Are Adivasis Hindus?

A separate column for Adivasis (Aboriginis) must be included in the forthcoming Census 2020 as it was in 1951

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Massive protests are underway against the NPR, NCR and CAA currently. Simultaneously, we are going to begin the process of decadal census in 2021. Already the RSS has been active in promoting NPR, NCR and CAA. At the same time RSS also wants that Adivasis should register themselves as Hindus rather than ticking the column of ‘Others’. As per their spokesperson in the 2011 census many Adivasis groups ticked that column because of which the population of Hindus came down to by 0.7 percent point to come down to 79.8 %. This has sent signals to this Hindu supremacist organization which is planning to ensure that Adivasis tick the column ‘Hindus’ to rev up the statistics in this census.

The RSS has had a very clever approach to defining the term Hindu. The first formulation was by Savarkar who said that all those who regard the land east of Indus as their Holy land and Father land are Hindus. This left out Muslims and Christians, and brought all others within the ambit of Hindu fold. From the decade of 1980s, due to electoral compulsions they have been trying to articulate that all those who live in India are Hindus. Murli Manohar Joshi stated that Muslims are Ahmadiya Hindus and Christians are Christi Hindus. Recently there was a controversy when they restated that Sikhs are not a separate religion but are a sect of Hinduism. Many Sikh organizations stood up to say that Sikhism is a religion by itself and recalled the book of Kahan Singh Nabha, “Hum Hindu Nahin”

What of the Adivasis ? In stark contrast to what is being planned by Hindu supremacist RSS, many Adivasis groups have been meeting over the last couple of years to demand the contrary. They have been demanding a column on the Census form where they can tick their identity as Adivasis.  There are active campaigns among Adivasis groups to uphold their Adivasi identity in the Census. In the first census of Independent India, the column, Aborigines, was included, which was later removed forcing them to club themselves with other religions. This is the stand of India’s Adivasis.

Post 1951, in addition to Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain and Buddha, the column ‘others’ was included. This was removed in 2011. Even during British period if you look at the censuses of the British era (from 1871 to 1931); there was provision for tribes to choose Aborigine as an option. There are nearly 83 religious practices being followed by Adivasis. Few major of these are Sarna, Gondi, Punem, Adi, and Koya. What they share in common is that they are animists, worship nature and spirit of ancestors; do not have a priestly class or Holy Scriptures and Gods and Goddesses characteristic of the broad Hindu pantheon.

To further its political agenda to transform Indian state and society into a hegemonised Hindu Nation, the RSS has been calling them and dubbing them Vanvasi. They pontificate that they have been part of Hindu society who were driven away to forests to escape the forcible conversion being done by the Muslim invaders. This concoction is contrary to the interpretations based on the studies from the field of population genetics. The Hindu supremacist argues that Aryans have been the original inhabitants of the country from where they spread to other parts of the World. The book by Tony Joseph, ‘Early Indians’ tells us that away from the race theory, we are all mixed up. The first inhabitants in our land were the ones who emigrated from South Asia over 60,000 years ago.

The Indo-Aryans came here nearly three thousand years ago and it was they pushed the aborigines to the forests and hills and that’s what constitutes the Adivasi community of India.

Hindu supremacists like all the supremacist-nationalists, who construct their nationalism around their religion, lay claim to be the original inhabitants of the land, and their interpretations of the past are moulded to fit that narrative. From the start, the RSS has, shunned the word Adivasi, but calls the vast numbers of our indigenous peoples, the Vanvasi. To shore up the numbers, Adivasis must be part of the Hindu fold, despite the Adivasis themselves asserting that they are not Hindus, they have beliefs and practices which are distinct and different from Hinduism, in whatever form.

To enhance its political reach from 1980s in particular, its work in Adivasi areas has intensified. While ‘Vanvasis Kalyan Ashram’, part of RSS combine which was formed much earlier, it was in the decades of 1980s that their work was jacked up by sending more Pracharaks in Adivasi areas. We have seen that in Gujarat, Dangs and nearby area, congregations of Swami Aseemanand, in MP, centered around the followers of Asaram Bapu in Jhabua and Swami Laxmananada in Orissa. They furthered the RSS agenda. They saw Christian missionaries working in the field of education and health as an obstacle to Hinduisation of Adivasis. Their propaganda against Christian missionaries led to the ghastly murder of Pastor Graham Stains. It was this propaganda which led to anti Christian violence in various forms, the most horrific being the Kandhamal violence of 2008.

In order to culturally co-opt them into the fold of Hinduism they began series of religious congregations, Kumbhs. Shabri Kumbh in Dangs and many other Adivasis predominant areas created an atmosphere of fear, Adivasis were asked to be part of it, saffron flags were distributed and they were made to put it in their houses. Two religious icons were popularized in these areas, one was Shabri and other was Hanuman. To cap it all, Ekal Vidyalayas, started spreading RSS’s interpretation of history in these areas. The other angle of the whole thing is that Adivasis are living in the areas rich in minerals, which the BJP supporter Corporate World wants to take over.

The world over aborigines live by similar traditions. They are animists and what they practice is a culture that is distinct. Many have converted to other religions out of their choice for sure, but finally in these matters what is important is their own self perception. Hemant Soren the chief minister of Jharkhand pointed out that “Adivasis are not Hindus.”

Given that, the Census Marker Column for Aboriginis (Adivasis) needs to find its place in our census forms.


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