Adivasi vs Vanvasi: The Hinduization of Tribals in India
Foreign Exchange of Hate
Full text of the report © 2002, Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd, Mumbai, India, and The South Asia Citizens Web, France
Adivasi vs Vanvasi: The Hinduization of Tribals in India
Most indigenous tribal people of India refer to themselves as Adivasi (literally: first inhabitants). This term of choice also the one that is used in almost all matters of public discourse about tribal peoples – from school textbooks to government documents and newspaper accounts to academic scholarship. The only exception to this more or less universal rule is the Sangh Parivar and all those who are ideologically committed to Hindutva. The term of choice for them is “vanvasi” (forest dwellers) as opposed to “adivasi” (first inhabitants).
Historically, the adivasi’s have been marginalized from the mainstream of Indian society through the caste system. Adivasi’s have been traditionally treated as outside the caste structure and are seen as entirely impure from within the Brahminic caste order. Adivasi societies, in turn, consider themselves distinct from the majority Hindu population of India, as well as from most other organized forms of religion. In post-independence India, the State has further marginalized adivasi communities through a systematic process of alienating them from their lands and resources in the name of “progress” and “development.”
The Sangh Parivar’s efforts to recast adivasi’s as vanvasi’s is a critical component of their ideological project. Their project of “Hindu Rashtra” rests on a claim of Hindus being indigenous to India and any other claimants to that slot, as Adivasis are, fundamentally challenges their project of a Hindu Nation. For instance according to an analysis appearing in Indian Express:
The reason why the Sangh denies Adivasis the status of the original dwellers is that it runs counter to its own claim that the Aryans, who brought Vedic civilization to the country, are the original inhabitants of the land.
Adivasi communities have been especially weakened in the last century through imposed religious divisions, first by large scale Christian missionary activity—mostly peaceful and welfare based though often also patronizing; and more recently by the Sangh Parivar which has arrogated to itself the authority to control the lives of the adivasis and is engaged in a massive drive to ‘bring back’ the tribals into the fold of Hinduism—using everything from vicious attacks by thugs under the name of protecting Hinduism to setting up organizations that purport to work for tribal welfare and education.
The Sangh Parivar has set up a plethora of organizations that focus on tribal areas. Some of the prominent ones are:
Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram
Bharat Kalyan Pratishthan
Friends of Tribal Society
All of the above organizations are active in the tribal areas and all have received the IDRF funding. The remainder of this Appendix will explicate with brief examples how these IDRF funded institutions work in their attempts to “bring back” adivasis into Hindu fold.
The basic strategies deployed by the Sangh organizations include:
1. Primary focus on Hinduizing Tribals as necessary for National Integration.
2. Using its influence in adivasi areas to secure electoral gains
3. Activities geared towards creating communal tensions and violence
We examine each of these in order.
F.1 ‘Hinduizing’ Adivasis For National Integration.
The objectives of the Sangh organizations working among the adivasis are two fold: to ‘bring them back’ to Hindu faith and to ‘check’ the conversions to Christianity. This vision is laid out clearly in many RSS texts. For instance, in “RSS: Widening Horizons”, an RSS publication, the origins of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, an IDRF funded body is laid out clearly:Advertisement
The systematic alienation of the tribals…who form an inseparable part of the Hindu society through proselytization was another grave challenge that demanded immediate corrective measures…. They had all along been a most exploited lot and an easy prey for unscrupulous conversion by Christian missionaries. It is to counter this twin menace of British legacy, that the Bharateeya Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram (BKVA) was founded in early fifties. …Over the decades, the Ashram has succeeded not only in putting a stop to conversions in all its areas of operation, but also in bringing the converts back to the Hindu fold. (emphasis added).
Note the twin objectives: to halt Christian conversion and to ‘bring back’ adivasis into Hindu fold. The first objective by itself is incomplete for the project of Hindutva. It is in this core area of ideological work (religious ‘reconversion’) that a significant part of IDRF’s energies and funds are put to work. In IDRF’s own words in speaking of one of their 'NGO partners' 
The objective of Vidharba Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram is to bring the vanavasis (Tribals) in the national main stream by generating awareness about their ancestral (Hindu) fold…and to guard them against the anti social and anti national elements… (emphasis added).
In the above IDRF documentation of the work it supports the ideological parameters are laid out even more clearly. First, the task of bringing adivasis ‘back’ into Hindu fold is seen as bringing them into a national mainstream – i.e, the national mainstream in this definition is a Hindu one, perfectly in tune with the idea of a Hindu Rashtra and further, the “anti-national” elements are the Christians – thus underscoring the idea of a nation for Hindus as the core project of Hindutva. This ideological core of work among adivasis is a repeated trope in Hindutva writings. Mohan Joshi, the Joint Secretary to the VHP for instances comments on Muslim and Christian converts as follows,
[T]hey always try to increase their numerical strength. They deliberately jeer at the Hindu gods and goddesses, Hindu values and Hindu culture…. Along with the disrespect to [Hindu] religion disrespect to nation also gets generated. Conversion from religion means conversion of allegiance from State also…
Thus under the guise of tribal welfare and education what is undertaken by most IDRF funded Sangh organizations is an intense religious reconversion program. Sewa Bharati, another the IDRF partner, says in one of its reports on the IDRF website:
To cultivate faith in our religion in the minds of Tribals Sewa Bharati has picked up 23 Tribal youths and 4 tribal girls, they were sent to Ayodhya to undergo training in 'Shri RamKatha Pravachan' (discourses of Ramayan). This training lasted 8 months under the guidance of special Saints and Mahatmas. Now 'Anubhav Varga' has been formed at Jashpur Nagar, from where groups of two will visit 5 days in each five villages. They will live in the villages and propagate 'RamKatha.' 
Not only is it important to note that Ramkathas have little to do with Adivasi traditions, but equally critical is to understand the spread of this Sangh operation. In the case of the Sewa Bharati example above, tribal youth are being relocated for religio-ideological training and then being sent back to their communities. A news report about Ekal Vidyalayas, another IDRF grantee gives another testimony to the spread of this work:
Such schools …[are] being run in remote forest areas and north-eastern states with the aim of creating awareness among the tribals and the poor and preventing their conversion to Christianity by missionaries.
Thus, the IDRF funded operations of Sewa Bharati, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams and Ekal Vidyalayas, are only nominally development/welfare organizations but far more cogently adivasi reconversion institutions. It is also important to note that this ideological work is seen as central to the immediate real political gains of the Sangh.
F. 2 Every Adivasi Counts: The Electoral End of Tribal Reconversion
While the IDRF, like the Sangh claims to be
non-political, the stated goal of the Sangh Parivar is to get
the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into power—a prerequisite
for the creation of a Hindu Rashtra (a Hindu Nation). The Sangh
organizations working with the tribal populations are also mindful
of this goal and are doing their bit to achieve it.
A report following elections in Gujarat states,
The Bharatiya Janata Party, without mincing words, accepted on Friday that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, groups accused of anti-Christian violence in tribal areas about a year ago, helped the party’s foray into the tribal areas. … Congress leader Vishnu Pandya says that the BJP’s victory in the tribal region has not come all of the sudden. "The Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad (a RSS wing), VHP and the Bajrang Dal have been working strategically to outscore the Congress in its stronghold..
Another newspaper report on the plans for setting up more Ekal Vidyalayas in Gujarat by the VHP had this candid confession from the VHP functionary in the area:
We are just imitating our Bihar experience where the BJP could make inroads because of such schools run by the VHP in the Jharkhand region,” Kaushik Patel, a parishad leader, said…. According to [the] VHP leader, the positive impact of these Ekal Vidyalays—which aim to bring tribals into the Hindu fold—will be evident in the next general elections... Pointing out that the experiment has been a huge success in Bihar, he said the VHP has already made inroads in tribal Gujarat, once considered a Congress stronghold.Advertisement
Thus, a long term ideological project of Hindu reconversions, in itself a violent ideology (of a Hindu Rashtra) meets with the possibility of immediate electoral gains. There is no better ground for the creation of communal tensions and violence than such as lethal mix of ideological work and electoral politics.
F. 3 The Effects of Hinduization: Communal Tensions and Sectarian Violence
The effects of Hinduization drives, funded systematically by IDRF, are the constant production of communal tension and violence. We have already documented the spread of violence by IDRF funded organizations in the main report and in appendix A. Thus, this section will be brief and serve merely as a reminder to conclusions that have already been argued for.
The Sangh Parivar’s actions in tribal areas, as elsewhere, are accompanied by a spread of literature full of hatred towards minorities.
An example from the literature for the Kalyanashram at Sidumbar, an IDRF grantee states,
The Muslims are also trying to create chaos in these communities, either by enticing these tribals or by raping the tribal girls by force…The Kalyanashram at Sidumbar is trying to put a stop to these activities of Muslims as well as Christians…The workers…are required to give a tough fight to the Christian Missionaries because they keep on harassing the local residents. 
Note how the invocation of Muslims as violent is left entirely unsubstantiated and is essentially thrown into the framework of anti-Christian missionary work. This thematic continues consistently with other IDRF funded organizations. A report on the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram’s school in Waghai (supported by IDRF) goes as follows:
AMONG THE GREAT HINDU warriors of this millennium, few rival Shivaji, the 17th-century leader who battled invading Mughal armies … So it's no surprise to find a fresco of Shivaji gracing the entrance to the Dandkarniya Vanavasi School in Waghai, a remote town in the western state of Gujarat. Set in a quiet forest, the private institution appears to be an ideal place to study - except that its 28 pupils don't seem to be getting a very fair education. Many of the boys are too young to realize it, but…[a] short Hindi poem inscribed under Shivaji's portrait affords a glimpse of what the students learn. "If it weren't for Shivaji," the ballad goes, "we would all be circumcised." The message: Shivaji saved Hindus from being forcibly converted to Islam….Most of the students at Dandkarniya, for instance, used to be first-generation Christians. "Now they are all Hindus," smiles Bacchubhai Vasava, a young RSS leader who runs the school. 
Of course the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram activists have little time for details such as the fact that the Mughal army had Hindu generals and the Maratha army Muslim generals. For them, the anti-miority violence is an essential part of the strategy to bring tribals ‘back’ into Hindu fold. An editorial on the anti-Christian violence in the Dangs, Gujarat confirms this:
[O]fficials affirm that there was no overt hostility towards the community till two years ago. This period, not coincidentally, saw resurgence in aggressive Hindu mobilization. At the forefront of this campaign has been Swami Aseemanand, a member of the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad, an organization allied to the Sangh Parivar [and associated with the IDRF]. He has been quoted as saying that "Dangs cannot know peace so long as even a single tribal remains Christian". The swami has been actively reconverting tribals in the area. Unfortunately, this propagation of Hinduism has gone hand in hand with a hate campaign against Christians.
The documentary Fishers of Men  documents the terrorization of the Christian community in one village in Madhya Pradesh by the workers from the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Jashpur (again funded by the IDRF). The Christians describe the harassment, and one of the priests speaks on film:
The main problem faced by the Christians Adivasis here is mental harassment from outside agencies. The reason for this mental harassment is the campaign of misinformation launched against them. I have said before that Dilip Singh Judev [of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Jashpur] takes out processions and other events and programmes at which he spreads anti Christian propaganda that these people are harmful to us as well as the nation that they are removed from the mainstream that they are working towards the creation of a non-Hindu nation. With this kind of propaganda against us definitely there is a distance that develops between us. They feel that we are not good citizens this surely causes us a lot of mental turmoil.
The documentary later goes on to document the tragic case of a Christian Adivasi beaten to death by a frenzied Hindu mob, which accused him of destroying a Hindu (Shiva) Temple. Kripa Prasad Singh, a functionary of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Jashpur is captured on film with the following analysis of the painful event:
It was just the reaction of a local village because it was a sentimental matter. So, they [the Hindus] got together and did the deed. Every society has their unity so they got together and did it.Advertisement
Dilip Singh Judev, Patron of Operation Ghar Vapasi (Reconversion Drive of the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram) explains it thus,
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.
Thus, IDRF funded Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams are at the forefront of a violent campaign to reassert Hindu identity and ‘reconvert’ adivasis to Hinduism. Violence is justified in this strategy in part because the ‘reconversion’ are so central to Sangh ideology’s very sustenance and also because the process of regaining this Hindu Rashtra is embedded within a rhetoric of regaining a lost manhood.
129. Hindutva, the lexical way: Delegitimizing the Adivasi, A.J. Philip, © Indian Express 1999
130. Widening Horizons
131. NGO partners
132. Muslim and Christian converts
133. Gujarat Earthquake
134. VHP plans schools in border areas to counter infiltration, Hindustan Times, May 9, 2001.
135. Ahmedabad Com
136. Sangh School Plan for Gujarat, Basant Rawat, The Telegraph, July 4,2000 x
137. Amrut-Khumbha of Service Streams, Dr. Shantaram Hari Ketkar, Ekta Prakashan, Pune 1995
138. A REAL TEXTBOOK CASE: The BJP has begun to rewrite India's history, Ajay Singh, Asiaweek, March 26, 1999
139. Dangs Violence is A Story Foretold, Arun Varghese, Times of India, Feb 11, 1999
140. Fishers of Men, by Ranjan Kamath and Padmavati Rao, 1997, RKO Moving Media,
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