Rahul Gandhi’s in one of his recent statements about Adivasis said “The people of BJP don’t call you Adivasi. What do they call you? Vanvasi. They don’t tell you that you are the first owners of Hindostan. They tell you live in jungles…” The word used for these aborigines is Scheduled Tribes in the Constitution.
It is interesting to recall that even in Constituent Assembly Tribal Representative Jaspal Singh Munda asked for word Adibasi (Adivasi). He was very critical for using the word Banjati (Forest dweller) for them. RSS Combine has been using the word Vanvasi (Forest Dweller), right from the beginning. They went to the extent of forming Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in 1952 to Hinduize the Adivasis, who essentially follow Animist culture.
Ram Madhav of RSS stated that if they are called Adivasis, than it will mean that others have come from outside. According to ideology of Madhav and his organization, we (Hindus) are all original inhabitants of India. Presentation of this narrative has deeper political implications.
The Aryan immigration (? invasion) theory was initially upheld by the likes of Tilak who in his book ‘Arctic Home of Vedas’ said the Aryans belonged to very high race and they had come from Arctic zone. Golwalkar did not want to contradict Tilak and still state that Aryans are original inhabitants of this land. He made a laughable modification to what Tilak wrote. He said that Arctic zone itself was located somewhere in Bihar-Orissa area and through the landmass migration it shifted to Arctic zone. So when the land was shifting probably the people kept hanging in the sky and settle down when the movement of earth came to a halt. “…that then it moved north-east and then by a sometimes westerly, sometimes northward movement, it came to its present position. If this be so, did we leave the Arctic Zone and come to Hindustan or were we all along here and the Arctic Zone left us and moved away northwards in its zigzag march?”
Why this acrobatic exercise to prove that Aryans originated from here itself? The basic formulation of likes of Golwalkar is that “We—Hindus—have been in undisputed and undisturbed possession of this land for over 8 or even 10 thousand years before the land was invaded by any foreign race” and therefore, this land, “came to be known as Hindusthan, the land of the Hindus” This is to assert that Muslims and Christians are foreigners!
The linguistic, archeological and population genetics studies show us that we all originated in South Africa. In the earlier wave of migration the people settled here, nearly sixty five thousand years ago. The Aryans migrated from Steppes in Central Asia nearly three and a half thousand years ago. When they came here they established their hegemony over the native Adivasis. In a brilliant analysis of different migrations Tony Joseph in his book Early Indians clearly establishes the origin of Aryans from Central Asia.
Now as the Adivasis, were here even before Aryans came, the RSS combine ideology is going all out to prove that Aryans were the original inhabitants in tune with Hindu Nationalism and the claim over the land as ‘first comers’. As per them some people were pushed to the forests by foreign invaders (Muslims). In an attempt to make inroads into Adivasi areas Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram has been acting very intensely in these areas. Its aim is clear, to present Adivasis as Hindu and to impose on them the norms of (Brahmanical) Hinduism.
From the decade of 1980s their activities became very aggressive. They also won over section of Adivasis through social engineering. In these areas Christian missionaries were already working through education and health activities. In the major Adivasi areas they had many goals. They were, one, to win over Adivasis for electoral purpose, two, to Hinduize them and three to counter the impact of Christian missionaries in these areas. For example in Dangs (Gujarat), Jhabua (Madhya Pradesh) and Kandhmal (Orissa) the RSS prachraks opened their centers at big scale. We saw the targeted violence against them in these areas the peak of which was seen in the murder of Pastor Graham Stains (1999) and the horrific Kandhmal violence (2008). These areas also saw the rise of the likes of Dilip Singh Judeo, who intensified Ghar Wapasi programs, converting Adivasis into Hindus in these areas. They also started Ekal Schools where their version of History is taught to the children.
Simultaneously, they organized Shabri Kumbh melas through which the Hiduization process of Adivasis went on with an intense pace. Lord Hanuman and Shabri Mata were projected as icons for Adivasis, matching with the great reverence for Lord Ram and subservient role of these two deities. Their strategy paid rich dividends at electoral level also. BJP emerged as a major political force in these areas. We need to understand that promoting Lord Hanuman and Shabri Mata among Adivasis may be a type of signaling of the place of Adivasis in the coming schema of things.
These areas are among the poorest in the countries and have seen the anti Christian violence from last two decades. The data shows that though the major spectacular violence is not to be seen, a sub radar anti Christian violence continues in these areas.
What Adivasis need is and improvement of their social conditions. Rahul Gandhi correctly says that aim of BJP-RSS is to subjugate the Adivasis. “Who provided you the rights to our forest resources? It was the Congress. Who formulated Forests Rights Act and PESA [Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act]? We did. Only the Congress can fight for your rights…” Today BJP is out to ensure the subjugation of indigenous people. “The Congress says Adivasis are the rightful owners of the country’s resources. The differences between them and us are not just in the names we call the Adivasis by but also in our mentalities. We are for the empowerment of Adivasis while they are for torture.” Rahul Gandhi’s is a major statement and the hope is that Congress type formations stick to it in the face of subjugation of Adivasis rights and dignity, ensuring their security and well being in the society.