Ahwa (Gujarat): There are few locals participating in the Shabari Kumbh in this south Gujarat tribal district of Dangs for which thousands of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) workers have arrived from different parts of the country. Over 150,000 people, mainly RSS activists, devotees and saints are attending the three-day meet, which began Saturday to pay tribute to a tribal character from Hindu epic Ramayana, and aims to counter the religious conversion activities of Christian missionaries here.
The turnout of RSS workers is less than expected for the kumbh being held near Subir village, about 30 km from this district headquarters. Activists of the RSS and its affiliate organisations have come from neighbouring states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and elsewhere. For tea stall owner Dilip Palav, the kumbh has been a windfall. From the daily Rs.50 to Rs.100 that he makes from his shop in Ahwa, his earnings at the kumbh stand at Rs.2,000 a day. "We will go when the rush gets thin. This is the time for us to earn. I have never seen so many people here," said Palav. According to Palav, many of the local residents of Subir have set up small eating joints to make some quick money during the kumbh.
Udaysinh Bilwal, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) cadre who has come from Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, said he has brought 8,000 people. "We were given a target to bring 3,000 people from our block in Jhabua, but we have brought 8,000. Many buses and trucks were given to us to bring the people," said Bilwal.
According to him the "show of strength" would "fill people here with confidence and they won’t convert".
"Earlier the activity of conversion prevailed in Jhabua too but the RSS did a good job and it stopped. Lets hope that it ends here too," he added. Ram Gopal, from Amritsar in Punjab, who works as president of Dharma Jagaran in his state, said he had come here with a specific purpose. "There was large scale conversion of lower caste people in Punjab too, but we did their re-conversion. We hope to create a similar movement here too. Since the conversion activity directly affects our culture we must stop it," Gopal told IANS. Srikant Banubakhode, 23, a Bajrang Dal activist from Akola, Maharashtra, said he was asked to bring 350 people. Varsha Kolatkar, a Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (tribal welfare) member from Maharashtra, asserted that the tribals are essentially Hindu. "If the missionaries have come to serve people, they should stick to service only and stop converting innocent tribals to Christianity. And if the Hindu organisations are putting their efforts to bring them back to their original faith, they are doing nothing but performing their duty," said Kolatkar.
Meanwhile, away from the Kumbh venue in the interior villages and at the district headquarter Ahwa, the Christians and their leaders remained confined to their houses and institution premises. "We are satisfied with the security arrangements so far," said Father M.Y. Anthony of Nav Jyot School in Subir, who said he was apprehensive of violence. "We are not bothered about the speeches. But we don’t know who all have come to participate. Therefore, we feel insecure about the event," said Father Xavier Manjooran who is based in Ahwa. Despite tight security arrangements in the entire district on the directives of the Supreme Court, the event has led to fear among the Christians.