“If all religions are equal, why should I not stay in my religion? But the world is imperialist; they can’t accept diversity … We (Hindus) will have to act and not just talk. Throw open temples, public wells and cremation grounds for all without restrictions of caste, region or language.”
This is Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat talking at the Samajik (social) Kumbh at Mandla, 95 km from Jabalpur in MP. By preaching the inclusive nature of Hinduism, the RSS is sending ample signals that it is viewing the task of preventing tribals from converting to Christianity as a matter of utmost importance.
It has announced another such Kumbh in Chhattisgarh, though the date is yet to be decided. Though the mission, which the Sangh kicked off through its affiliate Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram in 1952, is not new, it has acquired greater urgency.
And this has made Christian groups wary.
The Mandla kumbh had strong underpinnings of anti-church sentiment, though Bhagwat articulated his call of embracing marginal groups through what is called Samrasta (harmony) in RSS parlance. But other speakers were at times harsh on the church. “2000 varsh purane keet-patang aaj hamain seva bhaav sikha rahein hain (Insects just 2000 years old are today teaching us service),” said a speaker who spoke just before Bhagwat.
However, Sangh functionaries denied that the kumbh was aimed at running down any other community. "Some outsiders may have spread rumours that this kumbh is anti-Christian. Local Christians are, in fact, supporting it,” RSS Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh Manmohan Vaidya told HT.
“The purpose is to create a sense of pride in our glorious culture and to get all communities on board.”
Christian leaders in neighbouring Jabalpur expressed apprehensions that the mobilisation was aimed against the community. “Why should one group (RSS) claim thekedari over society,” a prominent Christian leader told HT on anonymity. “When Christian foreigners chant
Hare Ram Hare Krishna, we all welcome it. So what is the problem if some Hindus willingly embrace Christianity? We are not here to convert but to serve and provide education to tribals.”
Clearly, the cultural encounter has generated its set of tensions.
Another theme in the Mandla speeches was to prevent the loss of numbers to Christianity through conversion. This, of course, has been a prime Hindu right-wing theme ever since Colonel UN Mukherjee published a tract called “Hindus: A Dying Race” way back in 1909, which used census figures to argue that if conversions continued, Hindus would eventually die out as a community.
Much of the Hindu Right’s attempt to reach out to tribals as also Dalits since the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a result of fears that they would convert to Christianity or Islam and weaken the Hindu community at a time when numbers were becoming crucial due to impending democracy. Little, it seems, has changed. The contest for the minds of tribals rages on, and so do tensions generated by it.
The Christian “fear”
*In 1909, Col UN Mukherjee wrote a pamphlet ‘Hindus – A Dying Race’, arguing that conversions would lead to the Hindu community’s death.
*Arya Samaj leader Swami Shraddhanand – the proponent of the famous Shuddhi movement for re-conversions in colonial India – pioneered native girls’education in north India with a Kanya Mahavidyala in 1894 to prevent missionary influence on women.
*In 1952, the tribal affiliate of the RSS, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, set base in Jashpur (today’s Chhattisgarh) to counter Church activities that were on in the area since the 19th century.
*This is what former RSS chief MS Golwalkar’s ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ says: “So long as Christians here… consider themselves agents of the international movement for the spread of Christianity,… they will remain here as hostiles and will be treated as such.”