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’Social kumbhs,’ Hindutva, and the politics of perpetuating caste privilege

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’Social kumbhs,’ Hindutva, and the politics of perpetuating caste privilege

The Indian State of Madhya Pradesh will host a social kumbh (pilgrimage / festival) on 10-12 February 2011. It will be held in the predominantly tribal Mandla district, in Mandla city which is situated on the banks of the Narmada River. Some “20 lakh” (i.e. 20,00,000 or 2 million) Hindu devotees are expected to attend this Maa Narmada Samajik Kumbh (Mother Narmada Social Kumbh).

The Social Kumbh

A “social kumbh” is not a traditional Kumbh Mela, but the recent invention of Hindutva (Hindu Nationalist) forces. It is a new tradition, built upon new mythologies.

The Hindu nationalists instigate social kumbhs for the purpose of:

  • bringing the traditionally animist Adivasis (lit. first inhabitants) — whom the Hindutva forces call Vanavasis (lit. forest dwellers) — into the “mainstream”: Hinduising them (effecting religious conversions that translate into political conversions) and communalising them so they can be recruited into sectarian militias;
  • stirring up hatred against Christians whose welfare and education ministries threaten the Hindu elites ability to enslave the tribals into the future; and
  • shattering Adivasi minority solidarity by polarising the indigenous tribal communities along religious lines and setting them against each other.

Integral to the Hindutva strategy is the demonisation of Christians as evil and of Christianity as a foreign conspiracy and existential threat to Indian national security and sovereignty. Indian unity, under the banner of militant Hindu nationalism, is then presented as the only solution.

Shabari kumbh – Feb 2006

In February 2006, the Shabari Kumbh Mela — a social kumbh organised around newly invented, purpose-built mythology — seriously threatened the lives of some 8,000 tribal Christians living in Dangs, Gujarat.

God intervened in Dangs in February 2006 in answer to the prayers of many (2 Corinthians 1:11) and despite unprecedented incitement, the planned “cleansing” — the Hindu “kranti” (revolution) — did not materialise. Regardless, after the event the Sangh Parivar (body of Hindu nationalist organisations) boasted of “great gains” in Dangs.

Abhishek Kapoor reported for Ahmedabad Newsline (13 February 2006): “End of the three-day Shabari Kumbh here marked the beginning of a new experiment on mobilising Hindu forces. Led by the RSS, organisations have planned to use this new tool — more such kumbhs across the country in a semi-religious setting — to gather Hindus to counter Christian missionaries and conversions.

“According to plans, these congregations would be different from the regular Kumbh Melas held at Prayag, Hardwar, Ujjain and Nashik and focus on reform and social engineering within Hinduism to consolidate its followers as a single block.”

The Shabari Kumbh Mela held in Dangs, Gujarat in February 2006, will doubtless be the prototype for the Maa Narmada Samajik Kumbh slated for Mandla, Madhya Pradesh, February 2011.

As with the February 2006 kumbh in Dangs, the Mandla social kumbh will likewise be built on a foundation of lies and incitement. Sectarianism and violence against Christians is destined to escalate. According to a 20 May 2010 report by Compass Direct News (CDN) entitled: “Hindu Nationalists Plan ‘Religious Cleansing’ in Madhya Pradesh District”, this is indeed the stated intent of the Sangh Parivar.

Mandla kumbh — Feb 2011

On 22 April 2010, Hindu nationalists held a ceremony at the proposed site of the Mandla kumbh to break ground for the event.

Compass Direct News (CDN) reports: “More than 100 Hindu devotees from Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra attended the ground-breaking ceremony in Mandla, reported Patrika newspaper. A source present disclosed that leaders announced a list of objectives to be achieved before the festival, with one prominent agenda item being to drive away Christian pastors, evangelists and foreign aid workers from the district.

“The newspaper quoted four Hindu leaders who have spoken out against foreign Christians and renewed their oath to obtain ‘reconversions’ from supposed Hindus who had become Christians. The leaders pledged to ‘cleanse Mandla of Christians’ and cleanse the Narmada River by means of the kumbh.”

On Sunday 2 May 2010, only 10 days after the ground breaking ceremony, local pastor Bhag Chand Rujhiya (36), his family and his fellowship were attacked by a mob of around 40 armed, abusive and belligerent Hindu militants. Eventually Pastor Rujhiya was taken away by police to be interrogated, intimidated and harassed. He was released from detention after being forced to sign papers promising that he would cease evangelisation in the area, and stop leading worship and prayers.

Forced into hiding for a time, Pastor Rujhiya returned to his village on 7 May, though he said he was still fearful as threats from Hindu nationalists continued. “My wife and children say that we are ready to face whatever comes our way”, he told CDN. “We will not renounce our faith.”

Hindutva: the politics of perpetuating caste privilege

Because Hindutva forces target their activity to the religious sphere, their activity slips under the radar of most political analysts. But while the Hindutva forces target the religious sphere, it is all for political gain.

Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) is all about politics — about securing Hindu power in a Hindu State for the sole purpose of perpetuating caste privilege. The social kumbhs merely provide Hindu elites with a religious platform upon which they can lie and deceive, whipping up fear and hatred for the sole purpose of dragnetting the tribal masses for exploitation as vote cattle.

What the tribals do not seem to realise, is that by believing the lies and being drawn into religious-political conversion, they are voting to perpetuate their own enslavement.

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This article is an edited version of a posting written for her Religious Liberty Monitoring blog http://elizabethkendal.blogspot.com

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This prayer bulletin was initially written for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission

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