The news reports of series of attacks and forced conversion of Christians were trickled in from Bastar region, home to one of the largest Adivasi habitations in India, even before the Indian Parliament was stalled on conversion issue. A few of us, concerned citizens in India, planned for a fact finding mission to the region on the eve of Christmas 2014. Some of the state Christian leaders discouraged us from undertaking such an independent fact finding team as Sangh Parivar had already intimidated the community by creating fear and insecurities. The local Christian leaders were of the opinion that our visit could be an alibi for further violence that the Sangh was trying to initiate. Hence, we postponed our fact finding mission. Yet, a team of four of us went ahead to understand the ground realities in Chattisgarh. The following is the result of our observations.
The Politics of `Ghar Wapsi’ (Return Home) in Chattishgarh
Chattisgarh is one of the major Adivasi populated states in India. The Census Report of 2001 says that the share of tribal population in Chattisgarh was 31.76%, while the 2011 report says that it was 30.62%. It means that there was a decrease of 1.14% in the Adivasi population in the area . As per the Census Report, Chattisgarh is a home for 94.7 % Hindus, while the share of Muslim and Christian population is noted to be 1.97% and 1.92% of respectively. However, there is still a population of Adivasis in Chattisgarh, who do not belong to any of the established religions of Hinduism, Christianity or Islam. These Adivasis still worship their own indigenous Gods and these spiritualities related to nature can not be equated to any of the existing established religions. It is obvious that the Census Report has included these indigenous spiritualities also as a part of Hinduism. This perhaps will fall within the category of violation of identity and faith enshrined in the Indian Constitution. However, the ministry of Tribal Empowerment portal has classified Adivasis following different religions in the state with 93.7% following Hinduism; Christian, Muslim and other religion and persuations with a share of 4.7%, 1.4% and 0.1% respectively.i
The newly carved state of Chattisgarh along with states like Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Gujurat have witnessed unprecedented ‘Ghar Wapsi (Return Home) politics since early 1980s. Late Dilip Singh Judeo, former Minister of State for Environment and Forests in Bharatiya Janata Party, whch led National Democratic Alliance government was known as `Ghar Wapsi Guru’, and spearheaded `successful’ successful Ghar Wapsi campaign to bring back the ‘converted Christian Adivasis’ into Hinduism in Jashpur region. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seized power in the state since 2000, and the hate campaign against the Christian community and their propogands became stronger and violent.
Bastar Under Siege
We were quite anxious to go to the villages of Bastar as soon as we arrived in Jagdalpur. A young pastor, who came to brief us about the situations informed us, `We (pastors) cannot go by bike to the affected villages as the fanatics know us quite well’. `We could hire a taxi’, I suggested. But the response was: `No, we should not. The taxi owner/driver could be a Sangh Parivar worker or sympathiser. Our movements are tracked. That could be fatal’. The anxiety and fear was quite palpable among the local community leaders and pastors in the Bastar region. Suresh Yadav, a native of Haryana and President of the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has become a rallying point of Hindutva brigade and he is known to be a fearsome face for the minority communites.
Madhota: Seed of Poison Sown by BJP Member of Parliament
Mangal Mandavi is still reeling under shock of Madhota village of Bastar Region. He was brutally attacked as he did not yield into Sangh Parivar’s demands of ‘Ghar Wapsi’, while some of his relatives were forcefully converted into Hinduism, he said: `I thought I would die; but I have survived’.
In the village of Madhota which has a population of 4,000 people, there are 35 Christian families. They are all Adivasis. There were no conflicts within the community before 10-15 years even though their family members chose the religion of their choice and practiced their faith without any qualm about it. Things began to change when the outsiders (the non-tribal Sangh Parivar workers) started visiting the village and held secret parleys and meetings with non-christians. The first major conflict broke in the village in 2008 as they broke the church of the Christians. During the last six months, it has been nightmare for the Adivasi Christians, as VHP workers have resumed intimidating them to become Hindus, as well as promising them a better future with such conversion. Dinesh Kashyap, the tribal Member of Parliament from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and his associates were quite successful to divide the tribal community as Christians and Hindus even though some Christians have refused to toe their lines during the second week of October, 2014.
“By now, with the ‘success’ of `Ghar Wapsi’, the VHP became more furious and aggressive as some of the Christians did not join the ‘Ghar Wapsi’, and therefore they attacked us again on October 19, 2014”, said Sindhu Kumar Das, the village pastor, who almost lives in hiding today. He had been beaten up thrice and was slapped with false cases; of conversion and creating ill will among the community by the police when he approached them for protection.
`When we were praying in the church in the morning, a strong group of VHP workers got inside the Church with slogans, `Kill the Christians, chase them unless they become Hindus and mercilessly started beating us’, the injured villager said. The villagers went to the police station to lodge the complaints. But the police refused. The police, in turn, taunted them to become Hindus so that that the problem could be solved forever. Finally, after the district administration intervened in the dispute, the Police Inspector yielded and informed them that the police would call for a peace meeting of both communities.
The peace meeting was fixed on October 25, 2014. `Nearly 30 members of the minority community gathered at the proposed time. There was no sign of police presence for three hours or so, eventhough the meeting was called by the police itself. Then in flash of seconds, nearly 70 VHP workers descended on the venue and assualted the Christians with serious bodily injuries. Ambulances were brought in. Yet, the injured were not taken to the hospital until the police arrived. “Even before the injured ones reached the hospital, four VHP workers had got themselves admitted with complaints of physical attacks by the Christians’, said a Jagdalpur based community leader.
`The police arrested a few each from both parties on the ground of `creating enimity among the communities’. It was an obvious case of conspiracy by the administration to get minority members harassed, attacked and later slapped with false cases and sent to jails so that they remain fearful and leave leave the religion,’ explained Bhupendra Khora, who assists the affected and injured ones.
Mangal and another 10 families have remained as Christians. `We do feel isolated and alienated in the village as we are not allowed to take water from the bore well. The only relief is that the threats do not come from the newly converted Adivasis to Hinduism, who still share our concerns and are still sympathetic to us. Nobody seems to be sure how long the church would survive in this panchayat.’
Sirishguda Gram Sabha: Non-Hindu Religious Activities Banned!
Sirishguda Gram Sabha as a part of Bodangi police station is one of 50 Gram Panchayats in Jagdalpur district has passed a resolution under Section 129 (G) of the Chhattisgarh Panchayat Raj Act banning all `Non-hindu religious campaigns, prayers and speeches in the villages in view of the outsiders (non-Hindu) religious groups taking advantage of simple Hindu Adivasi and are converting them and facilitating caste discriminations and untouchability practices’.
The resolution calls for total prohibition of any religious programe/activity other than that of Hinduism, as it is a threat to cultural and religious traditions as well as social unity of the village. It further resolves not to allow any place (land) for establishment for any religious building/centre.
Siva Mondavi, 36 year old, pastor of Brethern Church says: `We used to be 55 Christian families which lived in the village. Since seven months, we are being harassed and intimidated by the Sangh Parivar as we refused the `Ghar Wapsi’ programme organized by them.
The VHP workers instigated the ‘Hindu’ Adivasis to refuse the ‘Christian’ Adivasis for common burial ground. The conflicts further aggravated with forceful demand of higher donation ‘chanda’ from Christians for a Hindu religious festival.
Mandovi further said, “When we refused to pay the donation, the VHP stopped providing us ration provisions.”
‘The district administration sent the food supply inspectors to settle the ration issue once complaints reached them. The food supply inspectors were chased away and Christians who gathered for the meeting were also assaulted. Eight Christian men and two women sustained severe injuries and they had to be hospitalized. The fanatics were even trying to stop the injured being taken in the ambulances. The police as usual came after the Christians were attacked’.
Apprehension on Community Cleansing
The stories of Adivasi Christians of Madhota and Sirisguda villages are not just isolated cases. Local christian leader, Mr. Khora observes that “ there is a pattern in police refusal to register complaints. To make the matters worse, the Christians are slapped with counter cases only to harass and intimidate, with the help of the police in nexus with Sangh Parivar elements, so that the tribal Christians do not sustain the threats and pressures and yield into `Ghar Waspsi’.
The villages are under siege with the loss of unity and the community bonding that has been a characterstic of the Adivasi habitation and it is under threat today. The district administration appears to play a second fiddle to the Hinduvta (Hindu nationalists or right wing) forces.
Fr. Abraham Kanampala, Vicar General of Jagadalpur Diocese and Bastar President of VHP that issued a joint statement; agreeing that the term `Father’ can be replaced and addressed as `Pracharya’ or `Up-pracharya’ in Catholic Schools, putting up photographs of “Maa Saraswati” in schools and work together for the development of the region.
`We are peace loving and sensitive citizens. We have agreed to accommodate local sentiments as goodwill measures and harmony for the people in the area’, Fr.Kanampala, a CMI priest, explained the reason behind the joint statement. The Carmelites of Mary Imaculate (CMI) congregation in collaboration with the Diocese runs several reputed schools and hospitals in the region.
Arun Pannalal, President, Chattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF) has a different take. “The Joint Press Meet and statement might set a precedent and the Hindutva forces could play a mischief and try to impose themselves on our schools all over’.
Navneet Chand, Youth Leader of Bastar Masih Mahasangh is quite upset and said, “National Church leadership cannot be mute spectators to happenings to the anti-Christian attacks. We need support and accompaniment of guidance on how to respond with nationally well funded, coordinated and orchestrated religious motivated violences led by the Sangh Parivar. The community is in depair and directionless.”
As the attacks mount on the community, the battle of faith continues. Senior Christian leader, Arun Pannalal believes, `We depend on judiciary no matter in which direction verdict goes’.
Goldy M. George, Dalit-Adivasi activist sees a ‘diabolic plan of the Hindutva brigade in attacking selected Catholic Schools in cities while terrorising non-Catholic Christians in villages. Defaming the institutes and carrying on the violent attacks on the community both in cities and rural villages seems to be the strategy on their module’.
`The Church leadership seemed to fail to see what awaits for the community, a sinister design to eliminate them not just in Chattishgarh, but all over in India. Moreover, the leadership looks surrendering to the Hindutva regime exposing the marginalised community into more marginalisaiton, intimidations and violence. The community cleansing is on,” said Rajendra Sail, former State President of Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Chattishgarh.
`I am afraid to say that I apprehend genocide if the hate campaign, intimidations and threats continue against the Adivasi Christians. The resurgent Hindutva groups seem to be successful on their strategy as the administration becomes a willing partner to provide cover for the criminal activities of these forces,’ said Ajaya T. G, a noted independent documentary film maker and senior functionary of Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Chattisgarh, probably the only civil society group in Chattisgarh, that went for fact finding mission in the aftermath of `Ghar Wapsi’ and violent attacks on the villagers.
‘Sangham’ Salwa Judum in the making
`Chattisgarh, the new steel capital of India, is the richest state in terms of mineral wealth that includes diamonds, besides two other Indian states and posses almost all coal deposits in the country. All the tin ore reserves in India are found in this state; and its iron ore deposits are world class quality’, posts a Mumbai based professional information and consultancy portal, Steel World.ii
“The mineral rich state of Chhattisgarh will be in a position to produce 32 per cent of country’s total steel production by 2015 and also will share about 35 per cent of country’s total cement production’, stated State Chief Minister Raman Singh
Chattisgarh Government’s Mineral Policy of 2001 states: `The State of Chattisgarh was carved out of erstwhile Madhya Pradesh state to provide deference to its distinctive historical, social background and natural resources. The basic purpose of its formation would be defeated if the natural resources are not used due to constraints of stringent forest laws and environment problems’.iii
The mineral-diamond-coal rich politics is a similar play of Arabian Oil Politics. It is no coincidence that Jindal Cement plant was commissioned in Raigarh-Jashpur in 1991 while Mahendra Karma, a tribal leader, the leader of the opposition in Legislative Assembly, started the first movement of Naxalites knonwn as ‘Jan Jagaran Abhiyan’ and later christened “Salwa Judum”iv as the state signed agreements with Tata and Eassar groups to counter Naxalites in the same year itself. It is no wonder Mr.Judeo came to the limelight with his “Ghar Wapsi’ movement in the same time and the region, where Jindal has had the plant. He toed the lines of his father Vijaybhushan Singh Deo, the patron of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. The controversies of Mr Judeo being caught in camera for acceptance of the bribe for granting mining rights in the states of Chattisgarh and Odisha as a Minister for Environment and Forests and body blow by the Supreme Court of India declared Salwa Judum, the militia to be illegal and unconstitutional, and ordered it’s disbanding only vitiatied the atmosphere of the region. Tragically, both Mr Judeo and Mr.Karma’ lives ended with sickness and Maoists Bullets respectively in 2013 giving rise to turf war to claim their legacy.v
There is a fierce competition to claim the legacies of Judeo and Karma; to be recognized and resourceful. Gram Panchayat resolution under Section 129 C of the Chhattisgarh Panchayati Act is not just relligio-political, but is part of a well knit plan of corporate communal agenda to control the natural resources and tribal community in the region.
‘Late Ramakant Keshav, an associate of two former RSS Chiefs and a relative of 3rd RSS Chief Balasaheb Deoras arrived in Jashpur in 1948 and founded Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in 1951 where he devoted his life to ameliorate the material and spiritual state of these hapless tribal people. The late Vijaybhushan Singh Deo and son Dilip Singh Judeo of Jashpur helped in his mission. The work was two-fold: To bring back those tribals who were converted to Christianity and to inculcate in them a strong sense of belonging to the Indian culture and religion. Another most commendable mission that was accomplished during his time was the work of Niyogi Commission’. (Organiser, RSS mouthpiece).vi
The Niyogi report heavily influenced by Sangh Parivar contours pitch for the canard.
‘The Sangh Parivar recasting Adivasi as part of Hindu religion and Hindu Rastra with three fold strategies: Hinduising Tribals as necessary for National Integration, using its influence to secure electoral gains and gearing towards communal tensions and violence.’vii
The disturbing trend is that the Christian Adivasis are being intimidated and even lynched with deadly combination of political feudal king of Jaspur royal family with Vanvasi Kalyan Asharam which is a face of Sangh Parivar in the region, fuelling the hate campaign and portraying the Christian community as harmful to the nation building. The documentary, Fishers of Men has documented the tragic case of Christian Adivasi beaten to death by a frenzied Hindu mob, which accused him of destroying a Hindu (Shiva) Temple. Dilip Singh Judev, former Central Minister of India, Patron of Operation Ghar Wapasi explains:
Over there, there was a 150-year-old Shiva temple, which these [the Christian] people went and destroyed. Now if you go and destroy our heritage…go on breaking our temples in this manner and if you expect us to sit quietly and watch…we will not tolerate it… We are not sitting at home wearing bangles. (Outlookindia: Adivasi vs Vanvasi: The Hinduization of Tribals in India)viii
Nandini Sundar, a Professor of Sociology, University of Delhi, who keeps eyes on Adivasi and Chattisgarh region and has authored ‘Adivasi Politics and State Responses: Historical Processes and Contemporary Concerns’ captures the concerns as she explains:
`While both Hindu and Christian organizations practice some kind of boundary keeping for their people, what distinguishes the RSS organizations is the slow penetration of hate. What they are producingis not just Hindu adivasis but bodies for Hindutva, as shown by the involvement of adivasis in the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. While there has been some focus on RSS ghar vapsi or ‘reconversion ceremonies’, in fact the maximum and most effective work of conversion takes place through everyday conversation in hostels or satsang kendras’.ix
It is shocking to note that the Christian Adivasi is being killed by another Adivasi known as Hindu and such instigated events could explain the alarming divide of the Adivasi community, in the name of the religion they they have been co opted with.
Subhash Gatade, the author of the book, ‘Godse Children: Hindutva Terror in India says, ‘Articulate sections of the Dalit movement rightly knew that the essence of Hindu Rashtra is restoration of Brahminical supremacy and relegation of the Dalits to a secondary status, much on the lines of Manusmriti, the sacred edicts of the Hindus. People very well knew how the triumvirate of Hindutva Savarkar- Hedgewar and Golwalkar glorified Manusmriti’.x He believes the same thing could be said of Adivasis too, who have become ‘foot soldiers’ of hindutva forces.
The point of concern for the civil society for the future of India is being captured by Outlook correspondent in Ahmedabad: ‘Of all the disturbing facts that have emerged from the postmortem of the communal carnage in Gujarat, the most baffling and alarming is the large-scale participation of Dalits and tribals in the rioting. Even more shocking: the tribals, who have little in common with mainstream Hinduism, brandished weapons, looted and killed as they violently avenged the ‘attack on Hindus’ These outfits seem to have succeeded in indoctrinating the tribals with the view that they are indeed Hindus and that Muslims are their enemies. Says Achyut Yagnik, political scientist: The Sangh has systematically made inroads among Dalits and tribals and is using them as instruments of Hindutva. This is being achieved with extended government patronage. A systematic Hindutva campaign is on in the tribal region. (Outlook Magazine: Poisoned Edge: The Sangh Exploits Dalit and tribal frustration to recruit soldiers for hindutva’s war, it was revealed).xi
The Adivasi being torn apart and having huge collateral damages of life and properties in the conflicts between Maoist and agents of Salwa Judum, officially disbanded yet active in order to protect the economic and ecological interests of tribals of the region. The lynching of Christian Adivasi by a Hindu mob (I presume it is a non-Christian Adivasi) for destroying Shiva temple, reflects acute religious cultural warfare, and the loss of Adivasi interests and identity.
The cooperation among the communal and corporate forces with the tacit support of the state machinery for the grounding of Sangha (Parivar) Salwa Judum is in the making. If the State and civil society acts in time, turf war over resources reducing the communities to end up in bloody history, can be regulated. There is a need for pressure on the State to play its constitutional role and respect its own mandate. The State faces the play of BJP, Sangh Parivar and Corporate giants to capture power politics, religious-cultural rights, land and forest rights respectively. If that happens, it could be combination of Odisha’s Kandhamal and Kalinga Nagar violence as well as Gujarat communal violence where saffronised Adivasis and Dalits were instigated to kill Muslim dalits. The Adivasi will be on the edge if the Sangh Salwa Judum gets consolidated further.