December  2001 
Special Report

Adivasis against Hindutva

In a hotbed of the sangh parivar in tribal Thane, Adivasis challenge the attempt to ‘impose’ a Hindu identity on them


Jowhar town in Thane district is known as a hill station. It is also known for its chronic water scarcity and the annual death toll of Adivasis due to gastro–enteric diseases, a tragedy shared by its neighbouring talukas, Mokhada and Vikramgarh. What is, however, less known is that Jowhar is also the nerve centre of the RSS and its front organisation, the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA), is quite active in this part of Thane district.

The two have already spawned the Bajrang Dal, the Hindu Suraksha Samiti and other Hindutva outfits in this tribal belt extending across to Nashik, the biggest centre of the VKA in Maharashtra. The third active centre of the VKA is in Nandurbar, a predominantly tribal district in the northern part of the state.

Like last year, this year, too, Jowhar town witnessed the ‘Vanotsav’ (not ‘forest–festival’ but a festival of the ‘vanavasis’!) organised by the VKA since 1970 to celebrate Navaratri, in which thousands of Adivasis coming from as far as the Dangs in south Gujarat, participated. However, this time, the atmosphere of quasi–religious festivities was interrupted on Dassera evening, when a jeep drove through the town as anti–Hindutva slogans were raised through loud speakers. Bearing flags of the Bhoomi Sena, a militant, Adivasi mass organisation and the Adivasi Ekta Parishad, a banner on the jeep announced an ‘anti–Hindutva Adivasi rally’ and mass meeting in Jowhar on November 18 to commemorate ‘Birsa Munda Jayanti’, in memory of the legendary Adivasi leader, Birsa Munda.

As soon as it reached the site of the ‘Vanotsav’, a dozen political and cultural activists in the jeep started a programme of their own: speeches exposing the designs of sangh parivar on the Adivasis, singing of mass and revolutionary songs, distribution of leaflets in thousands explaining the purpose of the rally on November 18. This was the final phase of the month–long anti–Hindutva campaign organised by the Bhoomi Sena and Adivasi Ekta Parishad in the entire tribal area in Thane district.

Since early November, a group of activists with two jeeps at their disposal moved into Jowhar and, until the day of the event, launched an intensive campaign that included cultural programmes, posters, wall-writing and distribution of leaflets in the Adivasi villages of Jowhar, Mukhoda and Vikramgarh talukas, all strongholds of the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram.

From early morning on November 18, truckloads of Adivasis started pouring into Jowhar. By midday, when the procession started from Hanuman point, their number had increased to about 15,000. The procession was a moving sea of red flags led by a decorated truck carrying the garlanded life–size portrait of Birsa flanked by Red and White flags — the flag of his struggle for the emancipation of Adivasis.

Thousands of voices echoed the slogans issuing from the loudspeakers fitted on the trucks. The procession ended at the KV High School ground.

Adivasi leaders and intellectuals from Jharkand, MP, Maharashtra and Gujarat addressed the rally, speaking on topics such as ‘The threat of Hindutva to Adivasi identity’; ‘The politics of ‘Vanavasi’ Concept and the designs of Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram’ and ‘The hidden agenda behind ‘Hinduisation’ of Adivasis’.

One of the main resolutions passed at the rally demanded an immediate ban on the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, the Hindu Suraksha Sangh, the Bajrang Dal and the VHP.

The event of November 18 in Jowhar is significant as in the last one year the VKA has intensified its programme of imposing a Hindu identity on the Adivasis in Maharashtra. A Rath yatra was taken through Adivasi villages in Nandurbar district last year, proclaiming that Jagadamba (a Hindu goddess) was Deo Mogra, the Bitta Bhill Adivasi goddess. It has also published and distributed, free of cost, a booklet entitled, ‘Adivasi Hinduch Ahe’ (‘Adivasis are Hindus’) in large numbers.

The Nasik centre of the VKA has distributed in thousands a portrait in colour of ‘Birsa wearing a sacred thread’ along with a short biography portraying him as a militant defender of Hinduism who fought against the church and missionaries. It has also distributed a fabricated biographical booklet on Birsa among Adivasis with the same intent. As the events of November 18 organised to commemorate Birsa Jayantee show, the Adivasis have taken up the challenge.


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