisgarh has to be understood in context of the presence of Christian missions, Gahira Guru and the people of the region.

Christian Missions

It is interesting to note that Raigarh has been the seat of vigorous Christian movement since the beginning of 20th century. The Roman Catholic and Lutheran Christian missions have mainly attracted members of oraon and other tribes in Jashpur and Udaipur tahsils, who have embraced this faith in substantial numbers. This explains the sudden increase in the number of Christians. It appears that these missions have instead of displacing the tribal pantheon and social customs, have added their own (Bilaspur District Census Handbook 1961: LXIII). The oldest existing mission in the district is Kristopal Ashram, Ginabahar, in Jashpur tahsil, which was established in 1921. Eighteen missionary centres are functioning in the district under Raigarh-Ambikapur diocese of the Catholic church. The important centres of Catholic mission are Gholeng, Ginabahar, Tapkara, Musgutari and Ambakoni. The important centres of the Lutherans are Sitonga, Ichkela and Saraipani where a number of schools and charitable institutions are being run by these churches.

Gahira Guru

Gahira Guru (originally Rameshwar), belonging to the kanwar tribe, hails from the village Gahira near Lailunga in Ghargoda tahsil. His influence and emphasis on Hinduism, it appears, has checked the advance of Christianity in the region. He has constructed a few Shiva temples at Gahira and Gaibuda villages. “Kailashnatheswar gufa” at Gaibuda and Durga temple at Katsamri (in Orissa) were established by Gahira Guru, which are places attracting huge congregations at the time of Shivratri and Ramnavmi respectively. The Sangh parivar, initially, worked through Gahira Guru to gain acceptance and audience for its work amongst the tribals in Chhattisgarh.

The majority of the people in Jashpur are oraons. However, there are other tribal groups as well, like gonds, kawars, sawar, nagesia or nagasia, kharia and bharia, bhumia or bhuinhar, pahari korva, birhor and so on. The rest include a number of “other backward caste” (OBC) groupings like the rautia, mahakul, teli and gosain, and smaller numbers of Marwari, Jain and Muslim traders in the district and block headquarters. However, the oraons form the “target” for both Hindu and Christian forces. Korvas, being conservative in their religious and social beliefs, blunted the advance of Christian missionaries in the area (Madhya Pradesh District Gazetteers 1976). Here it is important to emphasise that the OBCs and upper castes form a potential Hindutva base.

Oraons including dhanka and dhangad, the synonymous groups, constitute the most preponderant tribe in the district. They speak kurukh, an important dialect of the Dravidian stock (Madhya Pradesh District Gazetteers 1976). The oraons mostly retained their Hindu faith but a large number of them embraced Christianity in the past.

The oraons worshipped principally their ancestors, and dulha deo and bara deo (equivalent presumably to their “supreme god dharmes”) [Census of India 1931]. The oraons who have come under the influence of Hindus have now started worshipping Hindu gods and goddesses like Vishnu, Parvati, Ganesh, Ram and Sita.

Communal Outbursts in Jashpur

Lathbora Village: John Kerketta, 26 years, was brutally beaten to death and his brother Prakash Kerketta, 24 years, sustained serious head injuries by a communallyorganised mob, who accused them of desecrating a temple on October 26, 1995. The mob set John’s house on fire and pillaged Christian houses. The incident occurred when a small temple like structure adjacent to John’s property was reported to be damaged. The neighbouring Hindus held a meeting on October 25 night and without seriously finding out who the real culprit was, suspected John to have damaged the temple. The next day, at 8 am, the Hindus

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of Upar Kachhar, about 100 in number, armed with axes, daggers, spears, spades and sticks surrounded John’s house. They were all shouting, “Khoon nahin hai pani hai” (not blood but water), “Hindu-Hindu bhai-bhai hai” (all Hindus are brothers) and “Hindustan hamara hai” (Hindustan is ours). John came out of his house on hearing the slogans and at the very sight they hit him with lethal weapons and beat him to death. People from neighbouring places like Singibahar, Tapkara, Bihar and Orissa were brought in trucks to participate in the mob fury.

The police made its appearance in the scene only after 5 hours (at 1 pm) in spite of the information served well ahead of the time. Eighty suspects, mostly from village Upar Kachhar were arrested and were taken to Raigarh jail. The role of the local police seems to be dubious and one-sided. Without any effort to book the real culprits police concluded that John had broken the temple (Dainik Bhaskar, Bilaspur, November 6, 1995), though the evidence shows him to be innocent. All the higher officials who came to assess the situation diverted their attention to unrelated issues like conversion and cow slaughter instead of enquiring about the person or the group that damaged the temple. Besides, it is also narrated by locals that the police and the government officials on duty were always escorted by BJP members and affiliated groups. The local newspapers too worked in tandem with the Hindutva brigade and blindly published articles blaming John Kerketta and the Christians to be the cause of the temple damage (Dainik Bhaskar, Bilaspur, October 29, 1995; Navbharat, Bilaspur, November 3, 1995; Dainik Bhaskar, Bilaspur, November 6, 1995), without investigating and finding out the real culprit.

Pathalgaon Land Dispute: On February 2, 2006, the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) of Pathalgaon came with a bulldozer to demolish the boundary walls of St Xavier’s School in Pathalgaon, under 170B of Madhya Pradesh Revenue Act. This act provides for the protection of tribal land and prohibits transfer of tribal land to non-tribals. Most of the church land is registered as tribal land as it is purchased in the name of some tribal priest or nun – all in accordance with 170B. In this process, a

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shrine was also demolished which was not on the controversial plot of land. However, state officials say the church has violated the law. Since non-tribal land was not available in the region, pioneer missionaries bought land for the diocese’s institutions and parishes from tribal people and registered them in the name of tribal priests. The dispute erupted after the BJP came to power in the state in December 2003.

The SDM ordered the demolition after two Catholic tribal people reclaimed the land they had sold to the school. Missionaries had bought the property about 30 years ago and registered it in the name of some tribal priests. Infuriated, some Catholics, including some school children, gathered at the magistrate’s office and shouted slogans. Six priests and three nuns were arrested and sent to jail on charges of disturbing peace under the Indian Penal Code 151. It is alleged that the protestors were verbally and physically abused in custody.

After the Pathalgaon incident, an outfit called Vanvasi Jagran Manch (VJM) was launched. Under the banner of VJM, several “Hindu sangathans” – Bajrang Dal, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA) and other such organi sations took out a huge rally on every important routes which also included Pahari Korvas with their bows and arrows and women. They blamed the Christian missionaries to be responsible for disturbing the communal harmony in the state and demanded the SDM to release all tribal lands “encroached” upon by churches under 170B. All sorts of incitement of Hindu tribals were going on in every possible way against the Christian missionaries. If people were inclined to fight there would have been immediate outburst of communal violence in Pathalgaon. However, despite efforts by the communalists, people refused to be provoked.

RSS among Tribals

The work of Christian missionaries among tribals in remote areas has came as rough and ready fuel for the RSS ideology to identify a new “communal issue”. RSS propaganda-making machine has always resorted to demonising Christian missionary activities in today’s times using the bogey of “conversion”. The Hindutva symbolism is used to woo adivasis. For last several years (to be precise for last one decade in particular), the Sangh and its front organisations like the VKA and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have been targeting the tribal belt of India, which includes Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Orissa and Gujarat.

Sangh Parivar Schools

Schools run by RSS have a very distinct and a clearly spelt-out agenda which suggests that the easiest ways of entering the psyche of the society at large is to primarily negotiate with the malleable minds of innocent children. A crucial role is played by Vidya Bharti, an educational unit of RSS which was established in 1976 for educating young children through primary and secondary schools (Saraswati Shishu Mandirs) following RSS Hindutva ideology on the model of Christian missionary schools. In addition to this, there are ‘ekal’ vidyalayas (one teacher school) with the aim of “saving the tribals from undesirable foreign influence’’. The VHP advances the doctrine that Indian society is in grave danger from Christianity, and hence it is necessary to counter the moves of missionaries to “save” the nation. Ekal vidyalaya is run by VHP-trained tribal youth and the curricula includes rhymes, local sports and, above all, “the Hindu way of life’’ up to standard III. For the general public, the stated purpose of the schools is eradication of illiteracy in remote areas but in reality the one teacher schools play a significant role in spreading Hindutva “education” with a focus on stopping conversions to Christianity and encouraging “reconversions” to Hinduism. Thus it is evident how education is used as a tool to realise the bigger and main agenda of initiation and spreading the feeling of “otherness” amongst the tribals. The pheno menon of “otherness” has indeed started getting momentum from the mid-1990s. The fact that most of the Hindu tribals send their children either to government school or Saraswati Shishu Mandir or VKA hostel or any Seva Bharti-run schools rather than to mission schools even if they are close by, bears testimony to this. Government schools are preferred as no fee is charged there unlike the Catholic schools or the Sangh schools.

The daily routine in a ‘bal’ or ‘balika chhatravas’ (boys or girls’ hostel) from morning till night ensures that the children are under the influence and training of one or the other affiliate of RSS through a “select choice” of stories, prayers and hymns, the god and temple, school and pedagogy, shakhas, discussions and the cultural and traditional orientation – all well designed to provide a total and foolproof experience and learning of Hindutva ideology. RSS/VKA works by indoctrinating the young minds by vice of intolerance for non-Hindu religions and so they prefer to start the process from very early age through the bal sanskars kendras (centres for pre-school children) and later VKA hostels and schools.

Co-option of Tribals

Besides education, VKA targets the tribal populace through kirtan mandali (religious congregation for singing devotional songs) and dharm jagran/shraddha jagran (congregations held for awakening religious consciousness) where the stated purpose is to awaken the “Hindu consciousness”. The audience chosen for this purpose is the middle age group of 30-50 years. Here the strategy of VKA is to instil the ideas of Hindutva and venom against Christians in their minds so that the message is conveyed to the entire family. VKA has been able to organise village women as well into bhajan mandalis (groups for religious singing) where lectures on spiritual and religious themes are regularly arranged and also ensured that the construction of village level Hanuman temple takes place. This is very strategically planned and conveyed to them in order to make it appear as need and demand based rather than forced on them. The people are so motivated that they take it as their pride and provide free labour in order to build the temple. For bhajan-kirtan VKA has been able to arrange funds from local MLAs, and the villagers of Jashpur district have received grant of Rs 5 lakh for buying musical instruments, mats and other related things through the panchayats. This clearly demonstrates how the minds of tribals are being diverted from main issues of progress and development by just involving them in religious issues which eventually fulfils the political motive of the organisation.

In Jashpurnagar district, a total of 485 projects were functional as provided in the report of VKA (March 2006). The various activities include contact developing, satsang kendras, lok kala mandals, schools, ekal vidyalayas, bal sanskar kendras, libraries, dispensaries, hospitals, agricultural development, vocational training centers, and sport centres. It reveals the desire to hold their hegemonic social structure intact by incorporating tribals into a social system which had no space for them till the missionaries, and more specifically Britishers, came to India. RSS in itself has not much influence in Jashpur directly; here VKA is more prominent. RSS is just conducting its shakhas and that too in villages where VKA ‘karyakartas’ (officials) are present. However, RSS provides its swayamsevaks to VKA. VKA has selected gram pramukhs (village heads) in villages, who exercise influence in village and who can also influence people in electing the sarpanch. Generally, the trend is that a sarpanch belongs to BJP if VKA has a strong hold over that village and similarly the sarpanch of a Christian dominated village belongs to Congress. In Jashpur district till now there has been a maximum of 177 shakhas held at a time in different places. The number fluctuates from time to time. RSS has a total of 3,000 pracharaks in India. In Chhattisgarh the number is 90. Out of that 60 are in age group of 25 years. More than 60 per cent of pracharaks are science graduates. The Sangh parivar has perfected the strategy of mobilisation. They attract small children through shakhas and these small children with malleable minds and psyche become easy targets to be won over and declared communalised.

RSS/VKA Touch

The VKA proclaims that their origin is a reaction to the Christian missionary presence but this cannot be completely agreed upon as the Hindutva ideology had a different origin. VKA works completely on what Jaffrelot (1999) indicates principles of “stigmatisation and emulation of threatening others”. It has adopted the welfare modes of working through education and health on the lines of Christian missionaries but with a hidden agenda which may not be visible to the outside world. There are few villages with exclusive Christian population but on the whole they are numerically less. Earlier the Hindu and Christian neighbours had very friendly relations but now they are strained. With the impact of VKA spreading and intensifying the relations are undergoing change and each community feels threatened with the other. Hindus and Christians have separate groups and many have stopped participating in each others functions and festivals which was earlier not practised. Both the communities have their networks in villages (gram pramukh/prachaar) to inform the activities of the other community on a daily basis and each looks at the other with suspicion and hostility. VKA karyakartas indoctrinate the popular persons (gram pramukhs), sarpanch, primary schoolteacher who act as links between the centre and the people. They call for bhajan mandali and at the end, when women folk disperse they assemble the youth. In these meetings, the Christians are presented as destroyers of Hindu temples, exploiters and scapegoats for the ills of the tribals. Many a time to an outside observer it is portrayed that they are cordial to each other and there is no enmity but there is simmering discontent and conflict growing between the two communities and if unchecked this could lead to violence in future. In past there have been incidences such as the one in Lathbora and many others which justify this prediction.

Using Religious Festivals

Religious sentiments are utilised through various religious congregations and festivals are used to spread and instil the ideology for “Hindutvisation” as well as to threaten the religious sentiments of the “other” community. Ramnavmi is the festival which all the Hindu tribals have accepted to celebrate under the influence of VKA. They worship Hanuman on that day with lot of pomp and show which is demonstrated through songs, bhajans and drums beaten and sindur (vermillion) being spread on forehead. Besides, all the villagers bring flags from their villages and processions and rallies are taken out. The best procession is awarded by VKA. This is a 20-year phenomenon, say the locals. It is also the time when the temple construction in any village is discussed and money is given for

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it. The other main festivals are Dusshera, Rakshabandhan and Ganesh Chaturthi besides many lesser festivals. Tribal festival days are coincided with the festivals endorsed by the RSS. For instance Sarhul is celebrated about the beginning of April, when sal tree flowers, whereas ‘Varsh Pratipada’ is usually celebrated in March. But VKA celebrates Sarhul on that day itself and the tribals are called to Jashpur to celebrate together. The VKA has even changed the way Sarhul is celebrated in the havan (a vedic way) instead of the traditional tribal manner. But the res pondents said that they also celebrate on the actual day. Thus we witness that there is no attempt to develop a pluralist idea of society and polity, in which adivasi religion and modes of resource use are celebrated and recognised in their own right.

From the data collected from the field, it is evident that more emphasis is laid on religious activities rather than on welfare programmes for tribals. Religion is used as a tool to reach out to people, gain acceptance and then proliferate the VRA’s agenda of spreading the feeling of hatred against the “other” community.

Politico-Economic Concerns

Through religious appeal, the political motives are also fulfilled. During elections the votes are polarised – Hindu tribals vote for BJP whereas Christian tribals vote for Congress. There is virtually no third party presence. However, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI(M)) do field their candidates for election but they get minimal votes in spite of claiming that they are working at grassroots level in helping the tribals fight for their rights and support them to stand up for their cause. The CPI(M) is trying to woo the Christians towards them with the help of Christian missionaries. They, in fact, work through their help in building base, networking and mobilising tribals. The voting pattern is completely influenced by religion-based politics under the influence of gram pramukh and prachaar (publicity) for Hindu and Christian tribals respectively. Prior to the day of voting, meetings are held in villages and the gram pramukh and prachaar “advises” the tribals to vote for either lotus or palm symbols and the villagers follow

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suit. This reflects that the voting pattern is completely controlled and is more or less based on emotive appeal.

Besides the political power, VKA enjoys the support of several editors and journalists either falling under the pervasive persuasive attempts or through coercion – both indeed are everyday tools for the communal mobilisation. In turn these media men provide considerable space to the reportage of communal activities and their views. The collector visits Kalyan Ashram regularly and holds sympathy with VKA; university teachers hold meetings and do their projects through VKA; leading advocates take up all the legal cases of VKA and their followers. With the state machinery at their command and with the support of majority community, VKA enjoys popular support and immense power – both economic and political, making the position of Christian missionaries defensive with general public believing that they are just involved in conversion. However, at the same time the people also are not able to deny the good work done by missionaries like schools and hospitals, as the missionary schools were the first ones to start in that area. Government schools have come later and Shishu Mandirs have begun from last 10 years.

When it comes to building conflict situation, myths and rumours play a very significant role. The myths which are most popular and widely propagated related to beef eating, desecration of Hindu temples by Christian tribals and cow slaughter. Priests tend to believe that the ‘ghar wapasi’ (reconversion to Hinduism) programme of VKA is for vote bank politics. One can very well identify RSS agenda of propagation active in the area and amongst them. Another myth which VKA and RSS has been able to spread is that Christians pay Rs 500 to a family if they are able to convert another family and that the mission charges a fine of Rs 100 on the Christian tribals who are found to attend the programme of VKA/RSS. But as testified by the locals these are myths which are being repeated a number of time in order to make them appear as facts but there is hardly any substance behind them.

A new technique has been devised by VKA of late to communalise the area of Jashpur district. They are filing (either directly or are provoking Hindu tribals to file) cases against Christian missionaries under 170 B – land revenue code. Few episodes of breaking the boundaries of missionaries have happened. A recent one was in Pathalgaon. As per the latest figures obtained there has been 253 cases filed under 170 B against the Christian tribals in order to harass them and threaten them. In blatant contravention to the spirit of the law a systematic and sinister attempt has been made to frame particularly the oraon tribals associated with the Christian missions. Examination of the cases under 170 B reveals that undisputed ownership is deliberately been brought in the domain of dispute to further the agenda of institutions and organisations related to RSS. Apparently under the pretext of protecting tribal rights and the issues of land alienation, the façade is for all to see when one does a random analysis of the cases. It further reveals even a good law can have bad consequences if the intent is deliberately fudged by organisations working on the agenda of social polarisations.

Therefore, on the basis of field data, the strategies of the VKA, an affiliate of the Sangh parivar in communalising the tribals can be summarised in the following manner, generally the strategy is that economically better off persons are made members like gram pramukhs; shradhha jagran is used to mobilise people in their favour; idols of Hindu gods and goddesses are distri buted by the Sangh parivar outfits during Ramnavmi festival, financial help is also given; Hanuman temples are built; anti-Christian pamphlets are distributed, anti-Christian charade is spread through newspapers, open hostility is shown against Christians under the support of BJP government, anti-Christian meetings are organised, personal conflicts in the villages are given religious and communal colour, meetings of the Hindus are held on the days of Christian festivals and provocative speeches are given. All this has led to the spread of anti-Christianity feeling. The relations between the two communities have undergone change; they are strained, restricted to only formal contacts.

Shakhas and Swayamsevaks

The interviews with swayamsevaks reveal that most of them got associated with Sangh when they were in school at a very

young age through shakhas. They joined initially for recreation as the games has some basis. In many societies, distinctness and differences of cultures, commu their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion”.
played in shakhas, the stories and songs nities and religion notwithstanding, they 2 Faith-Based Organisation (widely referred to as
attracted them and then gradually they got indoctrinated with the ideology. have a well-crafted art of plural living. The protracted divide between the com- FBOs) refers to a category of not-for-profit organisations among the civil society, with an assumption that the work will be linked in some manner
Some decided to remain a lifetime member munities in Chhattisgarh is also on ac to religion.
leaving family and profession while count of the demagogues who try building
some decided to have a family and ca their social-political constituencies on the References
reer but remained sympathetic and con basis of persistent identities. Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (2006): ‘Jash
tributed to it through their part time involvement in terms of either resources or Having seen how VKA builds its constituency amongst the adivasis, one can also pur: Activities at a Glance’, March. Aloysius, G (1994): ‘Trajectory of Hindutva’, Economic & Political Weekly, XXIX (24), June 11, pp 1450-52.
time. The various factors which influenced their decision was the personality of the speak of the state’s failure in reaching out to the people and communities on the mar- Andersen, K Walter and Shridhar D Damle (1999): ‘The Brotherhood in Saffron: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Revivalism’, Vistaar, New Delhi.
pracharak with whom they came in contact regularly, the pracharak who con gins. The callousness of the state has been at the root of the neglect and ignorance Bardhan, A B (1994): Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva versus the Real Hindu Ethos, selected writings on Communalism, People’s Publishing House.
ducted shakhas, the family background, the psychological orientation, the socialisa among people in places in Chhattisgarh. The missionaries helped them fight out un- Bhargava, Rajeev (1994): ‘Giving Secularism Its Due’, Economic & Political Weekly, XXIX (28), July 9, pp 1784-91.
tion pattern, life circumstances and many employment and got their land back from Census of India, 1931, CP and Berar, Pt I, p 428.
more factors. Most of the life time mem moneylenders and thus the tribals started Chakrabarty, Bidyut (ed) (2003): Communal Identity in India: Its Construction and Articulation in the
bers have been associated with RSS since getting associated with them. Similarly, 20th Century, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
their childhood through the medium of games but some even decided to join by with their welfare activities of education and health, VKA has attracted the tribals Chakravarty, Kumaresh (1994): ‘Towards a Genesis of the Recent Upsurge in Communalism’ in Mehdi Arslan and Janaki Rajan (eds), Communalism in
leaving their career after attaining adulthood as the ideology appealed to them towards them. VKA proudly says that they have made a difference with their existence. India: Challenge and Response, Manohar. Chandra, Bipan (1984): Communalism in Modern India, Vikas Publishing House, Delhi.
more than anything else. Yes, the difference has manifested: now the adivasi children and elders all have learnt – (1994): Historians of Modern India and Communalism, selected writings on Communalism, People’s Publishing House.
Conclusions It is imperative to understand that the ex to shout “Jai Shri Ram” even though their issues of land rights, bread, clothing, and Engineer, Asghar Ali (ed) (1984): Communal Riots in Post-Independence India, Sangam Books, London. Golwalkar, M S (2000): Bunch of Thoughts, Sahitya
pression “communalism” has a distinct south Asian connotation and thus commu shelter remains underplayed and their attention diverted! Besides, money and Sindhu Prakashana, Bangalore. Jaffrelot, Christophe (1999): The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics 1925 to the 1990s:
nalism in south Asia is a dreaded expression. It acquires a lethal posture when we political recognition, according to activists, also play a crucial role in wooing the Strategies of Identity-Building, Implantation and Mobilisation (with special reference to Central India), Penguin Books, New Delhi.
tend to describe the enhanced distance between Hindus and non-Hindus. In the tribals. With these factors in background it is easier to understand how the different Jhingran, Saral (2003): ‘Hindutva versus Hinduism’, The Indian Express, posted online, October 31. Ludden, David (ed) (1997): Making India Hindu: Reli
representation and depiction such communal episodes such as in Lathbora, Hindus and Christians cease to belong to any units constitute Sangh parivar and all operate under same ideology, only the activities and areas are different. VKA seem to gion, Community and the Politics of Democracy in India, Oxford, Delhi. Pandey, Gyanendra (1992): The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India, OUP, Delhi.
other category but exclusively exist as distinct and incompatible religious groups. have succeeded in indoctrinating the tribals with the view that they are indeed – (ed) (1993): Hindus and Others, Viking, New Delhi. Pandey, G (1993): ‘Who of Us Are Hindus? in G Pandey (ed), Hindu and Others, Delhi.
Communalisation today, which is a primary reason for most conflicts regards Hindus and that Christians are their enemies. The Hindutva brigade in tribal Panikkar, K N (ed) (1991): Communalism in India: History, Politics and Culture, Manohar, New Delhi. Roy, S C (1976): The Oraons of Chhotanagpur: Their
that people belonging to one religion have not only analogous religious concerns but areas is just playing the politics of the social and economic marginalisation of History, Economic Life and Social Organisation, Ranchi: published by author, 1915. Quoted in Madhya Pradesh District Gazetteers, Raigarh,
their social, political and even economic interests have parallels par excellence. the tribes. In the end, one must realise that the space occupied by the communal District Gazetteers Dept, Bhopal. Russel and Hiralal (1976): The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, Vol II and III, Cosmo
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44 january 12, 2008 Economic & Political Weekly

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