Assertion: In an article in the New York Times’ blogs on India, writer Raksha Kumar makes the following claims:
- Mr. Kujur and his family converted to Hinduism seven years ago. As a member of the Oraon tribe, his grandfather had converted into Christianity. But in 2006, the late Bharatiya Janata Party leader Dilip Singh Judeo arrived in Ara with the sole agenda of converting 300 Christian families to Hinduism.
- Despite several years of close coexistence, the tribals had maintained their identity separate from the Hindus. The tribals were mostly hunter-gatherers, worshipped their ancestors and nature, ate simple food and celebrated festivals of their own.
Both assertions are closely linked. Indeed, one flows from the other. Raksha Kumar’s assertion that tribals and Hindus are separate is false and not borne out of historical, cultural, religious, and other evidence.
We shall examine the second assertion first.
India’s civilizational history is a few thousand years old and throughout this period, there existed what are today known as tribals. In fact, the word “tribal” itself was a construct that emerged during the British colonial rule in India. There is no corresponding term for “tribal” in the native annals. The term “atavika” is what used to be applied to the people we call as tribals today. In fact, Kautilya’s Arthashastra has elaborate sections dedicated to the policies the ruler had to adopt with respect to these so-called tribals.
Further, while these people dwelt in the forest, their beliefs, faith, and Gods were unambiguously Hindu. Indeed, Raksha Kumar does not seem to understand the contradiction she makes when she asserts these tribals “worship their ancestors, and nature.” Worshipping one’s ancestors and nature form one of the foundational tenets of Hinduism. Indeed, the supreme God of the same Oraon tribe about which Raksha Kumar writes, named Dharmesh or Bhagwan, undeniably Hindu names. Perhaps the best known example of the non-separateness of tribals and Hindus is the God Jagannath at Puri, Orissa. The main idol in the sanctum sanctorum of the Puri temple is a tribal God. Till today, the tribal priest has the first right of worship over this God followed by the traditional Brahmin priest. One can of course, cite hundreds of such examples.
Thus, merely because the tribals have a separate identity do not make them non-Hindus.
And now, the first assertion where Raksha Kumar seeks to equate Christian/missionary conversions of tribals with the reconversion efforts of the BJP and other Hindu organizations. In very simple terms, both the aim and consequence of Christian conversion efforts is to erase the tribal-Hindu identity, heritage, way of life, customs, rituals, and traditions of these tribals and make them conform to a faith that is hostile to Hinduism. As plenty of evidence shows, wherever such efforts succeeded, it led to societal friction within the same tribe. This friction also resulted in violence, the most recent example of which is Kandhamal, Orissa.
Reconversion thus seeks to bring back these tribals into their original fold, which had sustained them for hundreds of generation without conflict. Second, the NYT piece also fails to mention that in numerous cases, prominent leaders hailing from within the tribal communities themselves have actively campaigned for such reconversion after they understood the dangers mass conversions posed for their communities. Such leaders include former Chief Ministers like Arjun Munda, Babulal Marandi, and Jual Oram (from the Oraon tribe).
From the facts mentioned so far, it is clear that Raksha Kumar’s piece, which talks about the politics of conversion, is built on erroneous understanding as well as ignorance. First, it displays an incorrect understanding of the basic tenets of Hinduism and Christianity. And second, the equation that predatory conversion is the same as reconversion is wholly misleading.
IndiaFacts verdict: False.
Sandeep Balakrishna is a columnist and author of Tipu Sultan: the Tyrant of Mysore. He has translated S.L. Bhyrappa’s “Aavarana: the Veil” from Kannada to English.