Campaign for stripping converts of ST status gathers steam in Madhya Pradesh | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Campaign for stripping converts of ST status gathers steam in Madhya Pradesh

Apr 28, 2022 12:17 PM IST

Opposition Congress has accused the ruling BJP of fuelling a new communal agenda before the 2023 assembly and 2024 Lok Sabha elections through the campaign

BHOPAL: A series of events have been held across Madhya Pradesh’s six districts for stripping tribals, who have undergone religious conversions, of their Scheduled Tribe (ST) status that entitles them to the reservation in jobs, education, and legislative bodies.

The BJP has defended the campaign. (AFP)
The BJP has defended the campaign. (AFP)

Tribal Suraksha Manch (TSM), which Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ganesh Ram Bhagat formed in 2006 in Raipur and has the party’s tribal leaders as its members, is leading the campaign for the delisting. On Wednesday, tribal, Hindu religious, and BJP leaders organised an event in Mandla, where the participants pledged to continue the campaign.

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BJP’s Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament (MP) Sampatiya Uike, who was among the participants, said they will run a signature campaign from panchayat to Parliament against the conversion of tribals.

“A section of people, who have adopted the other religion, is getting double benefit and also taking away 80% rights of tribals living in forests to keep their traditions alive.”

TSM leader Rajkishore Hasada said their fight is against those leaving their identity for some benefits such as free medical services and education. He added Karthik Oraon started the movement for the delisting 50 years ago in what is now Jharkhand. “To save the tribal culture, customs, and tradition, Oraon took up the matter with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He got the support of over 270 MPs but Gandhi did not do anything. Now, we are taking this movement ahead because the tribal population is decreasing.” He called demands for recognition of separate Sarna religion for tribals a conspiracy.

According to Constitution’s Article 342, Parliament may by law make inclusions and exclusions to the list of STs.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal, which are affiliates of BJP’s ideological fountainhead Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have also been campaigning against the conversion of tribals to Christianity in Madhya Pradesh’s Jhabua and Alirajpur districts.

Azad Prem Singh, a VHP functionary from Jhabua, called for a law to take the rights and benefits of tribals, who follow Christianity. “A conspiracy is being hatched by foreign countries to end the tribal culture. They are spending money to lure tribals but we would not allow such a thing in Madhya Pradesh. We do not have any problem with the conversion but we cannot allow them our rights even after leaving their original identity.”

Jai Adiwasi Yuva Shakti (JAYS), a tribal organisation, has also supported the campaign but also wants the delisting of those who have adopted Hinduism.

JAYS leader Vikram Acchaliya said Christians, Muslims, and Hindus are luring tribals to adopt their traditions. “BJP is trying to prove us as Hindu by mixing our culture. Similarly, Christians are trying to lure poor tribals. To save our customs and traditions, we want Parliament to pass a resolution that the reservation and other benefits of STs will be given only to those who are aboriginal and follow their tradition without adopting any religion. The tribals, who have adopted religion, should not be treated as tribals.”

Maria Stephen, the public relations officer of Christian Dioceses of Madhya Pradesh, said belief in a religion and following a god by heart does not mean the diversion from culture and traditions.

Rakesh Diwan, an expert on tribals, called it a complicated matter. “As tribals have no religion, there is no clarity over who is entitled to the rights or not. The Constitution of India has given Parliament power of listing STs and that differs from state to state. In southern Madhya Pradesh, some members of the Bhil community converted to Islam and lost rights [they were entitled to as tribals] eastern Madhya Pradesh, tribals adopted Christianity but they are enjoying all the rights as they follow both Christian as well as tribal traditions.”

Former bureaucrat Arun Gurtoo said the BJP is trying to polarise tribal voters into Christian and non-Christian. “...delisting of tribals should take place but it should not be selective. By focussing on Christian and non-Christian tribals, BJP is focusing on votes than the problem.”

Congress leader Kantilal Bhuria said RSS first tried to prove tribals are Hindu. “When they failed, they came up with this delisting propaganda. Nothing is going to happen. BJP is looking for a new communal agenda before the 2023 assembly and 2024 Lok Sabha elections. BJP leaders are polarising tribals.”

Congress, which was voted to power in 2018 before losing it to the BJP in 2020, won 30 out of 47 seats reserved for tribals in Madhya Pradesh. The BJP won 16.

The BJP defended the campaign and said it will resolve a seven-decade issue. “If the tribals are fighting for their rights, what is wrong with it. Indira Gandhi turned down the delisting demand under the pressure of Christians...tribals had to face a lot due to this historical mistake. We definitely support this campaign,” said BJP leader Rajneesh Agrawal.

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