A report by a Delhi-based voluntary organisation has accused the Gujarat government of collaborating with Sangh organisations in forcibly converting tribals to Hinduism in the Dang district of Gujarat.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliated organisations like the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad and the Hindu Jagran Manch have organised a Shabri Kumbh on February 11-13 in Dang district, which is one of the smallest and poorest districts in Gujarat with a population of 1,86,000.
The massive mobilisation of the tribal community in the district by an RSS-affiliated organisation has become controversial in view of the allegations regarding 'Hindukaran' (proselytisation) of the tribals.
In Dang, tribals comprise 92 per cent of the population while Christians are less than 5 per cent.
The Shabri Kumbh has become a sensitive issue because more than 5 lakh tribals are expected to participate in the festival.
A Delhi-based voluntary organisation had formed a citizen's inquiry committee comprising Digant Oza, social activist, Shabnam Hashmi of Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, Rohit Prajapati, human rights activist, Ram Puniyani, secretary of the All India Secular Forum, and others to inquire into the mass mobilisation of tribals and the intentions of its motivators.
According to their report, the Gujarat government is openly collaborating with Sangh organisations in 'forcible conversion' called ghar vapsi (return home). Under this, tribals are taken back into Hindu society.
According the report, the Gujarat government and Sangh activists are engaged in a systematic campaign to divide the Dang adivasis on religious lines. Sangh activists are doing this ostensibly to 'counter the proselytisation activities of the Christian missionaries' and saving the 'Hindu adivasis'.
"The Sangh Parivar is actively involved in the conversion of tribals to Hinduism. The systematic hate campaign against Christians has created fear. Christians are threatened and some of them have taken out their cross," Hashmi said.
According to the committee, the RSS is targeting not only tribals of Dang, but they are also spreading out to the forests of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Orissa.
"It's time to have a social audit of their activities," said Oza.
Instead of building roads and bridges, providing them drinking water, health and education, Sangh organisations are dividing tribals on religious lines, the report claims.
"We are different people. We celebrate a Dussera type of festival by killing goats and chicken. We pay homage to our dead people differently. We worship stones and our goddess is Mother Nature. We worship the sun and moon. We believe in Waghdeo (tiger god) and Nagdeo (snake god). Sangh activists are cheating our people," Bharat Pawar, a tribal from Dang and leader of the Dang Majdoor Union told mediapersons in New Delhi.
He said Sangh activists told tribals when Lord Ram and Sita were passing through this area, they ate food served by Shabri, who belonged to the Bhil community. 'Shabri is your ancestor,' claimed Sangh activists.
"They have installed a statue of Shabri whose skin is as white as Americans'! They are doing everything to trap us," Pawar said.
The Shabri temple is erected at the exact place where Lord Ram is said to have met Shabri and eaten wild berries. Dang is a part of the Dandkarayan area described in the Ramayana.
'Our resolve is to free the world from the ideologies of conversions and jihad,' reads a slogan outside the Shabri temple. "Tribals are not Hindus. Tribals are tribals," said Pawar emphatically.
Ram Madhav, spokesman of the RSS, had a different opinion. "Tribals are Hindus. Just because one or two persons say something different, the truth won't change," he told rediff.com.
"There is no question of their conversion to Hinduism. Tribals follow a particular mode of worship, which is integral to the Hindu way of life," Madhav said.
Rather, Madhav thinks the opposition to Shabri Kumbh is an attempt to break the unity of Hindus in India. He said there are large numbers of non-tribal Hindus who worship snakes, the sea, trees and nature.
Prajapati, who has studied the issue, said, "The district collector of Dang has given the tribals compact discs of Shabri Kumbh, which also carries the message of hatred against Christians."
Hashmi alleged that under the guise of Shabri Kumbh, the RSS is targeting Christians. 'Dang will show the way to the tribal belts of India,' local RSS leaders told the fact-finding team.
The report claimed that people are not given money or better infrastructure, but are intimidated at a social level.
"As the Ayodhya movement was targeted at Muslims, the Shabri Kumbh is targeting Christians. It is another Ayodhya in the making where the target is Christians. It is a slow process," Hashmi said.
Hashmi said Christians have been living and serving in the forests of Dang since the last 50 years, but since the last 10 years, they are being persecuted. As a result of an RSS-sponsored campaign, he said, "Christians live in fear and under pressure."
According to Punyani, by popularising the Shabri myth, the RSS is spreading its vision of Hindu society, where like Shabri, tribals of India will be asked to serve the upper castes.
The report alleged that the RSS is playing a political game and misleading tribals.
"In this, the Gujarat government supports the RSS. The line between the RSS and the Gujarat government has vanished," added Puniyani.
According to the report, more than 700 trees have been cut to organise the Shabri Kumbh and many Christian landholdings have been grabbed.
While dismissing such allegations, Madhav said, "Critics of the Shabri Kumbh are paid agents of Christian missionaries. There is no coercion and no conversion. The tribals are voluntarily participating."
Dang's local political leader and legislator Madhubhai belongs to the Congress. He has written to the central government about the 'conversion issue' in Dang, but he himself is not opposing the kumbh.
Hashmi said, "There is a lack of political will" even on the part of the Congress.