Debating India

Chhattisgarh tribals shift loyalties

Sunday 25 April 2004

RAIPUR: The gradual shift in loyalty by tribals of Chhattisgarh from Congress is likely to earn the saffron party rich dividends in the Lok Sabha polls, thanks to the efforts of Sangh Parivar outfits to enthuse ’Hindutva’ passion in the remote areas of this backward state.

Though the tribals have traditional inclination towards Congress, efforts to promote ’Hindutva’ have succeeded in casting a charm over adivasi voters, who are now more tilted towards the saffron party in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, as borne out by the 2003 assembly election results in these two states.

In an attempt to put a halt to conversions Sangh Parivar organisations, operating as social workers under different names, have been fanning out to the far-flung, inaccessible and mostly inhospitable hamlets to inject a feeling of self-respect among the tribals and ultimately bring them back to the Hindu mainstream.

Persuading the tribals to go back to their roots in Hindu culture, the RSS had first set up Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams in over 32 districts in central India covering more than 32,000 villages and nearly 70,000 families, according to Sangh Parivar sources.

RSS organisations have also started opening Satsang Kendras in villages.

On the lines of the RSS Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams, VHP has been engaged in the task of setting up Ekal Vidyalayas - a single-teacher primary school where tribal students are imparted lessons on Hindu culture and religion along with normal academic curricula.

There are about 600 such schools at present, VHP sources said adding that it has been planned to open 10,000 Ekal Vidyalayas in the country in the next few years.

Buoyed by the success of the network established by them, as reflected in the result of the last assembly elections, the VHP and the RSS have decided to provide tribals with four A’s - akshar (education), anna (foodgrains), arogya (healthcare) and aradhana sthal (place of worship) on the pattern of the Christian missionaries.

So much so, that the tribals are made to celebrate Ganesh festival, hold Ramlila celebrations, conduct Geeta Paath and use Ram Ram to greet each other.

Chhattisgarh has caught the fancy of the Sangh Parivar in view of the large number of conversions, said a VHP activist in Kanker district in the naxalite-infested Bastar region bordering Andhra Pradesh where the People War (PW) ultras are very active.

It is interesting as to how the ’Hindutva’ sentiment is inculcated among the tribals,. Katha Vachaks (story-tellers) try to mould the minds of the simple tribals by narrating tales of Ramayana after sunset every day.

The listeners are told that Lord Ram spent 14 years in banishment from kingdom in this place, part of Dandakaranya, and that Hanuman is a vanvasi (forest inhabitant) who stood by him in his exile.

Whether or not the villagers get the political message, the narrators of the story hope they do and thus, a silent saffron surge is underway.

Carrying a copy of Ramcharit Manas, these story-tellers have been criss-crossing the entire state for the past couple of years inculcating ’Hindutva’ feelings which ultimately pay dividends to BJP in elections, as was evident in the December 2003 assembly polls.

"We are some 1,000 volunteers who go from village to village and preach Hindutva by telling stories from the Ramcharit Manas after sunset," Sant Agocharanand, a VHP pracharak explained.

The programme, being implemented by the VHP, involves a two-month training to the volunteers at the district level and a six-month stay in Ayodhya.

With conversion to Christianity prevalent in some tribal areas, the Katha Vachaks , aimed at least to help check it.

"During the Congress rule, Christian missionaries were active to propagate their religion," Agocharanand said and added that his entry was banned in eight districts by the then Congress government for "opposing conversion".

Most story-tellers hail from the RSS-run Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams or Ekal Vidyalayas and are trained to narrate the story in local dialect to make it easier for the tribals to follow.

Girls too undertake the task of story-telling, but they are not many in number and remain restricted to ’safer’ areas, while boys are sent to extremist-infested areas for the purpose

See online : The Times of India


in The Times of India, Sunday, April 25, 2004.

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