Hindu nationalism was woven around Indian nationalism during the independence movement. The former was checkmated by Pandit Nehru and other architects of modern India. However, it raised its head often. One of its manifestations was the promulgation of ‘Anti-conversion Bills’ or what was euphemistically called ‘Freedom of Religion’ bills in a few Congress-ruled states and much more in BJP-ruled states.
A great anxiety about Hindus being outnumbered has been kept alive in independent India especially just before the elections. The differential growth rate of religious communities is a sensitive issue that can be easily exploited for fomenting passions based on prejudices by different stakeholders. It is an established fact that there is an illicit dramatization of misrepresented statistics of census. Data on population has been especially ‘used’ to generate ‘nationalism’. Newspapers, magazines, television channels and even caste journals have propounded myths, with catchy titles.
It must be noted that no major religious community in India has been declining in absolute numbers except the Parsis. And yet the whole discourse is aimed at obliterating pluralism of identities, by provoking a fear of the other , and propagating a constant myth of a catastrophic decline in the majority population.
‘One man, one vote’ in Indian democracy had reduced the importance of Brahmin and upper castes equating their vote with the same importance to the so-called untouchables’ vote. That many dalits and tribals had opted for Christianity had irked the traditional power elite, the upper castes. They orchestrated two things: l) Hinduism is under threat and 2) Hindu numbers are going down. This was counteracted by continuous propaganda against the missionaries and discrediting their humanitarian works as bait for seeking conversions. This discrediting has gone so deep into the Hindu mind that even educated Hindus when they encounter Christians of dalit and tribal origin ask how much they were paid to become Christians or what material benefits they have received.
Hinduism and Hindutva
Over the recent decades, politicians have used religious cover to attain political power. Sociologist Madan (1992) has attempted to understand Hinduism via four components, viz., sacred space (shrines), sacred times (festivals), sacred persona (personnel) and sacred knowledge (scriptures). The changes in all these have been recorded as reorientations to the sacred. The changes have been singularly effected by the Hindu nationalists.
Hinduism itself is not monolithic. It has been interwoven with two traditions: great and little. The great tradition was the monopoly of the upper castes, with literary capability, philosophy, and scriptures, while the little tradition rested with the masses who were generally unlettered, subsisted on mythologies, and folk literature (Redfield 1956:41).
The great tradition was also known as Sanskritic, while the little tradition was known as non-Sanskritic. Sanskrit played a great role in great tradition. There were higher forms of Hinduism akin to the great tradition, and lower forms of Hinduism akin to the little tradition. Then there was sectarian Hinduism and non-sectarian Hinduism (Srinivas and Shah 1972: 359 ff). The sectarian Hinduism was largely Sanskritic in character, and the non-sectarian Hinduism was non-Sanskritic in nature.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) always refers to the total strength of Hindus as 85 per cent in India. Seven percent of tribals are included and passed off as Hindus. No doubt there was slow Sanskritisation taking place among the tribals over the centuries, however proselytization of the tribals began with the coming of Hindutva. Sanskritisation has been explained as emulation of upper caste or higher forms of Hinduism by lower castes who are upwardly mobile. They emulate the diet, dress and demeanour and want to pass off as higher castes. This process has been going on among dalits, tribals and other backward castes in a slow and spontaneous manner.
Eminent sociologist M.N. Srinivas (1980) has made this distinction between Sanskritisation as a spontaneous process, and later on proselytization as a strategy, indulged in by Hindutva brigade. Hindutvavadis always blame Christian missionaries for offering allurements to poor and proselytize them. The counter measures employed by Hindutvavadis are alluring the poor dalits, tribals and OBCs through education, health, and welfare measures and brainwashing them, quickening the pace of Hinduisation.
Building Hindu shrines in tribal areas, promoting Hindu cultural invasion through Hindu festivals and the building of ashrams and institutions have been a common phenomenon. It is no longer sanskritisation but akin to proselytization. The State has taken on the missionary role in proselytizing tribals into Hindus especially during decennial census. We may ask how and why Hindutvavadis proselytize tribals?
Proselytization of tribals into Hindus
Apart from capturing the tribal vote bank, there is an economic dimension which has not been sufficiently highlighted. Tribal areas are rich in forests and minerals. If these tribals are proselytized into Hindus, then Reservation of tribals may easily come under question. The side benefits of Christian proselytization on education and social awareness may hinder the Hindu industrialists from trampling the natural resources in tribal areas. Most Christian NGOs no longer dole out as in the past, but educate and bring social awareness among tribals about their rights. This puts road blocks to Hindu industrialists.
Hindus are early entrants into the market as compared to the tribals. Hindu businessmen in tribal areas have been shopkeepers exploiting the tribals. I shall give three examples. Kevdi, a tribal village of Umarpada taluka of Surat district (Gujarat), has a series of shops buying from and selling to the tribals of the neighbouring villages. Originally one shopkeeper came from Marwad (Rajashtan) and today a number of Marwaris have established shops there. From time to time tribals have tried to set up a shop or two, but have not succeeded because of the opposition and dominance of these Marwaris. The latter do not permit the tribals to establish shops. So the tribals produce the harvest but its benefit is harvested mostly by the Marwari shopkeepers.
A second site that I can mention is from Kandhamal where there are Kandhas (tribals), Panas (SCs claiming ST status) and Hindus come originally from outside known as Odias. The last are peasants, businessmen and traders. The Panas, many of whom became Christians due to missionary interventions, became educated and set up shops as well as acquired lands from the Kandhas. This hurt the Odia Hindus. The RSS found the right climate to work through the Odiya Hindus to sow seeds of division among Panas and Kandhas. Swami Laxmananda was sent to fan communal fires there and the results are well-known.
A third site is Jharkhand where the anti-conversion law has been promulgated and implemented. Jharkhand has Sarna tribals (13%) and Christian tribals (4.3%) and they have been living in peace. Hindus who have settled from outside are generally known as ‘Dikus” (outsiders) by all the tribals. Chief Minister Ragubar Das is not a tribal but a Hindu. The Jharkhand state was created so that the tribals get justice.
However, majority of tribals are not part of the ruling BJP regime. The ruling regime wants to exploit the tribal resources like forests, water, land, and mines to benefit the corporate sector. The missionaries and Christian tribals have protested. However, the ‘Dikus’ by stoking communal fire with Sarna tribals have succeeded in bringing measures against Christians/missionaries.
It is said that politics is the art of unification through the use of certain symbols. Hinduism, as mentioned earlier, was diverse. To unite Hindus across castes and sects, they had to re- invent symbols like the cow. This unification of Hindus is shown to be successful especially in the recent Assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh. However, it must be noted that Hindu nationalism is not so much based on religious Hinduism as much as political Hinduism.
Anti-conversion law is promulgated in all BJP-ruled states as part of Hindu rashtra. This law has been time and again been shown as against the spirit of Article 25 of the Constitution of India. There are hardly any cases which have been penalized under this law. Just like beef ban which is more to harass the Muslims than due to love for the cow, anti-conversion law is to harass and victimize the Christians and missionaries who do welfare works, particularly where the state fails.
Apart from excelling in education and health, the Church has shifted its gear to make tribals demand their rights, and this has irked the state. The tribal Christians are better educated than non-Christian tribals. The Hindutvavadis have been effectively provoking the non-Christian tribals saying that Christian tribals have deprived them of their reservation benefits. The question still remains: After proselytizing the tribals, will Hindutvavadis share with them power, development and welfare or only look for their votes. The Jharkhand experiment has only negative answer.(Published on 23rd October 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 43)