As the name suggests, Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (ABVKA) affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was established as a front focusing on the welfare of the tribal communities in India. The organisation that was founded on December 26, 1952 at Jashpur, Chattisgarh (then Madhya Pradesh) — just by enrolling 13 children of local tribal communities to its hostel project— has grown into a much larger organisation with various organisational units in parts of the country with a large tribal population. According to the statistics updated in the organisation’s website, the Chhattisgarh- Jashpur unit of ABVKA has 10 hostels and hosts 46 students in them; and Vanvasi Vikas Samiti, an organisational unit of the Ashram placed in Bhilai, has 12 hostels that host 350 students in them. The organisation functions across the states and Union Territories in the country.
As we all are aware, the RSS, a Hindu nationalist organisation, works towards realising the Hindutva ideology’s dream of establishing a Hindu Rashtra. How different is the agenda of its fronts like ABVKA that are based on what they call “Seva” or “service”? As argued in this article, there is no difference; rather a glance at its programs and functions opens up the doors to the world of strategies and tactics of the RSS in realising its dream of Hindu Rashtra.
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Earlier in January, the Sarsanghchalak of the organisation, Mohan Bhagwat, while inaugurating the RSS' Madhya Bharat Prant convention at Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, gave a call to the RSS workers to 'embrace' the weaker sections of society “including tribal communities and Dalits.” While at the face value of Bhagwat’s call, nothing is seemingly wrong but what does he really mean by ‘embrace’? The RSS chief’s suggestions of the ways to ‘embrace’ furnish the answer. He said, “We are one, but mere messages and preaching won’t do, this should be translated into action,” and asked the volunteers to greet everyone from the “weaker sections” on Makar Sankranti, Rakshabandhan and Diwali. Bhagwat said that this is important for materialising the Ekatm ideology of Adi Shankaracharya.
Hindutva’s message of the RSS Hindu unity makes it difficult for the sangh to call the tribals and Adivasis (first inhabitants) because it goes against their theory that the Aryans are the original inhabitants of “the vedic civilisation.” Thus, the Vanvasis (the forest dwellers), according to them need to be “mainstreamed”. One of the ways in which the Sangh does it as indicated above, in Bhagawat’s call for embracing the tribal communities and Dalits, is by imposing and inculcating the “Hindu” values, rituals and cultures (of the Hindutva) on these communities. ABVKA facilitates this agenda.
To establish itself in the socialist, secular, and democratic republic of India, the Sangh realised that it needs a political arm, leading to the birth of Bharatiya Jan Sangh in 1951, which later developed into the current ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Neither the relationship between the RSS and BJP, nor the agenda of the RSS (Hindu Rashtra) has changed ever since. RSS, with its outreach in the grassroots, serves as a campaigner of the BJP and generates a vote bank for the party. Its prevalence in the grassroots is through fronts like ABVKA. If one would want to argue that RSS and BJP does not look at the tribal communities as mere vote banks, the tribal welfare schemes and its allocations of Narendra Modi led BJP-RSS government would surely disappoint them.
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Although the total allocation for tribal ministry, which acts as a nodal centre for all the funding allocated for tribal welfare appears to have increased nominally from Rs.5329 crore in 2017-18 to Rs.5935 crore in the current year, but as a share of total expenditure by the government, it has shrunk from an already shockingly meager 0.25% last year to 0.24% this year. Three important schemes – Ashram Schools, Hostels for boys and girls, and Vocational Training – have been stopped altogether. Albeit the funds for these schemes were meager in the past, but their unanticipated death leaves thousands of students in the lurch.
Because of a consistent deficient allocation by the Modi government, Adivasis have been deprived of vast resources. While the Tribal Sub-plan has to allocate 8.6% of the total budgetary allocation for central schemes and centrally supported schemes for Adivasis (in proportion to their share of population), the Modi government has allocated about half of it (4.85%) in the past five years. The total deprivation amounts to about Rs.1.14 lakh crores. The Forest Rights Act, which provides for handing over land titles to adivasis over lands that they have been tilling for generations, has seen very indifferent implementation by states governed by the BJP. The share of titles distributed out of total claims received as per latest government Status Report of January 2018 is: Chhattisgarh (46%), MP (40%), Gujarat (45%), Maharashtra (31%), Rajasthan (50%).
On the one hand we have the RSS affiliated ABVKA which talks about the “seva” done for the “weaker sections”, and on the other hand we have its political arm in power, BJP, which is butchering all the welfare schemes that the government had for these “weaker sections.” This paradox explains what the adivasi communities really are for the RSS, its Akhila Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, and BJP.
As per the 2011 census, tribal population of the country is 10.43 crores, constituting of 8.6% of the total population. 89.97% of them live in rural areas and 10.03% in urban areas. The decadal population growth of the tribal’s from Census 2001 to 2011 has been 23.66% against the 17.69% of the entire population. The Scheduled Tribes are notified in 30 States/Union Territories and the number of individual ethnic groups, etc. notified as Scheduled Tribes is 705. ABVKA functions in all the 30 states and Union territories, and are spread over 32 districts, covering 32,295 villages and 68,252 families.
The RSS and its Hindutva ideology had vested interests in starting to work with the Adivasi communities. The work of Christian missionaries among the tribals in remote areas was a sufficient ground for the organisation to place themselves as the saviors of the tribal communities and their culture from the advent of the Christian “foreigners”. The RSS discourse of the tribal communities being Hindus who were being converted to Christianity, became a base on which they started working with the tribal communities. As a mark of countering the work of Christian missionaries, the RSS adopted “seva” or “service”— the vision of the Christian missionaries— to reach out to the communities and demonise the missionaries, thereby communalising the communities.
ABVKA has hostels for students, schools, health facilities, and a separate cultural unit called Shraddha Jagaran. It is through these services that the RSS facilitates the realisation of its agenda. The schools run by RSS in the regions are based on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s doctrine that the“Indian society is in grave danger from Christianity, and hence it is necessary to counter the moves of missionaries to “save” the nation”; The Saraswati Shishu Mandirs and VHP’s Ekal Vidyalayas function on the basis of this doctrine of VHP. In 2007,there were 23,192 Ekal Vidyalayas in the country. These schools are run by VHP-trained tribal youth and the curriculum includes rhymes, local sports, and courses on the Hindu way of life till the third grade. One of the books that was included in the curriculum said, “Birsa Munda studied in a missionary school; converted to Christianity; was made to eat beef and forced to cut his tuft in the hostel; returned home upset; began worshipping tulsi, wore sacred thread; roamed in forests; struggled against missionaries, landlords and the British government, was arrested and slowly poisoned in jail.”
Fueling communal sentiments among the tribal communities in the country, the ABVK run schools in these regions claim to be doing social work and striving towards getting rid of illiteracy.
Total allocation in the 2017-2018 budget for the Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojana comprising welfare schemes, has come down by nearly 17% along with major cuts in the funds allocated for the educational schemes. This comes after the government failed to spend nearly 21% of last year’s allocation of Rs.505 crores. When the current ruling government has decided to strive hard to maintain illiteracy among the tribal communities, its ideological god father is arguing that they will battle illiteracy. One wonders how it will be possible with all the fund cuts and collapse of the welfare schemes. It is not “seva” or social work like the Sangh claims, but a full-fledged program of hinduisation.
If the schools run by ABVKA focus on instilling the Hindutva ideology in tribal children, their Shraddha Jagran focuses on the middle and the old age population. ABVKA has set up Bhajan mandalis that host Kirtans and bhajan recitals in all the regions. Through these bhajan mandalis, they also construct hanuman temples regularly. As its websites explain, the bhajan mandalis aim to talk about Hindutva to the communities and encourage them to help the “lost community members” (the converted members of the community) to re-convert to Hinduism.
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