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Operation #BetiUthao – How the Sangh Parivar Hinduises tribal girls

An investigative report by NEHA DIXIT in Outlook on how the Sangh Parivar has flouted every law, to traffic 31 young tribal girls from Assam to Punjab and Gujarat to ‘Hinduise’ them, leaving their parents forlorn. In a three-month-long investigation, Outlook accessed government documents to expose how different Sangh outfits trafficked 31 tribal girls as young as three years from tribal areas of Assam to Punjab and Gujarat. Orders to return the children to Assam—including those from the Assam State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, the Child Welfare Committee, Kokrajhar, the State Child Protection Society, and Childline, Delhi and Patiala—were violated by Sangh-run institutions with the help of the Gujarat and Punjab governments.

Excerpts from Neha Dixit’s five part story:

“I never wanted to send my daughter so far. What if she fell sick? What if she needed me? Where will I go looking for her? But this guy forced me,” says Adha Hasda, his eyes bloodshot with anger.

Mangal Mardi, his neighbour and a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker, stood by the barbed-wire fence marking out the small cowdung-plastered patch on which Adha Hasda’s house stood. He got me to meet Adha to hear for myself about the excellent welfare work that the RSS was doing in Bashbari village of Gossaigaon area in Kokrajhar district. Adha’s unexpected outburst has stunned him. He uttered something in Assamese but Adha was undeterred.

“Then where is Srimukti? Tell me? You sent her!” says Adha, breaking down. His wife Phoolmani consoles him.

“Do you plan to send the other three children too, like Srimukti?” I ask.

“No,” he says, looking up in anger. “Not even if they pay me money.”

Mangal smirks at this exchange, kneeling by the pillar of house as he twirls a smartphone in his hand.

Adha, a landless labourer of the Santhal tribe, earns Rs 200 daily. He’s 30, but looks much older. He has four children. His daughter, six-year-old Srimukti, is one of the 31 children trafficked by the Sangh.

“But why did you send her in the first place?” I ask.

“Because he helped me set up home after the 2008 riots,” says Adha. That year, his house was damaged in the Bodo-adivasi conflict. He had to spend a month in a relief camp before Mangal stepped in as an RSS volunteer.

“You are complaining as if I did it for my benefit,” says Mangal. “She has gone to study. Even my daughter is gone.”

“How come you can speak to your daughter on the phone every day and I have not been able to do that in a year?” Adha ret­orts. “Who knows whether she’s in school or not!”

“This guy has gone mad,” says Mangal, clearly upset, and signals me to walk with him. “You come with me.”

Excerpt 2

“What’s the problem if a Hindu sends his children to a Hindutva organisation?” Mangal asks me.

“But all adivasis aren’t Hindus,” I say.

Traditionally, Santhals worship Marang Buru (or Bonga) as the supreme deity, and according to their religious view, there is a court of spirits handling different aspects of the world. All through the year, they have rituals connected to the agricultural cycle, besides rituals for birth, marriage and burial at death. They all involve petitions to the spirits and sacrificial offerings, usually of birds.

But Mangal has his own reasoning. “You see, Hinduism is not a religion per se,” he says. “All those who bel­ieve in god are Hindus. The world was once inhabited by Hindus.”

Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia had said the same thing at a rally in Bhopal on December 22, 2014. He’d said the VHP would go all out to raise the population of Hindus in India from 82 per cent to 100 per cent.

Mangal repeats what Phoolendra Dutta, an RSS worker who has worked in Kokrajhar for 19 years, told me earlier: the RSS tells tribals that anyone who worships the sun, trees, wind and nature is a Hindu. The complexities of the tribals’ animist practices are flattened out for the Sangh parivar’s agenda. Dutta had told me they tell the Santhals and other tribals to plant tulsi as an initiation into Hindutva.

I ask Mangal which gods he speaks of, and he says, “Ram, Durga, Hanuman, Shiva, Tulsi, Bharat Mata.”

“Which god do you believe in?”

“I believe in Ram. But the Bodos believe in Shiva. That is why Bodos and adivasis are different.”

In fact, the original religion of Bodos is Bathouism, which does not have any scriptures, religious books or temples. Bathou, in Bodo language, means the five principles: bar (air), san (sun), ha (earth), or (fire) and okhrang (sky). Their chief deity Bathoubwrai (bwrai meaning elder) is believed to be omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. The five principles are Bathoubwrai’s creations.

But the Sangh’s neatly articulated difference between Bodos and adivasis is newly engineered to serve their own purpose. The decades-old conflict between Bodos and the Santhals and Mundas in Assam rests on the Bodos being granted Scheduled Tribe status, while the Santhals and Mundas, who have ST status in Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal, do not have that status in Assam. The explanation cited often is that they were outsiders brought in as tea-garden workers during colonial times and hence cannot be counted as indigenous.

Read the full, 11,350-word text of Neha Dixit’s five-part investigation “Operation #BabyLift” in Outlook.

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