RSS sees ploy to create wedge between tribals, Hindus
According to two functionaries of the Sangh, the issue of increase in the number of ORPs came up for discussion at the crucial Samanvaya Baithak that concluded in Rajasthan’s Pushkar this week.Updated: Sep 13, 2019, 01:49 IST
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is worried about a growing tendency among tribespeople to identify themselves as Other Religions and Persuasions (ORP) and see this as part of a greater design to prevent them from seeing themselves as part of the broader Hindu religion.
There was an increase in people identifying themselves as ORP in the 2011 national census (over the 2001 one). As per Census data the number of people who identified themselves as ORPs increased by 20% from 6.64 million in 2001 to 7.93 million in 2011.
Work on the next census has already begun.
According to two functionaries of the Sangh, the issue of increase in the number of ORPs came up for discussion at the crucial Samanvaya Baithak that concluded in Rajasthan’s Pushkar this week. The meeting was attended by the top brass of the RSS and the BJP including RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and BJP working president JP Nadda.
“The Sangh perceives this (increase in ORPs) as an attempt to create a wedge between the tribal communities and the larger Hindu religion. In some tribal areas, adivasis (tribals) are coerced to identify themselves as distinct from Hindus. They are fed incorrect information that if they identify as Hindus, they might lose out on benefits of caste based reservation,” said a senior functionary of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA), an affiliate of the Sangh that works in tribal areas.
The Census categorises people into six major religious communities: Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists; those who do not subscribe to these religions are clubbed together as ORPs. There is also a category of Religion Not Stated or RNS.
According to a paper on ORPs by the Centre for Policy Studies, a think tank that focuses on demography; the number and share of ORPs in India was fairly small up to 1991. “Their number, however, more than doubled during 1991-2001; the increase in the last decade of 2001-2011 has, however, been modest and in line with their growth in the earlier decades.”
The VKA functionary attributed the rise in the number to tribal communities identifying themselves outside the Hindu fold. “Communities such as Sarna are identified as separate from Hinduism even as there is no such religion,” he said.
As per the Census data, Sarna is among the largest OPR groups found in Jharkhand and Odisha.
There is also friction between the Sangh and the BJP on the issue of carving out a separate tribal identity. While the Sangh asserts that tribals are part of Hinduism, the BJP in Jharkhand, a state with a high tribal population, has tried to woo the communities by promising a separate tribal identity.
Much to chagrin of the Sangh, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP government in Jharkahnd said it is considering the demand from tribal communities to implement the Sarna religious code for people who worship nature and are presently mentioned as Hindu or Others.
“There are many areas where tribal communities have begun to identify themselves as religions, for instance the Doni Polo in Arunachal Pradesh, Gondi or Gond in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In some of these areas this is backed by Christian missionaries, while in other places such moves are backed by political motives,” said a second functionary.
The paper on ORPs by CPS also makes a mention of “sustained campaigns” leading to fluctuations in figures.
“The sudden growth in the numbers of persons following particular faiths and practices in certain regions seem to be the result of systematic and intense campaigns among the followers of those local practices to get them counted as other than Hindu…When the vigour of a campaign wanes, the numbers sometimes can decline sharply. For example, in 2001, the number of ORPs in Karnataka had suddenly risen to 1.15 lakhs from almost nothing; in 2011, that number has declined to about 11,000,” the paper adds.
While the Sangh wants to arrest the increase in the number of ORPs, SS Jodhka, professor of Sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University said the process of collecting data by the enumerators allows for grouping many sects with the six major religions.
“The actual number of ORPs will be much larger than what is in the Census data. For instance, the Lingayats in Karnataka or the Ravidassia in Punjab are not identified as separate religions and sometimes get clubbed with Hindus and Sikhs respectively,” he said.
On the Sangh’s concern over the increasing ORP population, he said both the Christian missionaries and the RSS have been competing for inclusion of the tribals into their respective folds.
Romel Sutariya, an activist working with tribals in Gujarat said attempts are being made to destroy the cultural practices followed by the tribal people. “In Gujarat for instance, tribal people made statutes to honour their dead and installed these in their homes or in villages, but the Hindu practice says to give away the belongings of the dead on the 12th days of the death; so now the statues are gradually disappearing from the tribal areas. Tribals are distinct from Hindus and that difference is being erased,” he said.