A phenomenal opening chapter in the much acclaimed novel “Roots” by Alex Haley, describes the birth of protagonist Kunta Kinte in the thickets of a glorious African Gambia Forest and his father takes the new born to the highest peak of a mountain. He holds the new born high and says to Allah, “Behold, the only thing more magnificent than you.” That was before the young man thus born to magnificence is chained and thrown into a boat, made to sit on his own shit and vomit for three months and sold into a slave market like a circus animal. The sheer tragedy of his life, should have been a lesson for generations to come in the continent of Africa- where today- millions are dying of fratricide and genocide on one hand, and starvation on the other.
Why after nearly a decade of reading the novel, this particular scene has remained inside my mind, like a gnawing pain, is because I have come across several such magnificence shrewn to bestial shreds of indignity right in my hometown Raipur. Across roads, in the by lanes, in front of temples, in the darkened alleys leading to illustrious malls, in front of schools, hospitals, eateries- they are there. Hollowed eyes, vacant faces, slugging shoulders and soiled hands. Their personalities emptied of the past magnificience, taking one day at a time of struggle for survival. Among all the things that are stripped from these children, is their God, who had witnessed their births as a glorious thing. In here, in this cage of metal, alluminium, steel, plastic, copper and iron, their God, like their mountain, river, forests and homeland- has ceased to exist. These migrant flailing children are Adivasis who were evicted from their forests in Bastar, Jashpur and Rajnandgaon districts, leaving their homes, farms, land back. Although the Gods had remained there- being plummeted, blasted, dug, exploded or simply hammered to dust to make way for rich minerals, excavated from the depth of their hearts.
In this day of Ultra Nationalism, Hindutva fascism and Cultural hegemony- the Adivasi gods have paid the price of being too liberal and progressive. After all, a society that can shed tears for a woman raped, brutalized and killed in her house before celebrating Mother’s Day with emphatic zeal; or for a society that can easily celebrate festivities worshipping a Mother Goddess while burning, raping, molesting and acid raining its mothers, sisters and daughters everyday- it is imperative that there exists a more conservative God- that can actually draw a clear line of distinction between sinners and saints. The same society also needs its God to prescribe some real easy ways to define ways of absolving one’s sins. Like for example put a man in the loop of rebirths, atonements, confessions, kumbh snans or donations in the temples- to absolve him of any weight on his conscience. Better still, divide the entire society based on hatred and make sure women and those who are most hardworking people- are thrown in at the bottom of the food chain. You see, religion, the Aryan way, is meant to scare the shit out of us, leave us confused and numbed at the core.
If the Hindutva brigade has to win in India, the animism of the Adivasis, has to lose. That’s because Adivasi Gods do not preach fear and cast its believer with its wrath at the drop of a hat. But mostly, the Sangh denies adivasis the status of the original dwellers, their very own stake into the survival, because the latter’s existence runs counter to its own claim that the Aryans, who brought vedic civilization to the country, are the original inhabitants of the land.
For the past seven decades and more, these Adivasi communities are being systematically denied their fundamental rights of existence through vehement corporate, political and social exploitation. The triage of greed, violent orstracisation and mass sexual deprivation has resulted in their shrinking from the original dwellers of the land, to just a few thousand inhabitants now hobbled deep inside the pockets of thick jungles on one hand, while the rest are scattered across the cities and towns, forgotten and forbidden.
One of the cruellest tactics of annihilating these Adivasis, have been through imposed religious divisions, first by large scale Christian missionary activity and more recently by the Sangh Parivar, that has somehow arrogated to itself the authority to control them. In Raipur itself there are several hundred schools and tribal hostels, that are engaged in a massive drive to ‘bring back’ the tribals into the fold of Hinduism. Their tactics are often viciously violent and explicitly misogynist to say the least.
The Bastar Adivasis are predominantly animistic (the belief that non-human objects have spirits, that animals, birds and tree possess souls) and although their beliefs vary from tribe to tribe, it usually centres around animal worship, tree worship, belief in the Rain God, the Hill God, and the Earth Spirit. The Dhurwa tribe, for example, call upon a spirit of rain or river water to bless them with good catches of fish and abundant crops.
Gond Adivasis have the trees form the focal point of their cosmos. They believe that trees are hard at work during the day, providing shade, shelter and nourishment for all; but at night, when all the daytime visitors have left, the spirits of the trees reveal themselves. Each of the clans have a Mother Goddess. The people of Bastar worship Earth as their Mother. Most interesting factor is that most of the Adivasis have centred their religion around female deities, often called matas, or mothers. Some of the clans invoke deities to get rid of diseases and natural calamities and also to provide them with good harvest and bountiful forest produce. The various Totempoles reveal their Men, horses, elephants and birds as the symbols of belief.
The fact that their stories, their deities and their mythology never found a place in the popular curriculum in our nation, is because, they believe in universal synchronization with nature. Even worse, their kings and queens ended up becoming modern day “Rakshashas and Mahishasuras.” Moreover, the Hindu mythologies, based on which most of our popular religious stories are centred, have all somehow managed to make demons out of the aboriginal tribes of our nation, who are dark skinned, fat lipped and generally muscular. Is it just a co incidence that all Asuras during Durga Pooja are carved like the Dravidian males, bearing uncany resemblance to African race?
The Adivasi idea of a religion that worships the mountains, trees and Sun and does not cast a lowly born Shudra to eternal hell or prevents a widow from having carnal desires, goes against the interest of a Brahiminal society. Its evil twin, the Corporate world demands that “Nature” be exploited as only a “raw material” for its business model. From Bastar in Chhattisgarh, to Mahaan Forests in Madhya Pradesh, to Sunderban in West Bengal, time and again the “mainstream” people have wielded a dagger deep into the heart of these Adivasis, to create a turf of their own, the machinated mechanized version of proselytization, that requires nature to be exploited, and not worshipped.
The cropping up of millions of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams, Ekal Vidyalayas, Sewa Bharati Kendras, Vivekananda Kendras, Bharat Kalyan Pratishthans and Friends of Tribal Society Centes- are no natural phenomenon. They are all part of a definite corporate social political structural design, and all have received the IDRF funding. The primary focus is on Hinduizing the Adivasis and also halting the proselytisation of Christian Missionaries. Preaching them, Ram, Krishna, Geeta and Gayatri Mantras has slowly and surely stripped them off their glorious traditions. This mainstreaming of their education, negates the primary roles played by women in the Adivasi society, and thus infuses it with all the evils of patriarchy. This then, helps the “mainstream” into intertwining the thought process for its electoral gains. Most often than not, these have also successfully engineered communal tensions, as and when the political diaspora dictated. Some of the most sordid examples being the 2015 Nun Rape case in Raipur, and the brutal killings of Adivasis in Kandhamal, Odisha, all of which remained at the headlines long enough to polarise the electoral tadpoles.
Beyond the flames of a burning church and the wails of survivors of atrocities, lies the fact that with the “mainstreaming” of the Adivasis, the society has turned towards an immoral, corrupt, patriarchal sledgefest that now is simply another moneryroller for the modern day billionaires. The Adivasis find themselves at the mercy of a Brahminised Manuvaadi society in the cities and a brutish para military, and corrupt Corporate regime inside the forests. In the slugfest of immediate identity- their God, has lost to our Gods.
[The Author is an independent journalist, writer and Intersectional Feminist, and has worked with development sector for some time, and have contributed articles as an Assistant News Editor for The Hitavada News Editor, a Regional English Daily for 10 years. After working with media for more than a decade I have come to understand, stories ought to be told from the voice of the deliberately silenced echos, and those that are preferably unheard. For Dalits, Bahujan, Adivasis and Women, this world is a battlefield, their stories- are what we need.]