Sangh Parivar’s mass marriage of tribal people hits speed breaker in Bengal
Mass marriages of tribal people from poor economic backgrounds conducted by different Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated organizations have hit a hurdle in West Bengal with the Mamata Banerjee administration treating these events as the Sangh Parivar’s attempt to convert the followers of the Sari/Sarna religion into Hindus.
After Malda district’s top Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leaders were booked under non-bailable sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 in connection with a mass marriage being organized for over a hundred tribal couples last week, police in Alipurduars district have stalled another ceremony that was scheduled in Alipurduar town on Monday.
A day earlier, they had questioned the organizers for hours, stopped the vehicles the latter were using to campaign for Monday’s event and seized microphones. The police also dismantled a pandal erected on a field for the event.
“The event was not allowed because the organisers had not taken permission either from the office of the sub divisional officer or from the police,” said Rabin Thapa, inspector-in-charge at the police station.
Another senior police officer, who did not want to be identified, said that the police acted after a leaflet published by the organizers of the mass marriage ceremony came to their notice. It stated that the marriages will be conducted in the Hindu tradition. “We were receiving complaints from the local tribal leadership, that followers of the Sarna religion will be converted to Hinduism during that programme,” said the officer.
The latest event in Alipurduar was being organised by the RSS-affiliated Shree Hari Satang Samiti, in association with Alipurduar Ganabibaho Samiti, which, too, is an RSS-inspired organisation. “We have been conducting similar events for several years. Each time, we only informed the administration in writing about the event and even received the administration’s assistance. Never did the question of obtaining written permission arise,” Ratan Tarafdar, secretary of Alipurduar Ganabibaho Samiti, said.
Various RSS-affiliated organizations, including the VHP, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Sewa Bharati and Shri Hari Satsang Samiti have been organizing mass marriages for several years. but this is the first time they are facing obstacles from the administration.
The impetus to stop mass marriages may have come on February 2, when activists of the Jharkhand Disom Party (JDP) vandalised the Malda venue of the mass marriage being organised by the VHP. They had alleged that the marriages were being conducted in the Vedic way, involving Brahmins, whereas tribal marriages involve no Brahmins.
“These mass marriages are RSS’ ploy to turn Sarna followers into Hindus, so that the number of Hindus increases and Sarna followers decrease in the Census. Showing us in lower numbers is their way of depriving followers of Sarna of a separate religion code,” said Lakshmi Kanta Hansda, a Bharatiya Adivasi Ekta Manch leader, whose organization along with several other tribal outfits including the JDP, has been campaigning for months for a separate religion code for Sarna followers in the Census. “We will resist the RSS’s drive to convert tribals to Hinduism and show Sarna followers in lower numbers,” declared JDP state unit secretary Mohan Hansda.
The campaign also urged the state’s Scheduled Tribe (ST) population to list Sarna as their religion during the census of 2021.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee began raising the issue on February 5, just days after the Malda incident.
“Three days ago, in Malda district, tribal women were being converted in the name of marriage. I thank my administration that they acted. One VHP person has been arrested and the rest are evading the police. They are shameless,” the CM had said at a public meeting in Nadia district.
On Monday, she reiterated that her government would not allow such events to take place. “The government will arrange for a fund for the marriage of tribal people from poor economic backgrounds,” Banerjee said.
RSS’ south Bengal unit secretary Jisnu Basu lashed out at Banerjee and accused her of dividing people in the name of caste and religion.
“I also smell a conspiracy. Are all of the state’s tribal people followers of Sarna religion, according to the census of 2011? Aren’t there tribal people who consider themselves as Hindus? In that case, is there a concerted effort to reduce the number of Hindus?” Basu asked.
In the Census, Sari and Sarna are included as ‘other religious practices’. In the 2011 census, 942,297 people in West Bengal, or 1.03 per cent of the state’s population, had registered themselves as followers of other religious practices, while the state’s ST population stood at 5.8 per cent.
The VHP’s Malda unit leadership, including its district unit president Malay Mukherjee have so far evaded the police in connection with the FIR filed against them.
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