Tribals in the forested interiors of India today face a grave, new threat. Already dispossessed of land and forest, grappling with debt, hunger, exploitation and bondage, the tribals now face incursions of radical Hindutva, systematically propagated by front organisations of the Sangh, threatening to divide and communalise tribal communities and further distance them from justice. For the majority of tribals, the enemy invented for them instead by the Sangh is Christianity, demonised as a dangerous foreign conspiracy to destabilise India, propagated by inducement and fraud by missionaries, pastors and nuns. Healthcare and education provided by them are dismissed as bribes for conversion. In Gujarat, the epicentre of the war against Christianity is the Dangs district, with 92% tribal population, mainly Bhils and Warlis. This impoverished district gained notoriety in 1998, when 38 acts of violence were recorded against a population of a few thousand and the pastors in the district. Independent investigations established that these attacks were a result of hatred and suspicion systematically introduced by activists of Sangh organisations like Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and Hindu Jagran Manch.
With the Sangh planning a Shabri Kumbh in Dangs in February 2006, there are fears of a repeat. There have been several such gatherings organised by Hindutva activists in the region in recent years, including a Vishal Hindu Mahasangam in Jhabua in MP in 2002, and another Kumbh in Bhilwada in Rajasthan in 2004. Each gathering was preceded by intensive mobilisation by Sangh activists in tribal households, distribution of lockets and statues of Hindu deities like Hanuman, and doorstep propaganda against Christians. The choice of Hindu icons for adivasi areas is also telling: Hanuman and Shabri, revered as loyal servants rather than masters like Ram. There are numerous programmes, called 'ghar vapsi' or homecoming, or alleged reconversions of tribals to Hindu faith.
Each of these gatherings left a trail of violence and fear among Christian adivasis, and expansion in support for the BJP. However, as both anthropologists and district gazetteers testify, adivasis are not originally Hindu, especially not of the narrow Brahmanical version purveyed by the Sangh. Their worship is animistic: They pray to tigers, cows, and serpents, the moon, hills, forests, wind and rain. Their gods are appeased by animal sacrifice and home-brewed liquor.
The modus operandi of Hindutva activists is to adopt and gradually co-opt these tribal gods. The gods are gradually converted toteetotallers and vegetarians and reinvented as local versions of Hindu gods. Temples are built to these gods, and Hindu festivals introduced. In the run-up to the Shabri Kumbh, it is being claimed that Ram encountered Shabri and ate the berries tasted by her in Dangs. As in Ayodhya, Hindutva activists claim precise knowledge of the exact location where Ram encountered Shabri — the spot where the Kumbh is being organised.
Traditionally, there can only be four Kumbhs at fixed locations in 12-year cycles, and this has been unchanged through the millennia. Plans for the new Shabri Kumbh are thus a manipulation of mythology for sectarian objectives of terrorising the few thousand adivasi Christians, and to promote a false majoritarian Hindu identity in violent opposition to them.
What is even more dismaying is the state's open support. Development funds in one of the country's poorest districts are being diverted for building roads, platforms and dams for the Kumbh reservoir. The local administration refuses to act against the Sangh pamphlets and CDs, which make repeated venomous references to the church, and ignores the mounting terror among the Christian adivasis, as well as the destruction of the fragile environment.Instead, the district collector defends these as legitimate religious activities, with the added benefit of development. This openly partisan support of the state government needs to be combated, and the safety of minorities secured. Else, the tribal regions of India, already dispossessed and impoverished, will be flooded with the bitter blood of sectarian hatred.
Incursions of Hindutva [ by Harsh Mander] — The Times of India — [January 7, 2005]