Politics Of Conversion: Over 100 Adivasis Allegedly Walk Barefoot On Burning Coal To Purify For 'Ghar Wapsi'
Attacks on minorities, conversions to Sanatana Dharma or Ghar Wapsi, and religious conversions to Christianity and Islam have all been hotly disputed topics in India recently.
On burning coal, purifying the Christians.
Sources claim that around 100 Adivasis purportedly switched to Sanatana from Christianity earlier this month as part of a conversion operation called Ghar Wapsi by the RSS-right-wing VHP's arm. Almost 70 Christian families, comprising more than 40 men and 60 women, walked on burning coal in the Sahibganj area of Jharkhand in order to cleanse themselves and be admitted into Sanatana. Giri Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad's Sheetal Baba, the district president, organised the event. The feet of the men and women were first cleansed as they were admitted into Sanatana upon "returning home" (ghar wapsi) at Sheetal Baba's residence dhaam, then they were compelled to walk over the burning charcoal during Jheel Pooja at Sindri village, Barhet block.
When asked about this event by Outlook, in which Adivasi Christians were forced to walk over burning coal for cleansing, Vinod Bansal, the national spokesman for VHP, flatly denied that such an occurrence had occurred. Bansal contends that it is not plausible since this is not how Sangh Parivar connected groups, of which he acknowledges that there are many, function and carry out ghar wapsi. He asserts that "No Hindu would perform anything of this type, this kind of job," and that such unfounded claims are often made for a variety of reasons.
Sajan Marandi (real name altered), a local, revealed to Outlook that such conversions occur often in the neighbourhood. The BJP-RSS-Bajrang Dal-supported ghar wapsi programmes are held here a few days before Holi every year, and the story only made headlines this time because the attendance was much bigger. The local media did not cover the conversions either; instead, they highlighted how many prosperous ghar wapsi converted to Christianity.
For many years, the Adivasi and Santhali groups have adhered to the tradition of Ojha Gurus, or spiritual leaders (community physicians/healers). In earlier years, Ojha gurus and their techniques changed into what a Pandit or religious leader performs now. These religious gurus now hold weekly poojas and kirtans, much as churches arrange masses every week.
Marandi also questioned why Saanthal chiefs and leaders weren't there when Adivasis converted to Christianity rather than doing it in front of Hindu leaders. "How can a Santhali be considered to do ghar wapsi if they aren't really returning to their original culture but rather to a culture that is being disseminated and marketed under a well-planned BJP-Sangh apparatus to upturn vote bank in Adivasi regions?"
Adivasi Or Vanvasi Ghar Wapsi?
Retired police officer Haripad Hansda congratulated the ladies wearing sarees and the men wearing dhotis who converted to Sanatana Dharma, while the right wing continues to criticise and accuse Christian missionaries of luring and trapping innocent Adivasis with goods, money, and other promises.
Due to privacy concerns, a member of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram reacts to the topic of conversions by stating that a case of religious conversion only occurs when a person converts to a religion other than Sanatana. "These conversions occur as a result of missionaries' persuasion and deception. No Christian has ever converted to Christianity after reading the Bible." He continues by mentioning the grassroots efforts made by the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in the areas of women's rights, sports, education, and cultural preservation. While we are not directly involved in ghar wapsi, our work often has an impact on the communities that volunteer for ghar wapsi. He makes the following statement in reference to the Vanvasi Ashram in Narela, which houses Adivasi students from various states across the nation, including the northeastern states of Meghalaya, Manipur, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Mizoram, and Nagaland: "Earlier, the northeast lacked a maahaul (environment) conducive to learning. Terrorism formerly plagued the area, but it has already significantly decreased."
Local Adivasis and Christians have questioned why Adivasi conversion to Sanatana is seen as a source of dread or ghar wapsi since the Adivsi community has fought for a Sarna code and recognition as a separate religion and community outside the purview of Hinduism for a very long time. The largest obstacle to the Hindutva claims of one country, one religion, is the Adivasis' recovery of their own cultural and religious traditions. Section 2(2) of the Hindu Succession Act sets down the basis of the legal side of this argument by barring its effect on the STs. The Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act of 1956 and the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 are similarly not applicable to STs unless they are specifically stated to be so by the national government.
The BJP-VHP-RSS-Banjrang Dal-Vanvasi Ashrams have also chosen to refer to indigenous groups as Janjatis or Vanvasis rather than calling them Adivasis. When conversing with Outlook, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram Delhi member claims that the indigenous groups in India are distinct from all other indigenous people worldwide. "It is shown through the Ramayana and Mahabharata that we have coexisted. We share a cultural background, "Said he.
Sanjay Gupta, a former BJP district president, was one of the program's organisers. According to him, the Ghar Wapsi programme has been running in the Sahibganj district for 30 years. Political restrictions prevented early promotion of the work and news on conversions to Sanatana. But now that the "Modi yug" has taken over the nation, we are free to publicly labour and advance ghar wapsi. Such events need planning and funding, which Gupta told Outlook he assists the other organisers with. "I would assist with planning the meals and transportation as well as any other necessary logistics. If we have enough money, we will work much harder for Ghar Wapsi."
Gupta further disclosed to Outlook that residents of other Barhet block villages were included in this conversion. "People who had just converted to Christianity under false pretences were taken back." He continues by saying that RSS organised morning Shakhas (meetings) in the remote areas of these villages, where the Adivasis were advised to convert to Hinduism.