BOPAL: A series of events took place in the six districts of Madhya Pradesh to strip tribals, who have undergone religious conversions, of their Scheduled Tribe (ST) status which entitles them to job reservation, education and legislative bodies.
Tribal Suraksha Manch (TSM), which Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ganesh Ram Bhagat formed in 2006 in Raipur and which counts the party’s tribal leaders among its members, is leading the campaign for de-registration. On Wednesday, tribal, Hindu and BJP religious leaders held an event in Mandla, where participants pledged to continue the campaign.
BJP Rajya Sabha (MP) MP Sampatiya Uike, who was among the participants, said they would lead a panchayat signature campaign in parliament against the conversion of tribals.
“A part of the people, who have adopted the other religion, get a double benefit and also take away 80% of the rights of the tribals living in the forests to keep their traditions alive.”
TSM chief Rajkishore Hasada said their fight is against those who give up their identity for certain benefits such as free medical services and education. He added that Karthik Oraon started the radiation movement 50 years ago in present-day Jharkhand. “To save the tribal culture, customs and tradition, Oraon raised the issue with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He won the support of over 270 MPs but Gandhi did nothing. Now we are continuing this movement because the tribal population is decreasing. He called demands for recognition of Sarna’s separate religion for the tribals a conspiracy.
According to Section 342 of the Constitution, Parliament may by law make inclusions and exclusions in the list of STs.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal, who are affiliated with BJP ideological head Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have also campaigned against the conversion of tribals to Christianity in Jhabua and Alirajpur districts of Madhya Pradesh.
Azad Prem Singh, a VHP official from Jhabua, called for a law to take away the rights and benefits of the tribals, who follow Christianity. “A conspiracy is hatched by foreign countries to put an end to tribal culture. They spend money to attract tribals but we would not allow such thing in Madhya Pradesh. We have no problem with the conversion but we cannot grant them our rights even after leaving their original identity.
Jai Adiwasi Yuva Shakti (JAYS), a tribal organization, has also backed the campaign but also wants those who have adopted Hinduism to be delisted.
JAYS leader Vikram Acchaliya said Christians, Muslims and Hindus inspire tribals to embrace their traditions. “The BJP is trying to prove to us that we are Hindus by mixing our culture. Likewise, Christians try to attract the tribal poor. To save our customs and traditions, we want Parliament to pass a resolution that reservation and other TS benefits will only be granted to those who are native and follow their tradition without adopting any religion. Tribals, who have adopted the religion, should not be treated as tribals.
Maria Stephen, public relations officer for the Christian Dioceses of Madhya Pradesh, said believing in a religion and following a god by heart does not mean hijacking culture and traditions.
Rakesh Diwan, an expert on tribes, called the issue complicated. “As tribals have no religion, there is no clarity on who is entitled to rights or not. The Constitution of India has given Parliament the power to enumerate TS and this differs from a State to State: In southern Madhya Pradesh, some members of the Bhil community have converted to Islam and lost their rights [they were entitled to as tribals]…in eastern Madhya Pradesh, the tribes have adopted Christianity, but they enjoy full rights as they follow both Christian and tribal traditions.
Former bureaucrat Arun Gurtoo said the BJP was trying to polarize tribal voters between Christians and non-Christians. “…the delisting of tribals should take place but it should not be selective. By focusing on Christian and non-Christian tribes, the BJP is focusing on the votes rather than the issue.
Congress leader Kantilal Bhuria said the RSS first tried to prove that the tribals were Hindus. “When they failed, they made up this delisting propaganda. Nothing is going to happen. The BJP is looking for a new communal agenda ahead of the 2023 assembly and the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. BJP polarize tribes.
The Congress, which was elected to power in 2018 before losing it to the BJP in 2020, won 30 of the 47 seats reserved for tribals in Madhya Pradesh. The BJP won 16.
The BJP defended the campaign and said it would solve a seven-decade problem. “If the tribals are fighting for their rights, what’s wrong. Indira Gandhi refused the delisting request under pressure from the Christians…the tribes had to face a lot because of this historic error. We definitely support this campaign,” BJP leader Rajneesh Agrawal said.