The Hinduised face of Bastar’s tribals

Aarti Dhar
BJP is reaping the rewards of the silent work done over decades by RSS organisations
FILE Photo: Akhilesh Kumar

Tribal women during an election meeting at Jagdalpur in Bastar district in 2008.
For people who worshipped nature and knew only one God (Buddhadev) the new deities are now Shiva, Durga and Hanuman. Chanting of the Gayatri mantra, Hanuman Chalisa and Vande Mataram appears to come naturally to them; and Gayatri Parivar, the Brahma Kumaris, Art of Living and Baba Ramdev are now their inspiration.
Welcome to the new face of tribal culturein Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region: temples on the roadsides, Ramlila on stage and the worship of Ganesha during the annual 10-day Ganesha festival.
This changed socio-religious character of the tribal population has also impacted on the voting pattern, the beneficiary being the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP is now reaping the rewards of a long campaign by the various outfits of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). This tribal support has greatly strengthened the party in the State. Right from the 2003 Assembly elections, the tribal vote has been polled in favour of the BJP and the trend is likely to continue in 2009, unless something dramatic happens.
The BJP now has a dedicated cadre in terms of voters. “The biggest beneficiary of the silent work carried out by the RSS outfits has been the BJP,” says Yogendra Kaushik of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. Decades ago when the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its related organisations started work in the tribal regions of the State — Bastar and Surguja — it was to provide basic amenities like healthcare and education that would also help check the increasing influence of Christian missionaries.
The RSS started institutions like the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams, Ekal Vidyalaya and Saraswati Shishu Mandirs to provide informal education to tribal children that also included lessons on Indian “culture, religion and tradition.” Basic healthcare was provided by women through “Arogya Vidhi” or alternative medicine.
The schools and ashrams were opened in areas where no government facility was available; the children were subsequently shifted to government schools, but the lessons in Hindutva continued to ensure that they were not lured by the Church or Left ideologies. “We have also lost teachers to naxalites, who have opposed our work tooth and nail. It is not easy for us,” Mr. Kaushik explains.
The changed politics has become more evident in the recent past with tribals shifting their support from the Congress to the BJP.
The young men and women coming out of these institutions year after year swell the cadres of the Hindutva organisations. Over 500 Ekal Vidyalayas are functioning in the Bastar region alone. Vanvasi Kalyan Asanvasi Kalyan Ashrams are present in Orchha, Lanjoda, Barsur and Bhanpuri where children from Salwa Judum camps have also been enrolled.