The Sangh Parivar’s stirring the political and communal cauldron in Jharkhand is a sinister move to destabilize Christianity and reverse the wheel of progress in the lives of the Adivasi population. As it is, the cherished agenda of the Parivar advocates to ‘plant Trishul on the chest of the Cross’ in the north east, so are they at it in Jharkhand too.
Christianity’s contribution to the progress of the Adivasis in areas such as education, self reliance, human dignity, socio-cultural awareness, etc. has been an eyesore for the RSS. Intelligent Adivasis know full well that the attempt to Hinduize them is a clever move to haul them into the dragnet of a Hindu lower caste. Even before RSS was born, Christianity was born in Chotanagpur. If the Adivasis of Jharkhand are able to stand up and assert their human worth and their human rights, the credit goes to Christian missionaries. The latter helped them to get out of the moneylender-landlord nexus faithfully cultivated by the British. When the Adivasi land was being snatched away by rich landlords and moneylenders, it was the missionaries like Constant Lievens who offered legal advice and helped them fight their cases in the law courts.
According to Cardinal Telesphore Toppo (retired), “The overall socio-economic and politico-cultural situation of the Adivasis in Chotanagpur in the second half of the 19th century was volatile. The jagirdari system of the Moghul rulers had been replaced by the zamindari system of the British with the introduction of the Permanent Settlement of land tenures in 1793. As a result, the Adivasis lost ownership rights of their lands as against their agrarian system of the traditional Mundari Khuntkatti or Oraon Bhinhari systems.” (Forward to Jesuit Mission among the Adivasis of Chotanagpur, Ed. Francis Minj SJ and Alexius Ekka SJ)
Moreover, the barter economy was changed into money economy by the British to extract land revenue following the Land Settlement. That meant the pauperized Adivasis had to run to moneylenders for instant loan. In the process, many had to mortgage their lifeline land to the zamindar-trader-moneylender confraternity. Offering legal advice and helping them to fight their cases in the courts, Jesuit missionary Constant Lievens saved many in getting their land restored. In order to strengthen their purchasing power the Good News messengers opened a Cooperative Credit Society. The farmers were shareholders and beneficiaries. Agricultural training centres were opened to equip the locals in improved methods of farming.
Today, if the Sangh Parivar is on a war path to discredit the Church in Jharkhand, it is precisely because they see the development of the Adivasis in education, awareness, improvement of agrarian economy, technical training, holistic health sector etc. as a threat to their non-performance. The Feb. 13 protest by the Tribal cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party against the erection of Father Hoffmann’s statue in a mission compound in Jharkhand’s Khunti district is an ugly episode. The conspiracy department of the cell has concocted the argument that Hoffmann connived with the British to attack the culture of the Adivasis. It is a blatant lie to distort historical facts.
Now, to set records right, it was the Jesuit priest John Baptist Hoffmann who is the author of the 15 volume Encyclopedia Mundarica which is a treasure chest of Mundari culture and social set up. In his introduction to this gigantic work Hoffmann says that his purpose was to protect Mundari language from disappearing and to present to future generations the rich culture of the Munda tribal community. Now, to say that, Hoffmann worked against the interests of the Adivasis is an absurd attempt to play the devil’s advocate.
So is another attempt to demolish Hoffmann’s contribution to the Chotanagpur Land Tenancy act of 1908 (CNT Act). This Act is praised as the Magna Carta for the Adivasis. Its sections 46 and 49 regulate sale and purchase of tribal land. Section 71 of the Act offers relief against fraudulent land purchases. The blueprint of the Act was prepared by Hoffmann and urged the British to enact it in favour of the Adivasi land owners. Now, with what stretch of imagination can the hate mongers tarnish the image of Hoffmann by denouncing him as ‘anti-tribal’? Such attempts are agenda-based and intended to stir the communal cauldron in a land that has enjoyed inter-religious and inter-community peace and harmony for centuries.
Their argument that Birsa Munda’s struggle led to the enactment of the law is not contested by any one. That should not mean to say that Hoffmann’s contribution was nil in the Land Act enactment. It appears that the backroom boys of the hate factory are churning out myths and illusory arguments to provoke communal flare up and to create a divide among the Adivasis against their Christian brethren. In fact, this controversy was timed well on time as a prelude to the May elections.
It is absurd to say that the Christian Missionaries harmed ‘tribal culture.’ In fact, they acclimatized themselves to unfriendly weather conditions, took to tribal culture by living in villages, learning and speaking tribal languages, doing research on tribal issues, printing books and publications, opening capacity building training programs for tribal development, etc.
The Sangh Parivar’s propaganda machinery employing its hired canard pushers has a sinister agenda as part of its skewed nationalism and hate ideology. But the Adivasis are not unintelligent, contrary to what the Hindutva troops believe. The propaganda to convince the Adivasis that they are Hindus is a planned strategy of the Parivar, but it is only a few gullible among the Adivasis who fall prey to such sinister propaganda.
When the bifurcation of Bihar was announced, the Sangh Parivar wanted to name South Bihar, now Jharkhand, as Vananchal. Their motive was to create a Vananchal (Forest Area) atmosphere whereby to instil into the Adivasis that they were Vanvasis enjoying the discipleship of Ram, who had gone into vanvas (forest retreat) for a time. However, that move did not materialize as the Adivasi parties strongly advocated and pushed for the name Jharkhand.
The BJP’s agenda in Jharkhand appears to be twofold. One, saffronise the state, and two, commercialize Jharkhand by making it a user friendly state to loot its rich mineral resources and forest produces. If this agenda materializes, it will be the end of Adivasi identity by pulverizing it under the giant foot of rashtravadi nationalism.(Published on 1st April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 14)