People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 52

December 24, 2006

Gujarat 2006: Life For Christians, Tribals And Dalits


Nalini Taneja


MUSLIMS have lived a precarious existence since 2002, but life has not been much better for Christians, particularly christian tribals and dalits in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat. They have been affected by the Sangh Parivar activities in two ways: the Sangh Parivar mobilisations have created divisions within tribals and dalit communities by incorporating the non-Christian dalits and tribals into their scheme of Hindu rashtra, and by inflicting violence on those it sees as ‘converted’ by Christian missionaries. The Religious Conversion Bill has been made a tool for both intimidating Christian tribals and dalits, and for promoting their ‘home coming’ to ‘Hinduism’ via the RSS fold. Discrimination and ‘reward’ in providing relief and other social schemes has assumed the contours of a system facilitating entry into the RSS fold.


The ‘social organisations’ of the Parivar have worked among the tribals in Gujarat, they have brought them into the fold of Hinduism by incorporating their deities into the Hindu pantheon, and have a running system of monetary and other incentives to enlist them as foot-soldiers in their attacks on the Muslims. The Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad has been receiving huge funds from the government, ‘projects’ sanctioned and funded during the NDA regime continue into the UPA regime. The proliferation of Ekal Vidyalayas is similarly a result of such funding. 


These schemes not only incorporate the ‘beneficiaries’ of such schemes, they also enlist and train the teacher, preacher and social worker, who become key figures in the network of communal organisations. The social intervention among tribals and dalits has been significant in the creation and sustenance of Hindutva activists at the ‘grassroots’; and they are fast co-opting and replacing the Gandhian activists in Gujarat. Tribals form about 15 per cent of the population of Gujarat.
Dangs, a tribal district, has seen intermittent attacks on Christian tribals and Christian priests and nuns, and on Christian congregations, since 1996. Intimidating camps for re-conversions and arms training have been organised by the Bajrang Dal, more particularly since 2002. A Citizens’ Inquiry Committee Report on proselytisation of tribals in Dangs, released on January 3, 2006, gave extensive details on the activities of the Sangh parivar. 


According to this report, Dangs is the smallest district of Gujarat, with a 92 per cent tribal population, subject to utter neglect. The legend is propagated that Ram visited Dangs, which according to the Parivar propaganda is Dandakaranya of the Ramayana; and a nearby place has been designated as the exact spot where Ram accepted and ate berries given by Shabri. Christianity is described as a ‘foreign’ faith, and tribals are called upon to do them what Ram did to Ravana. Hindu Jago, Christi bhagao (Hindus wake up, drive out the Christians) is the central slogan here. The team which visited the district found that “even the pretence of distance between the state apparatus and the Sangh has been abandoned. The local administration, its functionaries, vehicles and funds, are openly being used for the advancement of the intensively divisive communal agenda.” The collector justified the communal mobilisation as “religious and cultural awakening.” In February 2006 the Sangh organised a massive ‘Kumbh’ in the district, which resulted in hate filled campaigns, insecurity and tensions, and organised violence against Christians in the area.


Mobilisation of Tribals 


The mobilisation of tribals in eastern Gujarat and their active participation in the 2002 genocide of Muslims must not be seen as a culmination of Hindutva mobilisation of tribals, shocking though it was for most scholars and activists who have been analyzing the success of Hindutva in the state. In many ways it was one stage along a path that promises to pay many dividends in the future for the communal forces. 


State policies and the globalisation of economy in the last two decades have exacerbated tensions among tribals and created class conflicts within tribals, and it suits the emerging beneficiaries of these policies to tie up with Hindutva in a state that is aligned to the Sangh Parivar and committed to policies that lead to dispossession of the majority among them. Therefore today, so many years hence, it would be foolish to look on the tribals as an undifferentiated community, fooled into participation in riots by false propaganda alone, lured by Hindutva myths that represent them as part of Hindu social order and false consciousness, or even individual monetary bribes and incentives alone. There is a system in all this madness, as they say.


Gujarat is after all not the most backward of states in economic terms, and the dispossession that is taking place among tribals is not affecting them all equally (market forces never do so), nor is it proceeding without the state co-option of a section of tribals (a typical state strategy wherever there is discontent). There is a need to note therefore the fundamental link between the widespread undifferentiated Hindutva propaganda which influences all sections of the tribals, and thereby inhibits their involvement in democratic struggles, and the overtures to a section among them that forms the nuts and bolts of their organisational network at the local level. 


A ‘grassroots’ leadership of Hindutva activists among tribals has been made possible through economic policies that affect tribals and their rights and control over resources, and through implementation of social projects, often government projects, which require and provide sustenance for those recruited as ‘social workers’ in these projects and government schemes. These act as nodes which provide leadership and facilitate decisive action on the part of a sizeable section of tribals in favour of the Hindutva forces at the local level. The mobilisation of tribals in Gujarat has been achieved in precisely such a manner: the Modi regime in the state and the NDA government in the centre have been a crucial factor in the creation and sustenance of this network Sanskritisation, economic advancement in an environment of market forces and political patronage from a right wing state have contributed to a safe climate for a section of tribals to break off their moorings in favour of the Hindutva politics where it pays to do so.


Co-option of tribals for the agenda of globalisation and communalisation in Gujarat is thus proceeding apace with attacks on tribal rights and their religious identity, as well as pro active economic measures and Hinduisation: the lack of a visible state-sponsored Salwa Judum like movement in Gujarat should not blind us to the reality of its presence as a pervasive current. 


Hindutva mobilisations against Christians in Gujarat, as elsewhere in the country, have helped prevent unity of tribals by creating divisions among Christian and ‘Hindu’ tribals, while mobilisations against Muslims have prevented this disunity from assuming class forms. 


Mobilising Dalits 


The Hindutva strategy for mobilising dalits in Gujarat has been similar. The involvement of a sizeable section of dalits in the 2002 genocide was noted with a sense of shock. There has been a general dismay among scholars and secular activists. There has been intense introspection among dalit scholars and activists as well. But again, as in the case of tribals, most people have stressed on the Hindutva propaganda incorporating rituals and practices of the dalit communities into the larger Hindu religious expression as the one significant reason for their success among dalits. Ambedkar is now routinely being depicted as an advocate of the Hindu rashtra, they point out. 


All this is of course true. But one needs to take cognisance of the changing historical context in which the dalit movements are operating today and what is happening to the dalit movements as well. One needs to look at what has been happening to our polity and the trajectory of ‘economic development’ in the country in the last two decades. In many ways Gujarat has led the way on both counts. It has represented the onslaught of both neo-liberal economic policies and ideologies and the sectarianism and chauvinism they characterise. What Bush has been fighting for in global terms, Modi in Gujarat has fought for within our country. 


Just as the mobilisation of all other marginalised sections by the ruling classes has been facilitated by the general rightward turn of the political parties of the centre, it is so in the case of mobilisation of dalits as well by the Sangh Parivar. In times of increasing deprivation social tensions derive not just from the fact of deprivation which catapult all deprived sections towards struggle, but also by the intensification of competition, quite often with their own kind. It is this that provides a basis for co-option of a section of dalits into the Hindutva project. 


The Hindutva forces have been best able to take advantage of this, rather than the also- shifting-to-the-Right Congress, which in Gujarat has never been able to pose any real alternative—not just in economic, but also in social terms. The Gandhian intellectuals and activists have long ceased to represent the interest of the lower castes in Gujarat, and have found their own secularism eroded in the Hindutva ‘laboratory’. The 2002 genocide in Gujarat thoroughly exposed their weakness and inability to defend even what Gandhi in his compromises stood for, or the Gandhian consensus, as some would like to term them. 


At another level one has seen a tendency among some dalit leaders and ideologues to consciously de-link dalit movements from the general democratic and secular struggles. Secularism is no longer a sacrosanct and necessary component of dalit movements; dalit identity is being counterposed with upper caste Hindu identity without reference to secularism and a scientific temper. The moorings within the freedom movement and the strong rationalism and egalitarianism of Ambedkar are missing in many streams of dalit movements even as Ambedkar himself is still revered by millions of dalits. The strivings of dalits for a better life and the stirrings that make dignity non negotiable are being weakened by this de linking, and are propelling some sections of dalits towards a politics of identity rather than democratisation of society as a whole. 
This is not to undermine the validity of asserting dalit identity and culture, or even the significance of challenging the dominance of the upper caste and the Hindu social order through the politics of identity and assertions of an alternative culture, but to underline that even this fight gets weakened when de-linked from issues of secularism, class struggle, and political democracy. 


Mayawati’s support for the BJP and the vicissitudes of electoral politics has created an intellectual atmosphere where the BJP does not become untouchable. She has not only come out openly in support of Modi and campaigned for him in Gujarat, she has obliged the Sangh Parivar with her anti-Muslim rhetoric. 


Caste based movements of the BSP, like those of the OBCs, have preferred aligning with the BJP which represents upper caste domination in order to fight each other. In such a context it becomes difficult to sustain an anti Hindu social order profile for the dalit movements at a mass level even as its political leadership and intellectuals may consider “the Hindu social order” as the “chief instrument for their oppression”. In Gujarat the dalit movements have been subject to all these pressures. 


On their part, the middle castes in Gujarat, because of the Gandhian legacy of opposing labour movements and land reform, and the trajectories of economic development in the state, have found many more threads that bind them to the upper castes. Attacks on dalits have intensified in Gujarat, as in all other parts of the country because of these caste alliances, which are not every time mediated by political parties. 


In most cases attacks on dalits are open, caste attacks by upper caste men are often backed by village control over landed wealth. Unless these are traced to Ranvir Sena or some such organisation as in Bihar and UP some times, these attacks are assumed to be local. Dalits are hardly able to retaliate, given the local balance of class-caste forces. 


In other cases, like the recent defiling of Ambedkar’s statue, the dalits are able to retaliate and protest widely, and some times counter attack. 


But in the case of Sangh Parivar organised violence, when the attacks on dalits are well organised and openly attributable to the organisations of the Sangh Parivar, such as the Bajrang Dal, new factors come into play. Sangh organised violence is never seen as or reported by the media as attacks on dalits: they are seen as and reported as attacks on Christians. 
In Gujarat most of the attacks on dalits belong to this category. Dalit Christians are branded as anti-Hindu, anti-national elements, much like Muslims are, and Christian missionaries are accused of “spreading Christianity through forced conversions”; and the converted are as much enemies of the people as those who convert them. Attacks on their congregations are represented as contestations with western dominance. 


Therefore, also, in the recent decade anti-dalit violence can easily be shown to be on the decline, even as Christian dalits and the Muslim poor (often also of lower caste), bear the brunt of Sangh Parivar violence. The recorded number of cases regarding violence against dalits is much lower than in other states and convictions even lower: recorded number of cases is approximately 1300 and convictions are in one digit number, i. e., about two percent. 


And precisely because attacks on Christian dalits are seen as attacks on Christians and not on dalits, it has become possible for the Sangh parivar to co-opt some sections of the non-Christian dalits into their scheme of the Hindu rashtra. 
Double Burden 


The dalit Christians, bearing the double burden of being dalits and Christians, are never able to protest and retaliate. It is the Christian organisations, and often middle class spokespersons and representatives who protest on their behalf. There are never counter attacks or counter violence against the Sangh Parivar organisations, which have a lot of muscle power and organised strength, more particularly in the BJP ruled states, including Gujarat. 


Yet another factor is that there are many dalit ideologues who believe and have been advocating that globalisation policies benefit dalits; on the spurious grounds that it entails the hegemony and primacy of market over the Hindu social order. Such ideologues and leaders can hardly prevent the co-option of a section of dalits into the Hindutva fold, so closely aligned in Gujarat with a government that congratulates itself for its globalisation policies. 


In a state where the index of ‘development’ is higher than in many other states it is not surprising that a section of dalits can be mobilised for the Hindutva project, seeing themselves as directly benefiting from the economic boycott of and destruction of small businesses and workshops of the Muslims: dalits share many occupations and economic functions with the poor and lower middle class Muslims.


The Gujarat ‘Gaurav’ day this year saw violence against both Muslims and Christians, and an affirmation and assertion on the part of Narendra Modi that Gujarat stands by and is proud of its creations of localities that term themselves ‘Hindu rashtra’( by virtue of having rid themselves of Muslims and Christians). Score of such boards adorn the state, particularly at entry points to several villages. 


The acceptance of this sorry reality by the people of the state tells its own story: it is a message that the fight for secular ideals and democracy in Gujarat is long drawn and there are no short cuts. 


The UPA government seems to rest on its laurels that genocide has not been repeated, and it expects the Muslims and Christians to be both grateful and happy for that. Is this all they have a right to expect as citizens from a government that won on the slogan of secularism?