Delisting demand pushes No Reservation for Converted Tribals, Hinduisation of Adivasis

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India Tomorrow

RANCHI—Just a day before Christmas, Janjati Suraksha Manch (Tribal Security Front) organised a huge rally in Ranchi’s Morhabadi ground to demand the ‘delisting’ of tribals who have converted to other religions such as Christianity and Islam from the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list.

Many tribal leaders and civil society members say that such rallies are aimed at dividing the tribal community for political gains which may cause discord among them.

Janjati Suraksha Manch is said to be an affiliate of RSS-backed Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra. Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra works aggressively to Hinduise the Adivasi tribals in Jharkhand. This rally was said to be a part of the RSS campaign to prevent the tribals from converting to Christianity. Though there are negligible cases of Adivasis converting to Islam, the number of Adivasis converting to Christianity is quite significant.

In this delisting rally, it was said that those Adivasis who have converted to Christianity or Islam should not be considered part of the Adivasi community. It was urged that such converted tribals should not get the benefit of Scheduled Tribes (ST) reservation. There is an argument that converted tribals avail the benefit of being both tribals and religious minorities.

Janjati Suraksha Manch is active in tribal-dominated districts of central and northeast India. Its activities are noticeable in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh.

Ganesh Ram Bhagat is the convener of Janjati Suraksha Manch. He is originally from Chhattisgarh and has been a minister there. He claimed that the Adivasis were actually ‘Hindus’. He alleged that due to the converted people tribals are in danger. He asked that the central government to stop giving the benefit of reservation to the Adivasis who have converted to Christianity or Islam. He said that if their demands were not met, they would go to Delhi and stage an agitation.

Raj Kishore Handsa is the co-convener of Janjati Suraksha Manch and a full-time worker of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. He says that the founders of the Constitution had made provisions for reservation for the 700 tribes but this facility is being enjoyed by those who have abandoned the ‘original’ beliefs and have become Christian or Muslims.

Kariya Munda, a former BJP MP and minister is the national patron of Janjati Suraksha Manch. He termed the converted Adivasis as ‘Dusre Log (Other People)’ and asked to delist them from the list of ST.

Former Judge Prakash Singh Uike alleged that after converting to Christianity or Islam, the Adivasi identity was omitted. He claimed that under Article 341 of the constitution, it was mentioned that persons from the Scheduled Castes who convert to Christianity or Islam should not be given the benefit of reservation. According to him, this should apply to the ST community also.

While RSS and its affiliates are demanding to deprive the Adivasis of the benefit of reservation on the basis of religion, members of civil society say that such demands are unconstitutional. A civil society group Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha says that there is a clear provision under the Constitution that any tribal group be considered a ‘Scheduled Tribe’. It says that there is no mention of religion anywhere in these sections. According to the Mahasabha, there is an attempt to create a communal divide in tribal society based on religion.

Geetashree Oran is a Congress leader and daughter of three-time MP Kartik Oraon says that the identity of the tribal community is Sarna religion and if an Adivasi adopts any religion, including Hinduism, is a convert.

Interestingly, the ‘delisting campaigners’ don’t say that if an Adivasi is made a Hindu, he or she should be also considered as a covert, and accordingly the benefit of the reservation should be taken away from the Hindu convert Adivasi.

Geetashree says that his father Kartik Oraon, in his book, ‘Bees Saal Ki Kali Raat’ did not ask the rights of others to be taken away. According to her, “He called for reservation given to the backward among the converted too.” She alleged that RSS-backed organisations are trying to polarise the community electorally. 

This rally had a political angle too as the speakers asked the political parties not to give party tickets from the ST-reserved seats to those who have converted.

Apart from the general election, the Jharkhand state election is also scheduled to be held in 2024. In the 2019 Assembly election of Jharkhand the Bhartiya Janata Party could win just two seats out of 28 ST-reserved seats. There are 81 seats in the Jharkhand Assembly. Political observers say that the RSS through its affiliate is trying to change the mood of those ST-reserved seats and rallies with a demand to delist the ‘converted tribals’ may bring in some polarisation.

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