9. Are Indian
unlike Hindu traditionalists, agree that the so-called tribals of India
are Hindus. V.D. Savarkar wrote: “Every person is a Hindu who regards
and owns this Bharat Bhumi, this land from the Indus to the seas, as his
Fatherland as well as Holyland, i.e. the land of the origin of his religion
(…) Consequently the so-called aboriginal or hill
tribes also are Hindus: because India is their Fatherland as well as their
Holyland of whatever form of religion or worship they follow.”1
the Brahmin-born revivalist married to a lady from the Oraon tribe, writes:
“This Sanatana Dharma has any number of branches and offshoots. Within
its fold, we have the Vaidika and the Tantrika, the Buddhist and the Jain;
we have the Shaiva and the Vaishnava, the Shakta and the Sikh, the Arya
Samaj and the Kabirpanth; we have in its fold the worshippers of Ayappa
in Kerala, of Sarna in Chotanagpur and of Doni-pollo in Arunachal
Pradesh. (…) through all these forms and variations
flows an underlying current of shared spirituality which makes us all Hindus
and gives us an intrinsic sense of harmony.”2
the census had a category “animist” or “tribal”, which contained ca. 2.5%
of the population, much less than the present Scheduled Tribe population
of nearly 8% (the difference is made up of tribals who declared themselves
or were registered as Hindus or Christians). The Constitution and
the census in independent India do not recognize this broad category of
“animism” any longer. Depending on the context, they classify the
non-Christian tribals as Hindus for legal purposes; or put them under the
heading of each tribe’s own “religion” separately. In
tribal areas tribal customary law is recognized and special protections
for tribals (not as a religious but as a sociological category) exclude
non-tribal Hindus along with non-tribal non-Hindus from ownership or habitation
inside the tribal “inner line”.3
of the tribal position vis-à-vis Hinduism allows for terminological
manipulation. When Hindus say they feel besieged, this is laughed
off with the argument that they are more than 80% of the population; which
they are not if tribals are counted separately. However, when Hindus
mention the Muslim right to polygamy as a case of Muslim privilege, the
secularist reply is that polygamy is actually higher among Hindus; which
it is (in absolute though of course not in relative figures), if tribals
are counted as Hindus. Reports are quoted which
“showed that whereas 5.07 per cent of Muslims in the country were polygamous,
5,08 per cent of Hindus, too, were polygamous.”4 Of
polygynous marriages contracted in 1961-71, “4.31% of Muslim as compared
to 5.06% of Hindu marriages were found to be polygynous”.5 This
is claimed to show that “Hindus are slightly more polygamous than Muslims
in India” (in absolute though by far not in relative figures), quod
erat demonstrandum.6 However,
the same source clarifies that within the broad Hindu category, “the highest
frequency of polygyny was found among tribals, followed by Buddhists and
Jains”, categories which are classified as legal Hindus but are otherwise
claimed to be non-Hindu.7
So, when convenient,
as in this case for polemical purposes, viz. to increase the incidence
of “Hindu” polygamy, tribals (along with Buddhists and Jains) are counted
as Hindus. Otherwise they are not, and in that case, Hindu discourse
treating tribals as Hindus is decried as “assimilative communalism” or
“boa constrictor”. This illustrates once more how religious categorization
in India is politicized through and through.
9.2. Tribal-Hindu kinship: influence
Can the question
whether tribals are Hindus be decided, or is this a matter of arbitrary
definitions? A distinction may first of all be made between:
1. cultural Hindu influence
interiorized by the tribals in recent centuries;
2. typological or formal similarities
setting both Hinduism and the tribal religions apart from the prophetic-monotheist
3. cultural Hindu-tribal kinship
since hoary antiquity.
To start with
the first point: except for the far North-East, tribals all over India
have been profoundly influenced by literate Hinduism,
and a lot of their religious terminology is borrowed from it, e.g.
the Oraons call their supreme deity Dharmesh or Bhagwan, reportedly
replacing the Oraon term Biri-Belas, “sun-lord”.8
The Santals sometimes call Him Thakur, Hindi for “landlord”.9 The
famous Marxist scholar S.K. Chatterjee understood that there had been not
only a profound biological mixing between “Aryans” and “Aboriginals”, but
also an “inevitable commingling of the legends and traditions of the two
races united by one language, a commingling which has now become well-nigh
about the Coorg tribals, Harold Gould writes: “What is there among the
Coorgs that in not Hindu? Nothing, because the Coorgs are Hindus.
And they are Hindus essentially because they adhere to Hindu values.”11
in Nagaland, Sanskritic-Hindu (or in some places Buddhist, equally “Aryan”)
influence on tribal culture is in evidence throughout India, though in
varying degrees. This, however, is in itself not a sufficient ground
for classifying tribal people as “Hindu”, anymore than the retention of
some Hindu customs among Indian Muslims would be sufficient to classify
them as Hindus.
9.3. Tribal-Hindu kinship: formal
The most obvious
similarity between Hinduism and every tribal religion described by observers
(both in India and elsewhere) is typological: regardless of mutual influences
or common origins, the fact is that they share an element of polytheism,
even if sometimes philosophically transcended in a concept of a supreme
or all-encompassing divine essence. Polytheism is a basic pattern
of religion which tribal and Hindu traditions have in common. This
polytheism was duly noted by European discoverers in all continents, but
in the 19th century, European academics started developing a theory of
Urmonotheismus, a primeval monotheism still existing just underneath
the surface of many tribal religions.12 This
scheme was also applied to Indian tribal religions.
to some Christian authors, tribal religion differs radically from Hinduism
because, in the words of George Soares-Prabhu: “All the tribals are monotheists
and therefore they believe in one God.”13
Or: “Despite the inferences of the Niyogi Report, the Aborigines are capable
of recognizing the inner harmony between their beliefs and the Christian
faith. It is their monotheistic faith, as
we have noted, and their belief in reward and punishment for good and evil
deeds, that have prepared them for a, natural assimilation to the Christian
faith.”14 Or: “Sarna spirituality is marked
by a strong belief in one God.”15
is completely at variance with almost every first-hand description of tribal
religion in India. According to the Christian
social scientist Joseph Troisi, the Santals have no less than ten categories
of deities, from ancestral spirits through village deities to the well-known
Puranic Hindu deities and the traditional tribal gods associated with the
elements.16 An NGO
worker in Manipur reports that the Meitei natives worship, among others,
the Goddess Panthoibi, “who connects all events with each other”, the Goddess
Nongthang-Leima, “who mastered thunder and lightning in the chaos which
preceded the world and predicted the first rain”, and the Goddess Leimaren
of “justice and revenge”.17
Another NGO worker
writes in support of a struggle of tribals in Karnataka for the right to
stay in their traditional habitat, now part of the Nagarhole National Park,
and quotes one of them as explaining why they want to stay there: “This
is where our gods live. Now we can go to them and ask
them for support. If we move, that will become impossible.”18
Can this honestly be called “monotheism”?
the face of this well-attested god-pluralism among the tribals, the thesis
of tribal monotheism could be saved by identifying different gods as one,
e.g. the Santal sun-god Sing Bonga and the mountain-god Marang Buru, all
faces of One God.19 It
remains difficult, however, to fuse this Sun God with his polar opposite,
the Earth Mother, whom most tribals including the Santals worship, and
whose cult pervades popular Hinduism as well.20 At
any rate, the alleged “unity behind the diversity” is not exactly un-Hindu.
On the contrary, Hindus have tried to prove Hindu monotheism with the very
same argument of an “underlying” unity, and with good scriptural authority,
viz. the Vedic verse: “The wise call the One Being by many names.”21
Every logic which can make the Santals monotheistic would make the Hindus
monotheistic as well.
similarity of tribal religion and (one layer of) Hinduism can be summed
up thus: no matter how different the names and mythical personae of the
Hindu and the tribal gods, both religions are equally Pagan.
Even if the Oraon deity
Biri-belas, “sun-lord”, is in no way borrowed
from Hinduism’s cult of Sûrya, fact remains that both traditions
practise sun-worship, which the Abrahamic religions prohibit (Athahualpa
the Inca was killed by the Spanish because he remained loyal to the Sun-God). The
Santals worship the sun as their supreme deity, Sing-Bonga, but
even if he were their only god, his worship would still be “idolatry”,
worshipping a creature instead of the Creator.22
locates the formulation of the principle underlying the cosmic spirituality
of Paganism in the Gita: “In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna, while denoting
the forms in which the spirit is more manifest than in others (…) closes
the series of manifestations with the declaration: ‘Every such element
as is endowed with glory, brilliance and power, know that to be a manifestation
of a Spark of My Divine Effulgence.’”23
text unites polytheism and monotheism, and instructs the neophyte how to
select objects of worship for a polytheistic pantheon under the aegis of
the one All-Pervader.24 For, the distinctive
trait of Paganism as opposed to prophetic monotheism is not that Pagans
fail to acknowledge a unique and unifying principle, but that they fail
to see a conflict between this principle of unity and a principle of multiplicity.
In this respect at least, Hinduism and tribal “animism” are one.
9.4. Tribal-Hindu kinship: common
Now for the third
possibility of Hindu-tribal similarity: apart from recent influence (which
even exists between Hinduism and Indian Christianity) and formal similarity
(which even exists between Hinduism and the tribal religions of Africa
and America), is there not also an ancient kinship, which would make tribal
and Hindu traditions branches of a single tree in a historical sense?
dwellings contain cultic elements which are still found in Hinduism today,
e.g. in a Palaeolithic site in the Siddhi district of Madhya Pradesh (10,000
to 8,000 BC), a Mother Goddess shrine was found
which contains the same symbols which Shaktic cults use till today,-squares,
circles, swastikas and esp. triangles which are part of the iconography
of Durga even in urban Hinduism.25 A
Flemish expert on tribal culture told me of a similar finding in the Bastar
area; when the painted triangular stone was dug up, the tribal (Gond) guide
at once started to do puja before it.26 But
the point is that the very same cultic object would fit in a Hindu temple
in Varanasi just as well: living Hinduism continues many practices from
hoary tribal antiquity.
Even authors assuming
the tribal-separatist viewpoint admit to the peaceful interaction and intrinsic
closeness of Hinduism and the tribal religion, i.c. of the Santals: “Unlike
Christians the Hindus have made no effort to convert the Santals into Hindus.
This may be accounted for as the proximal similarity between the two religions.
On the basis of close observation on the Santals it has also been found
that in stray cases when Hindu girls are married to Santals there is a
good deal of change and in due course she is also following the Santal
religion. (…) The Santals are trying to keep their
religion almost unaltered. This is also possible because there is
hardly any conflict and contradiction between Hindu and Santal religions.”27
communis opinion is this: “The culture of the Adivasi differs strongly
from that of most Indians: they are neither Hindus nor Muslims. Their
gods and ancestral spirits live in the mountains, the rivers and the trees.
Sacrificial places lie hidden in the forest, not in a stone temple built
for the purpose.”28 If the tribals worship
in the open air, this constitutes a practical though not a fundamental
difference with modern mainstream Hinduism, which is largely based in temples;
but ancient Vedic Hindus also worshipped in the open air. As for
the worship of ancestors and nature spirits, this definitely stamps the
tribals as non-Muslims and non-Christians, but is it also non-Hindu?
comments: “These protagonists of separatism argue that these ‘tribals’
worship things like trees, stones and serpents. Therefore they are
‘animists’ and cannot be called ‘Hindus’. Now this is something which
only an ignoramus who does not know the ABC of Hinduism will say. (…) Do
not the Hindus all over the country worship the tree? Tulasi,
bilva, ashwattha are all sacred to the Hindu. (…) The worship of Nâg,
the cobra, is prevalent throughout our country. (…) Then,
should we term all these devotees and worshippers as ‘animists’ and declare
them as non-Hindus?”29
for one, is a major common denominator of Hindu and tribal culture: “Animal
deities have been closely associated with major Hindu Gods. The
Naga or serpent is an important powerful symbol in the iconography of both
Shiva and Vishnu”.30 On the other hand, the
ancient use of the term Nâga (“snake”, but also “naked one”)
for “tribal, forest-dweller” (as in the names of the forest city Nagpur,
the forest area Chhotanagpur and the tribal state Nagaland) indicates that
Hindus anciently did see the tribals as a distinctive cultural entity.
A pamphlet presenting
the work of the RSS tribal front, the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram (VKS), puts
it this way: “Foreigners have propagated that Forest-Dwellers are not Hindus,
that they are ‘Animists’. In that case, all Hindus are ‘Animists’.
Trees, rivers, mountains: Hindus offer worship to them or circumambulate
them. in the Vedas, there is Dawn-goddess, Storm-god, Sky-god, Wind-god
and such deities. If someone lives among the
tribals, he will experience at once that they are good Hindus.”31
The logo of the
Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram shows a tribal with bow and arrow, which is indeed
reminiscent of Rama, Drona and other heroes of the Vedic Age. Vedic
and Puranic Hinduism started as a form of tribal animism, and have never
repudiated these roots altogether.
9.5. Hindu and Christian vs. tribal
Against the attempt
to put tribal animism and Christianity in one camp (viz. monotheism) and
Hindu polytheism in the other, Hindus have proposed ways of counting Hindus
and animists as one camp (e.g. polytheism, or native) and Christianity
(monotheism c.q. foreign) as the other. It may be pointed out that
in some respects, a third scheme applies: Christians and Hindus in one
camp, tribal animists in the other. Out of love for the tribals,
Verrier Elwin, an ex-missionary who became Jawaharlal Nehru’s adviser on
tribal affairs, opposed the encroachment on the tribal world by Christians
and Hindus alike.
It is simply a
fact that Hindus and Christians have a lot in common which separates them
jointly from the tribals. Among other things, both value sobriety
and self-restraint. So, urban upper-caste
Hindus as well as Christian missionaries were simply appalled when they
got to know the free sexual morality of the tribals, as exemplified by
the youth dormitories, where teenagers of both sexes were lodged together
to get to know the facts of life.32 While
upsetting the Christian notion that tribals are almost-Christians, this
cultural gap between tribal society and “civilization”, both Hindu and
Christian, also emphasizes the separate identity of tribals as compared
to the dominant classes of Hindu society who have interiorized Christian
morbidity. Indeed, many Hindus would not accept the tribals as good
Hindus precisely for the same reasons why colonial Christians considered
certain native populations as “savages”.
The Pagan character
of tribal religion gives it a common basis with Hinduism and even makes
it part of Hinduism if the latter is defined as “Indian Paganism”.
But this cannot explain away the really existing cleavage between mainstream
Hindu society and tribal society. The latter is a lot more “Pagan”
in the stereotypical sense, more “natural” than both Sanskritic Hinduism
and Christianity, as exemplified by Verrier Elwin’s “conversion” to tribal
culture coinciding with his embarking on a life of sexual experimentation
and improvisation. This is of course why Western neo-Pagans, tired
of Christian morality, would generally prefer tribal culture to the formalized
and asceticism-minded Hinduism of medieval times. Hinduism has grown
away from those elements in its own history which resemble the wilder aspects
of tribal culture.
the religious status and political rights of the tribals is rendered more
difficult by the term commonly used to designate them: âdivâsî.
Christian missionaries and secularists have popularized the belief that
this is a hoary self-designation of the tribals (unmindful that this would
prove their intimate familiarity with Sanskritic culture, as the term is
a pure Sanskrit coinage), e.g.: “These peoples are
called adivasis, which means ‘first inhabitants’. Like the American
continent, India has its Indians.”33
Contrary to a
widespread belief, this term is not indigenous. It is not listed
in the 19th-century Sanskrit dictionary of M. Monier-Williams, a zealous
Christian who would gladly have obliged the missionaries if only he had
been aware of the term. The Sanskrit classics attest the awareness
of a separate category of forest-dwellers, but used descriptive terms for
them, e.g. âtavika, from atavî, “forest”.
feign indignation when such descriptive terms are preferred. Thus,
A.J. Philip: “In the lexicon of Hindutva, the word adivasi has disappeared.
The Sangh Parivar prefers to call them vanvasis (dwellers of forests or
jungles). It is just a step away from calling them junglis (illiterate,
uncouth and uncivilised). Thus the fall in
the status of a people who take pride in calling themselves the adi (original)
people of the land is at once apparent. (.) It is all part of a grand project
of rewriting history which the Parivar and its affiliates have ventured
into.”34 No, the imposition of the term adivasi
during the colonial period was itself an instance of replacing facts of
history with an imaginative theory.
in A.J. Philip’s case, is also in the eye of the beholder.
While insisting on the use of the colonial-imposed term adivasi, he manages
to give an anti-colonial twist to his story: “The
adivasis, whom the anthropologist call the Fourth World or the indigenous
people, suffered the first lexical assault when they were brought under
the official term Scheduled Tribes”.35 But
it was the British themselves, with their race theories, who had redefined
the tribals as the “indigenous races”, and who had even introduced the
concept of “tribe” as distinct from “caste” (after an initial period when
they had used the term interchangealy, e.g. “the Brahmin tribe”).
The colonial term
aboriginal, “pre-colonial native”, has been indigenized in India
in the 19th century through its literal translation âdivâsî.
The term aboriginal had gained currency in the “New World”, where
it made good sense from a European viewpoint: a white colonist (or an imported
black slave) was a “new inhabitant”, and a Native American, Native Australian
or Maori was an “original inhabitant”. This term says one thing about
its referent, viz. that he is not an immigrant, and another about its non-referent,
viz. that he is an immigrant, a coloniser.
The excluded ones,
the non-Adivasis, all the urban and advanced agricultural communities,
suddenly found themselves labelled as immigrants who had colonized India
and chased the aboriginals to the most inaccessible places. The message
of the colonial term Adivasi was that the urban elites who were waging
a struggle for independence, could not claim to be the rightful owners
of the country anymore than the British could. Likewise, it served
to present Hinduism, the religion named after India, as a foreign imposition.
The only non-tribals considered aboriginal were the Untouchables, supposedly
the native dark-skinned proletariat in the Apartheid system imposed by
the white Aryan invaders to preserve their race.
This racial view
of history was nothing but a projection of 19th-century racist colonial
perceptions onto ancient Indian history, but it was well-entrenched and
put to good colonial use. Thus, during the 1935 Parliament debates
on the Government of India Act, Sir Winston Churchill opposed any policy
tending towards decolonization on the following ground: “We
have as much right to be in India as anyone there, except perhaps for the
Depressed Classes [= the SC/ STs], who are the native stock.”36
Many NGO activists
and other well-intentioned people in the West believe that their support
to separatism and other political movements of the Indian “Aboriginals”
is a bold move against oppressive intruders. In fact, most so-called
liberation movements in India are gravely tainted by their origin as instruments
of oppression by the latest intruder, the European coloniser: in order
to weaken the national freedom movement, minorities were sought out or
even created to serve as allies of the new rulers and keep the national
movement down. The Muslim League, the Dravidian justice Party (forerunner
of the Tamil-separatist Dravida Kazhagam), the Ambedkarite
movement, they were all created with British help and nurtured by the British
with a view to weakening the freedom movement. Even the Communist
Party was helped against nationalist forces.37
The imaginary division of the Indians in “natives” and “invaders”, though
originally an innocent outgrowth of the then-fashionable race theories,
was soon instrumentalized in the service of the same strategy of colonial
It may be recalled
that when Hernan Cortes conquered Mexico, he first made an alliance with
some of the “native” peoples “oppressed” by the imperial Aztecs, who had
indeed “invaded” Mexico from the North a few centuries earlier. This
way, the destroyer of the native American polity and culture made his entry
as a liberator of the natives from oppression by intruders. The designation
of the Indian tribals as “aboriginals” was a part of a similar strategy.
Can we blame Hindus when they don’t consider this nativist discourse all
that innocent? The fact that Cortes used true history while the British
used at best speculative history, is relatively immaterial: nurturing and
exploiting a psychology of grievances against the real or imagined “invaders”
is what counted.
Many people use
the term “Adivasi” quite innocently, but the term is political through
and through. Its great achievement is that it has firmly fixed the
division of the Indians in “natives” and “invaders” in the collective consciousness,
on a par with the division in natives or aboriginals and the immigrant
population in America and Australia. Thus, an indologist specializing
in tribal culture said to me, off-hand: “The Âdivâsîs
are the original people of India-well of course, that is precisely what
the word âdivâsî means.” The
parallel with the American and Australian situations is driven home, e.g.
in the title of a booklet on India published by the Dutch and Belgian administrations
for development cooperation: “Adivasi, Indianen van India” (Dutch: “India’s
Indians”).38 As if the term were not a deliberate
modem construction but an ancient witness to an ancient history of aboriginal
dispossession by Dravidian and Aryan “invaders”.
Hindus, too, have interiorized the parallel White/Amerindian = Hindu/Adivasi.39
However, no conscious Hindu now accepts the ideologically weighted term
Adivasi, much to the dismay of those who espouse the ideological agenda
implied in the term, viz. the detachment of the tribals from Hindu society
and the delegitimation of Hinduism as India’s native religion. Thus,
the Times of India complains: “In the Indian context, it is sad
to note that, despite the affirmative action promised by the Constitution
for the Scheduled Tribes and despite the appellation of adivasi
(original inhabitants) being used for them, the government still does not
accept that tribals are the indigenous peoples of India. In
fact, it is not without significance that the BJP (…) prefers to refer
patronisingly to tribal peoples as vanvasis (forest dwellers) rather than
assumption that the term “forest-dweller” is condescending is simply not
correct from the viewpoint of the forest-dwellers themselves, who hold
their forests and the concomitant life-style in high esteem, just as the
Vedic people did.41 Likewise, Mahatma Gandhi’s
indigenous term for the tribals, Girijan or “hill people”, far from being
a condescending exonym, is actually the self-designation of many communities
in India. Many Dravidian-speaking tribes have names derived from
ku- or malai-, meaning “hill, mountain”, e.g. Kurukh, Malto,
and of course the non-tribal Malayali.
anti-Hindutva activist Gyanendra Pandey writes: “A special number of the
RSS journal Panchjanya, devoted to the ‘tribal’ peoples of India
and published in, March 1982, is significantly titled ‘Veer vanvasi
ank’. The use of the term ‘vanvasi’ (forest- or jungle-dwellers)
in place of the designation
‘adivasi’, which had come to be the
most commonly used term among social scientists and political activists
talking about tribal groups in India, is not an accident Adivasi
means original inhabitants, a status that the Hindu spokespersons of today
are loath to accord to the tribal population of India.”42
builds on the accomplished fact of the widespread use of the ideological
term Adivasi,-which is “not an accident” either, witness its “common use”
by “political activists”. In fact, not just “Hindu spokespersons”
but everyone who cultivates the scientific temper would reject a term which
carries the load of an entirely unproven, politically motivated theory,
viz. that the tribals are “the” (i.e. the only) original inhabitants of
India. Nobody is “loath to accord to the tribal
population the status of original inhabitants”, certainly not the Hindu
nationalists.43 But every objective observer
would reject the effective implication of the term Adivasi, viz. that the
non-tribals are not original inhabitants, on a par with the white
colonisers who decimated the Native Americans.
9.7 International voices on tribal
In this debate,
the Indian Government (any Indian Government) has always upheld
the oneness of the Indian population, and rejected divisive concepts like
“Aboriginal” as opposed to “Invader”. The UN Working Group on Indigenous
Populations in Geneva has been looking into the claim that the Scheduled
Tribes and Scheduled Castes of India are the indigenous population of India,
for indeed, some tribal spokesmen have been pushing for recognition by
the United Nations as “the original inhabitants of India”. Foremost
among them was Prof. A.K. Kisku, secretary-general of the Indian Council
of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ICITP), which called itself a “non-political,
non-communal, nongovernmental human rights umbrella organization to campaign
for the protection of the
population-covering the entire subcontinent”, and
told the world that “with its 60 million indigenous and tribal people,
India has the largest indigenous population in the world (200 million)”.44
Both the Indian
Government and the Hindu nationalist movement consequently watch any assertion
of tribal separateness with some concern, because the road from cultural
to political and territorial separatism may be a short one; and also because
they know that the outside world tends to sympathize with the demands of
“aboriginals”. Of course, since states and not communities are the
units constituting the UNO, India can always block UNO steps demanded by
tribal spokesmen, but it could lose at least the intellectual debate, so
it presented a solid argumentation. On 31
July 1991 (and similarly on several other occasions) the India delegate
at the Working Groups session, Prabhu Dayal, refuted the claims made on
behalf of the tribals by Prof. Kisku.45
we look into Prof. Kisku’s argumentation, we find that he is not even trying
to prove his crucial point, viz. that the tribals are indigenous while
the rest are not. The claim is made that “the
Tribals are the autochtonous people of the land”, but no argument is given
except that they “are believed to be the earliest settlers in the Indian
peninsula” and that they “are generally called the adivasis, implying original
inhabitants”.46 He fails to prove that all
non-tribals are non-aboriginals, but uses the term which encapsulates that
theory as proof of the selfsame theory. All by itself, the neologism
constitutes one of the most successful disinformation campaigns in modern
claim, Government spokesman Mr. Dayal argued that the term “indigenous
peoples” cannot be equated with Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes.
He concentrated on showing that today there is no clear-cut separation
between tribal and non-tribal segments of the population, quoting the eminent
sociologist Prof. André Béteille: “In this country, groups
which correspond closely to the anthropologists’ conception of tribes have
lived in long association with communities of an entirely different type.
Except in a few areas, it is very difficult to come across communities
which retain all their pristine tribal character. In fact, most such
tribal groups show in varying degrees elements of continuity with the larger
society of India (…) In India hardly any of the
tribes exists as a separate society and they have all been absorbed, in
varying degrees, into the wider society of India. The on-going process
of absorption is not recent but dates back to the most ancient times”47
had found that “ethnically speaking, most of the tribes in present-day
India share their origins with the neighbouring non-tribal population. India
has been a melting-pot of races and ethnic groups, and historians and anthropologists
find it difficult to arrange the various distinct cultural, ethnic and
linguistic groups in the chronological sequence of their appearance in
argumentation, Mr. Dayal said: “In case the various criteria of indigenous
populations were to be selectively applied to the Indian context, at least
300 or 400 million people could come within its ambit. I
would therefore reiterate my government’s view that tribals in India
do not constitute what is understood by the term ‘indigenous populations’.”49
So far, the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations has always accepted
the Indian Government’s view, which of course is also the Hindu view.
In my opinion,
the issue is clinched by Prof. Béteille in another article.
He contrasts the category of caste, slightly reinforced and rigidified
under colonial rule but otherwise thoroughly familiar to the Indian population
since millennia, with the very new concept of tribe: “Every Hindu knew
not only that he belonged to a particular caste but also that others belonged
to other castes of whose respective places in a broader scheme of things
he had some idea, whether vague or stereotyped. Hardly anything corresponding
to this exited in the case of those we know today as tribes. The
consciousness of the distinct and separate identity of all the tribes of
India taken as a whole is a modem consciousness, brought into being by
the colonial state and confirmed by its successor after independence.”50
Hinduism, tribes are simply forest-based castes or communities (with both
“caste” and “tribe” rendering the same Sanskrit term jâti),
in closer or more tenuous contact with the Great Tradition. There
never was a clear cleavage between Hindu castes and animist tribes, there
only were communities geographically and culturally closer or less close
to the Vedic backbone of Hindu civilization. Some were less Vedic
yet socially integrated, viz. the low castes, others were less Vedic and
socially more isolated, viz. the castes now labelled “tribes”.
But even the latter
never had the consciousness of belonging to a separate “tribal” type of
population. just as the Ahir caste or the Kayasth caste or the Chamar caste
was aware of it distinctive caste identity, “the
Santhal had a sense their own identity as Santhals; the Garos of theirs
as Garos; and the Todas of their as Todas”,-but none was aware of a collective
“tribal” identity, much less of an “aboriginal” identity.51
Not one of the
Indian tribes was entirely untouched by the influence of the Vedic-Puranic
Great Tradition. This is one of the reasons why the relationship
between Hinduism and any Indian “tribe” is different from the relationship
between Hinduism and tribal cultures in other continents. Even the
tribal cultures genetically unrelated to Vedic civilization were dimly
integrated in the Hindu world which spanned the whole of India.
Tribes from the
Kafirs of Afghanistan to the Gonds of South-Central India have taken starring
roles in the resistance of the native society against the Muslim onslaught.
If the Bhil boy Ekalavya of Mahabharata (I.31-54) fame could seek out the
princely martial arts trainer Drona as his archery teacher, even the terrible
treatment he received from Drona (for reasons unrelated to Ekalavya’s social
origins) cannot nullify the implication that the Bhil tribe habitually
interacted with the Vedic Bharata clan. Those who use the Eklavya
story against Hinduism do not know or ignore the fact that Eklavya is mentioned
twice (II.37.47; II.44.21) as one of the great kings
who was invited and given great hospitality in Yudhisthara’s Rajasusya
Yajna at Indraprastha. Kautilya mentions tribal (atvî)
battalions in Hindu royal armies.52 Rama,
of course, relied on his Vânara (forest-dweller) allies to
fight Ravana. The tribals may have lived on the periphery, but it
was still within the horizon of Hindu society.
9.8. But are they really aboriginal?
Given the Hindutva
priority of uniting all “Hindus” and not offending the sensibilities of
any of the targeted groups, a hard question which the above controversy
ought to raise, is never asked: but are the “Adivasis” really aboriginal?
Given the racial mixing, they would be as indigenous as anyone, at least
biologically (and the same is true for the speakers of Indo-Aryan), but
what about their distinctive identities, starting with their languages?
Tribal activism and separatism is strongest in Jharkhand and the North-East,
but about the origins of the tribals predominant in these two areas, leading
anthropologists have a sobering message:
“Whereas the now
Dravidian-speaking tribals of Central and South India can be considered
to be descendents of the original inhabitants of India, who gave up their
original languages in favour of Dravidian, Tibeto-Chinese speaking tribals
(Northeast India) and Austro-Asiatic speaking ones (East India) immigrated
into India since ancient historical times. Most likely they came
in several waves from Southern China (Tibeto-Chinese speakers) and from
Southeast Asia (Austro-Asiatic speakers) respectively. Without
doubt these immigrating groups met with ancient Indian populations, which
were living already on their migration routes, and thus one cannot exclude
some cultural and also genetic contacts between immigrants and original
inhabitants of India, at least at some places.”53
Oraons of Chhotanagpur have a tradition describing their wanderings from
the western coast along the Narmada river to their present habitat on the
Ranchi plateau, where they pushed the Mundari-speaking tribes to the eastern
part of the plateau.54 This
fits in with the theory that the Dravidian language family as a whole entered
India from Baluchistan and further West.55 Likewise,
Bastar in Central India “was probably populated by Kolari-speaking Austro-Asiatic
tribes (…) It is surmised that the Gonds who now live there immigrated
from South India and chased out the said Austro-Asiatic groups.”56
As for the Austro-Asiatic
tribes themselves (Ho, Santal, Munda), pushed out from some areas by Dravidian-speaking
Gonds and Oraons, they too have a history of immigration. Their languages,
along with Nicobarese, belong to the Austro-Asiatic language family, of
which the dominant members are Khmer and Vietnamese. Its
original heartland was probably the Bronze age culture of the 3rd millennium
BC in Thailand, but it stretched as far as central China.57 There
are archaeologically attested connections between these cultures, as pointed
out by Prof. H.D. Sankalia: “The Eastern Neolithic Culture of India was
partly received from the Far East.”58 Indeed:
“The general assumption is still that the Munda languages came to India
from the east via Assam and Burma.”59 The
most recent findings in both linguistics and anthropology confirm the East-Asian
origin of the Munda family of tribes.60
confirms this: “Taking India as a whole, it would be absurd to designate
as indigenous only the tribal population, leaving out all the others.
As a matter of historical fact, several of the contemporary tribes of India
moved into the country across its northeastern frontier long after the
areas into which they had moved had been settled by peasants who are not
now designated as tribals. The Mizos certainly
are not more indigenous to the areas they inhabit than the Gujaratis are
By all accounts,
the Tibeto-Burmese “Adivasis” in the North-East are among India’s most
recent ethnic immigrants, whose presence in India may not go back more
than a thousand years. Not important in itself, but the question
whether the tribals themselves are truly “original inhabitants” is the
logical outcome of their own (admittedly tutored) choice to classify India’s
inhabitants as “aboriginals” and “invaders”. The question may sound
sacrilegious to those who champion the Adivasi label, but it is their own
stand that makes it pertinent. At any rate, the historical data do
not support the division of India’s population in “aboriginal tribals”
and “non-tribal invaders”. This finding ought to help bring the over-dramatized
question of the tribals’ religious identity back to its real proportions.
9.9. Hinduism, a “pre-Aryan” religion
There is one Hindu
Revivalist author who has methodically argued against the view (implied
in the term âdivâsî) that the tribals have one
religion, which is indigenous, and non-tribals another, the Vedic religion,
which was imported. Shrikant Talageri puts
it in the context of the Aryan Invasion Theory, the cornerstone of the
division of Indians into “natives” and “invaders”.62
A discussion of the rightness or wrongness of this theory (rejected by
many Hindu nationalists) would take us too far here, but Talageri’s point
is precisely that even if we accept the theory, most elements in Hinduism
are commonly assumed (by scholars accepting the theory) to have been borrowed
from the natives.
“Let us examine whether, as per the Aryan Invasion Theory itself,
Hinduism is an ‘Aryan’ religion. (…) Suniti Kumar Chatterji has listed
some of the features of Hinduism, which are supposed to be of ‘pre-Aryan’
origin (…) As a study of the material presented
therein will show, almost every aspect of Hinduism as we know it today,
certainly every feature central to the religion, is supposed to be of ‘pre-Aryan’
origin.”63 The criterion applied, not by
Talageri but by established scholars like S.K. Chatterji, whom he quotes,
is mostly whether a motif or practice is attested in the Rigveda and in
related Indo-European traditions, esp. the Avesta, the Germanic, Celtic
and Slavic cultures, pre-Classical Rome and Greece, and even the reviving
Paganism of the Baltic peoples (the Latvian Dievturiba and the Lithuanian
religion).64 Anything not attested in these
Indo-European traditions is supposed to be “pre-Aryan”, or to summarize
Talageri’s detailed enumeration:
1. The entire
system of idol-worship, whether of the lingam, of ‘rude blocks of stone’
with eyes painted on them, or of sculptured images of stone, metal or wood;
including the procedure of worship, viz. treating the idols as living beings
(washing them, feeding them etc.), offering them flowers and fruits, waving
lamps and incense before them, performing music and dance before them;
and the construction of permanent houses for them, temples with sacred
tanks, chariots for annual processions, pilgrimages etc.
2. The application
of coloured pastes on the idols and on the skin of the worshipper, including
the saffron colour and the forehead-mark (tilak), two of the most
basic symbols of Hinduism.
3. The concept of transmigration
4. The enumeration of the days by
moon phases (tithi), on which the ritualistic calendar (Panchâga)
aspects of Hinduism: sacredness of animals, worship of elephant-God Ganesha
and monkey-God Hanuman, concept of Lord Vishnu incarnating in the form
of a fish, tortoise, boar, lion; the animal vehicles of the gods (Shiva’s
bull, Vishnu’s eagle, Durga’s lion etc.).
Most Gods actually worshipped are considered ‘pre-Aryan’ (certified Aryan
Gods like Indra, corresponding to Zeus/Jupiter/Thor/Perkunas, are hardly
7. Many Puranic myths are considered
Sanskrit adaptations of “indigenous” myths.
8. It is obvious that all the sacred
places of India could not have been imported by the “Aryans”.
9. All the typically Indian materials
used in Hindu rituals have obviously been employed in emulation of native
concludes: “After all this, how much remains of Hinduism which can be classified
as ‘Aryan’? According to the Aryan invasion theory itself, Hinduism
is practically a ‘pre-Aryan’ (…) religion adopted by the ‘Aryans’.”66 This
point is also conceded by the more enlightened among the Aryan invasion
theorists, e.g.: “Hinduism has not been ‘imported’ by the Aryans”, in the
sense that the latter’s religion differed considerably from what is now
known as Hinduism.67
In general outline,
this is hard to refute. But of course, the established proponents
of the Aryan Invasion Theory may be wrong in their tracing of cultural
motifs to Aryan or non-Aryan sources. Many religious themes assumed
to have been borrowed from the “pre-Aryan natives” are now recognized by
a new generation of Indo-Europeanists as part of the common “Aryan” heritage. Thus,
Bernard Sergent presents fresh evidence to equate Vishnu with the Germanic
god Vîdharr and Shiva with the Greek god Dionysos.68
Even so, that still leaves a large part of Hindu lore to be traced to aboriginal
9.10. Tribal belief in reincarnation
For an instance
of a Hindu doctrine claimed as indigenous, consider the belief in reincarnation.
Though apparently attested among the ancient Celts, among the Pythagoreans
(who acknowledged Oriental influence) and in Virgil’s Aeneis, it
is not in evidence in the Vedas (thought it may be implied in some episodes
or mantras), and is therefore considered a pre-Aryan import into Hinduism.
Among the Indo-Europeans including the Vedic Aryans, different beliefs
about the afterlife may have co-existed, but the communis opinio
is that the Vedic Aryans adopted the belief in reincarnation from Indian
“natives”. According to anti-Brahmin authors,
the wily Aryan Brahmins then forged this borrowed belief into a weapon
to suppress the natives by means of the caste system.69 It
is, at any rate, widely believed that “the caste system in India has always
been officially justified and legitimized by the doctrine of karma.
Someone’s birth in a higher or a lower caste or as an outcaste was the
consequence of the law of karma.”70
Fact is that the
belief in reincarnation, considered by some as a defining characteristic
of Hinduism, is also found among Indian tribals, though with philosophical
variations and coexisting with other beliefs. Thus,
Robert Parkin writes that the Munda tribals believe in reincarnation, but
with an “absence of an ethical component”, so that “it is the manner of
one’s death, not the worth of one’s life, that is the qualification for
rebirth”.71 For the
Mundas, “reincarnation is of course an object of desire here, not of dread”.72
Clearly, then, they did not borrow it from Buddhism or Puranic Hinduism,
which impose a moralistic and negative view of rebirth on this basic belief.
There is no reason
to attribute the belief in reincarnation among tribals to Brahminical influence. In
his survey of reincarnation beliefs around the world, the Dutch scholar
Hans Ten Dam reports that in all continents, people have believed in reincarnation,
e.g. more than a hundred Black African nations.73
Many of these peoples were unrelated, and stumbled upon the notion of reincarnation
independently, without needing the pre-Aryan Indians to tell them about
it. As Ram Swarup argues, the belief in reincarnation “is found among
people who are called ‘primitive’ as well as those who are called ‘civilized’
(…) among the Eskimos, Australians, Melanesians, the Poso Alfur of Celebes
in Indonesia, among Algonquians, Bantus, (…) the
Pythagoreans and the teachers of Orphic mystery (…) In short, the doctrine
has the support of the spiritual intuition of most mankind, ancient or
scholars claim that the notion of karma and of reincarnation has not been
attested among the early Dravidian populations of India: “Before the coming
of the Aryan ideas, the Tamils did not believe in reincarnation. Rather,
like many archaic peoples, they had shadowy and inconsistent ideas of what
happens to the spirits of the dead.”75 Till
today, karma and reincarnation are not as pervasive in Hindu culture
as textbooks suggest, e.g. the late A.K. Ramanujan testifies: “But when
I looked at hundreds of Kannada tales, I couldn’t find a single tale that
used karma as a motif or motive.”76 Among
Tamil villagers, karma was found to alternate with talaividi
(“headwriting”), one’s fate imprinted at birth, unrelated with past lives
and not logically compatible with karma.77
So, both in Hindu
and in tribal cultures, we have a variety of opinions about the afterlife,
including several versions of the doctrine of reincarnation. Certain
ideas are so general that trying to identify them with ethnic groups is
unconvincing when not downright funny. Thus, I once heard an Indologist
of feminist persuasion argue that Samkhya philosophy, which divides the
universe into a multiplicity of spirits (Purusha, masculine) and
a single “nature” or material world (Prakriti, feminine), must have
been thought up by a “pre-Aryan” culture because it betrays a matriarchal
Zimmer, an exponent of this ethnic division of Indian thought, is described
by Frits Staal as “the author of an original but one-sided description
of Indian philosophies-based on an interpretation not free of racial prejudice:
according to Zimmer, there is in Indian thought
an opposition between the monist Vedanta philosophy which stems from the
Vedic Aryans and the realistic dualism of Jainism and Buddhism which he
links with the ‘original’ Dravidian India.”78
Staal dismisses this as “romantic ideas not verified in reality”.
Within the ethnically
fairly homogeneous Greek world, we see a wealth of different philosophies
spring up in just a matter of centuries, from Anaximander to Zeno; it stands
to reason that the much larger Hindu society also produced different world-views
and different religious practices without having to borrow them from non-Hindu
cultures. Both in Hindu and in tribal culture, several views of afterlife
and reincarnation coexist, and the two sets partially overlap. So
far, the distribution of different views of reincarnation in Hindu society
and in tribal-animist society is not such as to indicate a clean religious
cleavage between those two.
9.11. Do tribals have caste?
As we have seen,
numerous observers take caste division to be a defining trait of Hinduism.
Shrikant Talageri accepts the historical (i.e. non-essentialist) entanglement
of Hinduism in the caste system: “The caste system (…) is, in its nastier
aspects, the bane of Hinduism and Indian society. This
system, however, is a social system, and is not really a central aspect
of Hinduism, although vested interests down the centuries have strived,
with great success, to identify it with Hinduism.”79
Hindu upper-caste interests were most insistent on justifying caste observance
as a Hindu religious duty. But now, the situation is just the reverse:
“It is a feature of Hindu society which every genuine Hindu and Hindu nationalist
organisation (like the RSS) has sought to wipe out
or at least to neutralise; and which every Leftist and secularist politician
and intellectual, and Muslim and Christian force, has tried to strengthen
and perpetuate”.80 Now, every anti-Hindu
author tries his utmost best to pin Hinduism down on the caste system,
and conversely, every other religion competing with Hinduism for prestige
and for souls describes itself as anti-caste and egalitarian.
To maximize the
difference between Hindus and tribals, it is routinely said that “the tribals,
unlike the Hindus, have equality and no caste system”. This fits
in with the trend that Aboriginals all over the world are redefining their
own cultural heritage in terms of the “noble savage”, the idealized views
which Romantic Westerners had projected onto them. Thus, the Gaia
Atlas of First Peoples quotes one “Pat Dodson, aborigine”, as saying:
“In traditional Aboriginal society, no one person was more important than
another-all were parts of a whole. Growth
and stature were measured by contribution, participation and accountability.”81
This may, in his case, be the truth, but the apologetic element in this
trend is hard to miss.
Some tribes (especially
the most primitive ones, with little functional differentiation) may have
come closer to this egalitarian ideal than others, but in general, we can
question this assertion on several counts. Equality is a very modem
concept, and we may doubt that there exists a norm of “equality” even within
a tribe, within a clan, within a family. Moreover, even without hierarchical
ranking there can be a division in endogamous groups, i.e. castes; or in
Indian terms, endogamous jâtis though without varna
The world over,
tribal populations observe various kinds of caste distinctions. Thus,
concerning tribals on the Pacific islands: “In the Mariami group it was
the common belief that only the nobles were endowed with an immortal soul,
and a nobleman who married a girl of the people was punished with death.
In Polynesia the commoners were looked upon by the nobility as a different
species of beings. Hence in the higher ranks
the marriage was concluded only with persons of corresponding positions;
and if in Tahiti, a woman of [rank] chose an inferior person as a husband,
the children he had by her were killed.”82 Among
the natives of Fiji, too, “a strict hierarchy, a kind of caste system,
regulates all of village life”.83 So, these
Polynesian tribals had endogamous groups in a hierarchical relation (“nobility”
and “commoners”). The relation between them was neither more egalitarian
nor more flexible than that between Hindu castes, on the contrary: marriage
outside the caste was not punished with mere expulsion, as happens among
Brahmins, but with death.
For another example,
we may turn to Congo, where the Batwa or Pygmees coexist with the Baoto,
who settled in their land about two thousand years ago: “From this violent
clash resulted a modus vivendi which persists till today. The division
of roles is contained in unwritten laws. While the Baoto live in
the village centre, the Batwa live in the periphery (…) The Batwa used
to serve as village guardsmen (…) All kinds of taboos colour the relations
between the communities. Batwa and Baoto cannot
use the same washing-place, Baoto don’t touch food prepared by Batwa, mixed
marriages are absolutely prohibited. It has nothing to do with social
justice, but these relations certainly are stable.”84
Unequal ranking, endogamy and untouchability: all the elements allegedly
typical of Hindu society have sprung up in the heart of tribal Africa without
any “Aryan” influence.
Endogamy was once
a world-wide practice, and there is no reason to assume that Indian tribes
are an exception. Yet, people ignore the caste nature of certain
social structures even when describing them, simply because the idea that
the tribals are caste-free egalitarians has become so entrenched. Witness
the following authentic juxtaposition: among Indian tribals, “marriages
take place strictly within the tribe and any form of caste system is unknown”,
according to Dick Kooiman.85 What this says
is effectively: “the tribe is strictly endogamous and endogamous groups
are unknown”. Yes, the tribe knows no subdivisions in endogamous
groups, but that is because the tribe itself is the endogamous unit.
have done little to correct this view by showing that a kind of caste consciousness
is equally pervasive in tribal and in Hindu society, probably because of
their eagerness to de-emphasize caste as a defining aspect of Hinduism.
All the same, the job has been done, and well done, by anthropologists
and Christian missionaries. We quote a brief sample. Christoph
von Fürer-Haimendorf writes about the Khova tribe in the North-East: “Their
social organization is based on a system of exogamous clans distributed
over all the ten villages. The tribe is strictly endogamous, and
there is no intermarriage with any neighbouring tribe”.86 Likewise
in Central India, the Gonds of Bastar have rules of endogamy and even observe
untouchability (now waning).87
Munda tribals not only practise tribal endogamy and commensality, but also
observe a jâti division within the tribe, buttressed by notions
of social pollution, a mythological explanation and harsh punishments.88 A
Munda Catholic theologian testifies: “The tribals of Chhotanagpur are an
endogamous tribe. They usually do not marry outside the tribal community,
because to them the tribe is sacred. The way to salvation is the
tribe.”89 Among the
Santals, “it is tabooed to marry outside the tribe or inside one’s clan”90,
just as Hindus marry inside their caste and outside their gotra.
More precisely: “To protect their tribal solidarity, the Santals have very
stringent marriage laws. (…) a Santal cannot marry
a non-Santal or a member of his own clan. The former is considered
as a threat to the tribe’s integrity, while the latter is considered incestuous.”91 Among
the Ho of Chhotanagpur, “the trespasses which occasion the exclusion from
the tribe without chance of appeal, are essentially those concerning endogamy
A missionary notes:
“The observance of the taboo [of marrying outside the tribe] is therefore
far more fundamental than the offering of sacrifices to the spirits.
If one seeks in another religion an alternative means of effectively dealing
with them and of venerating God, this does not affect one’s tribal status
in the least. On the other hand, renouncing
the tribe is normally felt by Sarna people to be nearly as dreadful as
abandoning God himself.”93 In other words,
the tribals display the same combination of doctrinal tolerance and caste
strictness that is deemed typical of Hinduism. Possibly this combination
exists in mainstream Hinduism as a tradition that dates back to tribal
have had to accommodate the attachment of tribals to their caste rules.
In December 1891, Father Constant Lievens allowed one of his more zealous
assistants, Father Walrave, to test the sincerity of 150 Munda converts
and conversion candidates by asking them to inter-dine with other Christians
who did not belong to the group with which they were allowed by tradition
to share a meal. Only 20 people agreed to do so; the others walked
out, and 7,000 converts in the area defected. This test is known
among Chhotanagpur Jesuits as “the Mistake”. And so, in 1892, Father
Haghenbeek wrote that the taboo on commensality was not strictly a “pagan”
practice, but merely an expression of “national sentiment and pride”, not
at all harmful even to Christians:
“On the contrary,
while proclaiming the equality of all men before God, we now tell them:
preserve your race pure, keep your customs, refrain from eating with Lohars
(blacksmiths), Turis (bamboo workers) and other
people of lower rank. To become good Christians, it (inter-dining)
is not required.”94
up, we find that the notion that the tribals have no caste distinctions
is mistaken.95 The Hindu caste society is
not antagonistic to tribal society, on the contrary, it is nothing but
tribal society at a more advanced and integrated stage, where tribes are
no longer self-contained societies but building-blocks of a much larger
and more complex society.
This is how Brahmins
integrated tribes into a larger Hindu society, according to the Marxist
historian D.D. Kosambi: “The tribe as a whole turned into a new peasant
jâti caste-group, generally ranked as Shudras, with as many
as possible of the previous institutions (including endogamy) brought over.
(…) The Brahmin often preserved tribal or local peasant jâti
customs and primitive lore in some special if modified form (…) This
procedure enabled Indian society to be formed out of many diverse and even
discordant elements, with the minimum use of violence.”96
What Kosambi says
is that the Brahmins did not impose the caste system, they found it ready-made
in its defining features of endogamy and commensality, and they blessed
it. The Indian caste system is the continuation
in agricultural and urban society of an ancient tribal institution.
Tribal endogamy was preserved when the tribal hunter-gatherer lifestyle
was surpassed because, as veteran India-watcher Girilal Jain told me: “In
India, nothing ever dies.”97
9.12. Temples and “animist shrines”
There exists a
profound continuity between literate Brahmanism and the illiterate “animism”
of the tribal communities which gradually joined Brahmanic society in the
past. Hinduism has been described, in the
introduction to a pre-independence Census Report (1901), as “animism more
or less transformed by philosophy, or to condense the epigram, as magic
tempered by metaphysics”.98 This
echoes what leading archaeologist S.R. Rao said about the Harappan religion,
“ranging from very elevated philosophical and ethical concepts down to
a crude animism”.99
even the secularists readily admit the continuity between Hinduism and
more primitive phases of Indian culture. Thus, one editorial asserts
about the Hindu festivals of Holi and Diwali: “These festivals, in fact,
are not really defined as Hindu. They are ancient events of the solar
calendar that predate Hinduism. The practice
of cremation, too, has come down from time immemorial and is not peculiarly
Hindu.”100 A more sympathetic way to make
this same point would be to admit that Holi, Diwali and the practice of
cremation are very Hindu (of course they are), and that consequently, Hinduism
in India stretches back to “times immemorial” and includes pre-Vedic or
During the Ayodhya
crisis, the secularists alleged that Hindus had demolished “animist shrines”
and replaced them with Hindu temples such as Jagannath Puri This has been
countered with reference to just this type of continuity, admitted in other
contexts by the secularists themselves. Apart from the fact that
“animists” usually didn’t build shrines but preferred worship in the open
air (just like the Vedic Aryans), mainly in sacred groves, research on
the spot is quoted as revealing a much more positive kind of interaction
between “animism” and Sanskritic Hinduism than violent replacement of one
by the other.
Girilal Jain quotes
a research volume about Puri: “The archaic iconography of the cult images
on the one hand and their highest Hindu iconology on the other as well
as the existence of former tribals (daitas)
and Vedic Brahmins amongst its priests are by no means an antithesis, but
a splendid regional synthesis of the local and the all-Indian tradition.”101 And
he comments: “The uninterrupted tribal-Hindu continuum finds its lasting
manifestation in the Jagannath cult of Puri.”102
After citing some
similar cases, Jain proposes to “clinch the issue” with a very telling
example: “The Lingaraja temple in Bhubaneswar, built in the eleventh century,
has two classes of priests: Brahmins and a class called Badus who are ranked
as Sudras and are said to be of tribal origin. Not only are Badus
priests of this important temple; they also remain in the most intimate
contact with the deity whose personal attendants they are. Only they
are allowed to bathe the Lingaraja and adorn him and at festival time (…)
only Badus may carry this movable image (…) the
deity was originally under a mango tree (…) The Badus are described by
the legend as tribals (sabaras) who originally inhabited the place
and worshipped the linga under the tree.”103
is, of course, a hoary tradition carried from very ancient cultures into
the centre of Hinduism. It is slightly absurd to accuse the linga-worshipping
Hindus of demolishing the shrines of linga-worshipping tribals to replace
them with temples for linga worship.
9.13. Hindu-tribal unity
Given the Hindu-tribal
continuity, Guru Golwalkar proposed that for the integration of tribals
and untouchables, one and the same formula applies: “They can be given
yajñopavîta (…) They should
be given equal rights and footings in the matter of religious rights, in
temple worship, in the study of Vedas, and in general, in all our social
and religious affairs. This is the only right solution for all the
problems of casteism found nowadays in our Hindu society.”104
RSS affiliate Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram is implementing this programme, adapting
its strategy to the local situations.105
In some cases, it will work for a full “sanskritization” as envisioned
by Golwalkar. The schools which RSS-affiliated organizations have
founded in tribal areas are thought of as new Vedic gurukulas, much
closer to the original Vedic lifestyle than any urban Hindu school could
offer, combining Sanskrit-centred education with the forest environment
in which rishi Valmiki flourished. This is sociologist Gérard
tribal schools, about a hundred in 1990, cater to an undemanding population,
and often the poorest section of it. (…) These children are made to live
like the ‘Vedic ancestors’, to which the vanavasis are supposed to have
remained closer. It is also in this framework of mission to the tribals
that the most traditional ideals of Hindu nationalism (power of the sage,
study of Sanskrit) are implemented most seriously. These
RSS schools have remained lacking in influence and prestige vis-à-vis
the Christian mission colleges with their infinitely larger financial support
In others situations,
the VKA will support a grass-roots tribal reaction against the Christian
missions, for the tribals have developed their own religious reform movements
since more than a century, such as the Bhili Bhagats, Tana Bhagats, Sapta
Hors and Haribaba. Though often adopting certain Christian elements,
particularly a prophet-centred millennarism, the contents of their reforms
can best be understood by comparison with the Arya Samaj, e.g. Jatra, the
Oraon founder of the so-called Tana Bhagat movement
(ca. 1920), told his followers to abstain from meat and alcohol, and enlisted
his movement in the national freedom struggle.”107
Birsa Munda, whose Munda rebellion started with attacks on mission posts
in 1899, claimed to have visions after the mode
of the Biblical prophets, but told his flock to give up animal sacrifice,
witchcraft and intoxication and to wear the sacred thread, all amounting
to a kind of self-sanskritization.108 While
such charismatic leaders come and go, the tradition of tribal nativism
continues, and the VKA seeks to channel it towards integration into a larger
For an example
of a grass-roots movement towards integration in Hinduism inspired by the
VKA: “A small village of Meghalaya, Smit, about 15 km away from the State
capital Shillong, witnessed a unique gathering on April 20 when about 20,000
Khasi tribals of the State took a pledge to protect and preserve their
traditional Sanatana Dharma. (…) The function was organised by the ‘Seng
Khasi Smit Circle’, a branch of ‘Seng Khasi Maukhar Organisation’ which
has branches in almost every village of Khasi and Jayantia hills. (…)
Speaking on the occasion Shri G.
L. Niyang of Jayantia hills said that he was offered many a time to adopt
Christianity but he refused because of inspirations from his Hindu brethren
who apprised him of the greatness of his religion.”109
The two main distinctions
breaking the cultural continuum between tribals and Hindus are these: the
former have no taboo on cow-slaughter, and they have a sexual morality
deemed loose by the Hindu middle class. As Gérard Heuzé
remarks, “the tribals are known as people who drink alcohol and eat meat,
sometimes even beef. They have, in this perspective,
lowly and ‘impure’ mores which call for upliftment.”110 G.S.
Ghurye has given an account of the rather vivid and varied sex life of
some tribals he knew personally, not too different from what you see in
the concrete jungles of American cities but quite repellent to middle-class
These are the
things which have made the tribal despised in the eyes of upper-caste Hindus
for centuries, but which they may well have in common with the Vedic Aryans.
It seems that the tribals, in their relative isolation, have missed the
development which changed the robust Vedic Aryans into the prudish, purity-obsessed
Hindus of recent centuries.
for sexual morality, Hindu society became a lot more prudish in several
waves, the last and most pervasive being the contact with the Christian
West in its Victorian phase.112 By trying
to whitewash the Vedic Aryans from the vices which modern scholarship has
imputed to them (including cow-slaughter) and strait-jacket them into the
fussy norms of modern Hinduism, Hindutva history-rewriters make the additional
mistake of cutting some of their common roots with the tribals.
9.14. BJP policies and the tribals
In a way, the
main problem for tribal-Hindu unity is the Hindus themselves. Whatever
arguments for tribal-Hindu kinship may have been considered above, most
urban BJP-voting Hindu businessmen generally don’t feel one with
the tribals, whom they only know from TV documentaries; they don’t feel
concerned. Therefore, Shrikant Talageri calls on his fellow Hindus
to change their outlook:
“On the Indian
front, [the Hindutva movement] should spearhead the revival, rejuvenation
and resurgence of Hinduism, which includes not only religious, spiritual
and cultural practices springing from Vedic or Sanskritic sources, but
from all other Indian sources independently of these: the practices
of the Andaman islanders and the (pre-Christian) Nagas are as Hindu in
the territorial sense, and Sanâtana in the spiritual sense,
as classical Sanskritic Hinduism. (…) A true Hindutvavâdî
should feel a pang of pain, and a desire to take positive action, not only
when he hears that the percentage of Hindus in the Indian population is
falling (…), or that Hindus are being discriminated against in almost every
respect, but also when he hears that the Andamanese races and languages
are becoming extinct; that vast tracts of forests, millions of years old,
are being wiped out forever (…); that innumerable
forms of arts and handicrafts, architectural styles, plant and animal species,
musical forms and musical instruments etc. are becoming extinct.”113
As for practical
politics, the BJP emphatically supports a number of tribal demands, e.g.
the creation of smaller states including statehood for the tribal areas
of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh: “We promise to carve
out Uttaranchal, Vananchal, Vidarbha and Chattisgarh and give them full
statehood. We will further consider setting up a Commission to examine
the formation of smaller States.”114 Shortly
after coming to power, the BJP did create the states of Uttaranchal, Vananchal
(but under the name Jharkhand favoured by the tribal movement for statehood)
and Chattisgarh. The separation of Vidarbha from Maharashtra was
blocked by the BJP’s alliance partner, the Shiv Sena, but may get its chance
in the future.
However, one important
tribal grievance presents more difficulties for the BJP: conservation of
the tribal habitat in places where dams may be built. The
Sangh Parivar counts many Gandhian proponents of environment-friendly “soft”
development among its office-bearers.115
Thus, the Tehri Dam is rejected because it is deemed seismically unsafe
and because it encroaches on the natural purity of the sacred Ganga river.
But there is also, mostly in the BJP, a strong no-nonsense wing of businessmen,
more or less the old (pro-Western, anti-socialist)
Swatantra Party constituency, which has no patience with such sentimentalism,
and refuses to “turn India into a conservation site”.116
Thus, the VHP president for the Mumbai region, Ashok Chowgule, owned (until
1998, when he sold it) a company which furnished cement to the Narmada
In this case,
the BJP’s consolation is that the other parties have no better deal to
offer: under any Government, rising population pressure is an objective
factor limiting the possibilities to conserve tribal habitats. Leftists
like Arundhati Roy may campaign all they want against the encroachment
on tribal land by developers, the various Leftist parties have a very similar
record in this regard whenever they have been in power. The objective
necessity of economic development is only one of the ways in which even
historically isolated tribes are moving closer to the mainstream, losing
what distinctively “tribal” characteristics the British census officers
had ascribed to them. To the extent that there exists a tribal identity,
new social realities militate against its preservation and cause its irrevocable
dissolution into the broader Hindu society.
Of all the traditions
discussed in this book, tribal “animism” is the only one which cannot be
described as an “offshoot” of Hinduism. Some tribal traditions may
be transformed borrowings from the Sanskritic tradition, but in most cases
they have developed in parallel with and separate from the Vedic tradition.
In that sense they date back to antiquity and perhaps even to pre-Vedic
times, though at that time-depth they may still have common roots with
the Sanskritic mainstream.
If we go by the
historical definition, the question whether tribals are Hindus is very
simple to answer: they are Indians but not prophetic-monotheists, so they
are Indian Pagans or Hindus. Moreover, typologically the tribal religions
are similar to the Vedic religion. They have many elements in common,
partly by distant common roots, partly by the integration of tribal elements
in the expanding literate Sanskritic civilization, and partly by the adoption
of elements from the Vedic-Puranic Great Tradition in the tribal Little
A first little
problem appears when we consider Savarkar’s definition: do tribals, who
have no ancestral or religious attachment to any place outside India, really
consider “India” as their Fatherland and Holyland? Savarkar seems
not to have thought the matter through, but obviously a separatist from
Nagaland could say that not India but only Nagaland is his Fatherland and
Holyland. The ancestors of the Nagas and of some other tribals never
performed the pilgrimage cycle around India, never employed priests from
the all-India Brahmin caste, never learned the all-India lingua franca,
Sanskrit, and never even listened to the all-India lore of the Hindu epics.
Their Fatherland and Holyland was effectively confined to their own part
of the tribal belt.
a case without ifs and buts could be made that “Sikhs are Hindus” or “Ramakrishnaites
are Hindus”, such a straightforward and simple claim cannot be made regarding
the tribals, at least not if we follow Savarkar’s definition, which breaks
down at this point.
If we consider
essentialist definitions, we find that tribal cultures have a lot in common
with Hinduism thus defined, including a strong sense of caste (endogamy,
commensality, in some cases even untouchability) and various doctrines
of reincarnation, as well as similarities in forms of polytheistic worship.
In many cases, cow slaughter is one element which sets them apart, but
only from classical Hinduism, not from older Vedic and pre-Vedic forms.
From a Christian
or Islamic viewpoint, any such differences between tribal “animism” and
Hinduism are purely academic, since by all accounts both religions belong
to the polytheistic and Pagan category. This does not nullify the
practical distance between many Hindus and many tribals, a cultural gap
which Hindu activists are working hard to bridge. In this effort,
they are greatly helped by the natural socioeconomic evolution which is
inexorably drawing the tribals into society’s mainstream and hence into
its predominant religion, Hinduism.
Savarkar: Hindu Rashtra Darshan. p.77.
Chatterjee: Hindu Nation, p.4. Doni-pollo is “sun & moon”
as the basic polarity of the cosmos as seen from Arunachal Pradesh, roughly
equivalent to Chinese yin & yang. The term Sarna “refers
to a grove of sal trees where the tribes of Chhotanagpur venerate their
God and their spirits. It is therefore the name of a sacred grove.
Today Sarna is used to designate the ancestral religion of these
tribes for which there is no specific term”, explains Y. Philip Barjo:
“The religious life of the Sarna tribes”, Indian Missiological Review,
June 1997, p.42
of the Constitution, and its amendments, vide P.M. Bakshi: The Constitution
of India, p.160-161, p.259-277.
Gupta: “The Numbers War”, Times of India, 10/12/1995, referring
to a 1974 report, Status of Women in India. The figures were
actually those of the 1961 census: “a 1961 study showed Hindus were more
polygamous (5.8 percent) than Ms (5.73 percent) (mainstream, 27-3-1993,
p.5)”, according to A. Bonner: Democracy in India, p.91. Note that
claims for the 1990s are based on figures from 1961, just six years after
polygamy had been prohibited by the 1955 Hindu Marriage Act, i.e. when
legally established Hindu polygamous households were still numerous, unlike
in the 1990s.
Mujahid: Conversion to Islam, p.132.
Mujahid: Conversion to Islam, p.132.
Mujahid: Conversion to Islam, p.132.
Palatty Koonathan: “The Religious World-view of the Oraons”, Sevartham
1994, p. 102. Hindi terminology and even Hindi as first language
is making big inroads in the tribal cultures of Chhotanagpur; even Christian
missionaries, though always accused of fomenting tribal separatism, are
opening Hindi-medium schools, a development which may lead to the loss
of the tribals’ linguistic identity.
Troisi: Tribal Religion, p.74.
Chatterjee: Indo-Aryan and Hindi(1960), p.56, quoted in Mahadev
Chakravarti: The concept of Rudra-Shiva through the Ages, p.69.
The “two races” are supposed to be the “Aryan invaders” and the “aboriginals”.
Gould: *Sacralization of a Social Order*, p,1, against the description
of certain Coorg rituals as “pre-Hindu” by M.N. Srinivas: *Religion and
Society among the Coorgs of South India*. Ofcourse, the very notion
of “pre-Hindu” is questionable.
about the attribution of monotheism to the Maori, see Jane Simpson: “Io
as supreme being: intellectual colonization of the Maori?”, History
of Religions, August 1997. She notes that since the 1920s, a
vast corpus has been created about “Io” as the supposed mono-God of the
Maori, and that lately, a native scholar and a missionary have jointly
challenged this notion as a projection, a colonial-age “textual artifact”
resulting from missionary influence.
M. Soares-Prabhu: Tribal Values in the Bible, p.99.
Soares: Truth Shall Prevail, p. 267. The Niyogi Committee
was a fact-finding committee in the tribal belt of eastern-central India
in the 1950s which criticized the missionaries for disturbing the social
life of the tribals with their proselytization. Its Report has been
republished by Voice of India: Vindicated by Time (1998).
Philip Barjo: “The religious life of the Sarna tribes”, Indian Missiological
Review, June 1997, p.46.
Troisi: Tribal Religion, p.75-79. The writer consistently uses the
term “Santal pantheon”, which is polytheistic enough.
Waterman: “Fakkeldraagsters in Manipur” (Dutch: “Female torchbearers in
Manipur”), India Nu (Utrecht), Jan. 1997. Far from being a
votary of Hindu nationalism, she advocates anti-Indian separatism in Manipur
and speaks of “annexation by India”, “Indian occupation” etc.
Robbemont: “Nationaal Park, verboden toegang” [Dutch: “National Park, No
Entry”], India Nu (Utrecht), Jan. 1997; emphasis added.
George M. soares-Prabhu: Tribal Values in the Bible, p.99.
Pupul Jayakar: The Earth Mother, and Johnson Vadakumchary: “The
Earth Mother and the Indigenous people of India”, Dharma, January
to Y. Philip Barjo (“The religious life of the Sarna tribes, Indian
Missiological Review, June 1997, p.47), “Sing Bonga’s purity demands
that he be offered sacrifices only of things that are white. Hence
he is given sacrifices of white goats, white fowls, white gulainchi flowers,
white cloth, sugar, milk etc.” The Indian preference for white-skinned
marriage partners (as attested in the matrimonial advertisements) is often
explained as a hold-over of the “race pride” of the “white Aryan invaders”
or, more historically, of the Turks and Englishmen, but Sing Bonga’s “aboriginal”
preference for white pushes the phenomenon farther back.
Golwalkar: Bunch of Thoughts, p.472. The verse is Gita 10:41.
i.e. Vishnu, of whom Krishna is considered an incarnation.
Jayakar: The Earth Mother, p.20-22.
Van Alphen: personal communication, May 1992. He related that the
report could not be published in India because the establishment refused
to acknowledge the continuity of their own religion with the despised tribal
culture (quite in contrast with the Hindutva position which affirms the
continuity between tribal and Vedic culture)
K. Ghosh and P.N. Hansda: “Encounter between Hindus and Santals”, *Journal
of Dharma*, April-June 1994, p. 194.
Kooiman: India, p.23.
Golwalkar: Bunch of Thoughts, p.471-472.
Jayaram: “Propitiating the snake”, Hindustan Times, 13-1-1990.
It is commonly assumed that the term nâga, along with its
cult, was borrowed from the “pre-Indo-European natives”; however, Bernard
Sergent (Genèse de l’Inde, p.482, n.607) points out, with
reference to Manfred Mayrhofer, that nâga might correspond
quite regularly to Germanic s-nake. On the other hand, the worship
of snakes is definitely rare in Indo-European cultures outside India, hence
probably of non-Indo-European origin.
Damodar Sapre: Hamâre Vanavâsî aur Kalyâna Ashrama
(Hindi: “Our Forest-Dwellers and the Well-Being Hermitage”), p.25.
the influential article by Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf: “Youth
dormitories and community-house in India”, Anthropos, 1951, p.119-144,
referred to e.g. in B. Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p-32.
Boon: India. Mensen, Politiek, Economie, Cultuur. Novib series,
The Hague 1997, p.11.
Philip: “Hindutva, the lexical way”, Indian Express, 8.3.99.
Philip: “Hindutva, the lexical way”, Indian Express, 8.3.99.
in C.H. Philips ed.: Select Documents on the History of India and Pakistan,
part IV, p.315.
the justice Party, founded in Madras in 1916 under British patronage, vide
S. Saraswathi: Minorities in Madras State, and especially P. Rajaraman:
Kooiman: India (Novib/NCOS), p.21. Likewise, in the French geographical
and anthropological periodical G6o, ca-1992, the tribals of Bastar were
called “les Indiens de l’Inde”, “India’s Indians”.
Bengali professor in the USA told me his story. When he left India
for the USA, his mother made him promise her that he would only marry an
Indian woman. He contracted a love marriage with a Native American,
a.k.a. “Indian”, so, in a way, he kept his promise. But his family
back home asked him: “What? Did you marry a Santal?”, spontaneously
equating the Santal tribals west of Kolkata with the Native Americans.
of the Soil”, Times of India editorial, 20-11-1993.
ancient Hindu culture as largely a silvan culture, see Thomas Parkhill:
Forest Setting in Hindu Epics.
Pandey: “Hindus and others: the Militant Hindu Construction”, Economical
and Political Weekly, 28/12/1991, p. 3003.
Talageri (Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism) argues for
the rather static view of history that all the present-day language groups
in India have covered roughly their present territory since pre-Harappan
days. In my opinion this is incorrect, but it shows at any rate that
he is not loath to recognize the Trials as indigenous populations, along
with the non-tribals.
Prof. Kisku: “Urgent Appeal to Adivasis Abroad”, India (bimonthly
of Shanti Darshan Belgo-Indian Association), April 1992. Kisku was
a member of the Lok Sabha in 1966-77 and a Minister in Mrs. Gandhi’s Cabinet
is, at any rate, not at all uncommon to read in Western media about tribal
areas as countries “occupied by India”. Thus, Wilco Brinkman, writing
of Manipur (“Manipur, een mini-staat”, India Nu, Utrecht, Jan. 1997),
speaks of an “Indian invasion” and about rice being “exported from Manipur
to India”, implying that India is a foreign country, and of “Indian colonial
in Dalit Voice, 1-6-1992
in Dalit Voice, 16-4-1992. Remark the falsity of the report’s
title: “André Béteille dupes SC/STs: says they are not indigenous
peoples”. Prof. Béteille never wrote that the Trials are non-indigenous,
he merely refused to exclude non-tribals from the “indigenous” category.
Voice, 16-4-1992. Dalit Voice claims that Prof. Béteille
had herewith “taken the ruling class line of argument”.
Béteille: “Colonial construction of tribe” (an old column of his
in Times of India), Chronicle of Our Time, p. 187.
Béteille: “Colonial construction of tribe”, Chronicle of Our
Arthashastra 9:2:13-20, Penguin edition, p. 685.
Walter et al.: “Investigations on the variability of blood group polymorphisms
among sixteen tribal populations from Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra,
India”, in Zeitschrift flr Morphologie und Anthropologie, Band 79
Heft 1 (1992).
Van Troy s.j.: The Prehistoric Context of the Coming of the Mundas to
the Ranchi Plateau. A Review. In Sevartham vol. 15, 1990,
asserted in the Encyclopaedia of Tamil Literature, vol.1, p.45,
and by A.L. Basham in his introduction to Deshpande & Hook: Aryan
and non-Aryan in South Asia (1979). This is supported also by
David McAlpin’s theory (argued in Deshpande & Hook: op.cit.)
of “Elamo-Dravidian”, originating in southern Iran. This theory,
as well as the “evidence” for Western origins of Dravidian constituted
by a Dravidian (Brahui) speech pocket in Baluchistan, is rejected by Bernard
Sergent (Genèse de l’Inde, p.45-84), but he offers other
indications for a non-Indian origin of Dravidian, linking it with Uralic
and even some African languages (though, if correct, the-se data could
equally support a scenario of Dravidian expansion from India).
van Alphen: “Adivasi”, India (Brussels), May 1993, p. 31.
Chinese language has a number of Austro-Asiatic loan-words, probably including
the “cyclical” characters, two series (of 10 and of 12) of numerals used
for counting hours, compass directions etc.
by J. Van Troy: “Coming of the Mundas”, Sevartham, 1990, p. 27 ff.
Fuchs: “Priests and Magicians in Aboriginal India”, Studia Missionalia,
vol.22 (1973), p.219.
an admirable synthesis of the evidence, see B. Sergent: Genèse
de l’Inde, p.85-96.
Béteille: “Colonial construction of tribe”, Chronicle of Our
Time, P. 189.
a re-examination of the Aryan Invasion Theory from a Hindu angle, vide
N.S. Rajaram & D. Frawley: Vedic Aryans; or G. Feuerstein, D.
Frawley & S. Kak: In Search of the Cradle of Civilization.
Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, p. 34, with
reference to S.K. Chatterji’s contribution to R.C. Majumdar, ed.: The
Vedic Age, Ch.8; emphasis in the original.
S.K. Chatterji: Balts and Aryans (1968). Latvia and Lithuania
were christianized as late as the 15th century, and never completely.
The last Romuva temple was destroyed in ca. 1790, and elements of the religion
survived in the countryside, now to make a come-back. The funeral
rites for the late Prof. Marija Gimbutas were according to Romuva
tradition. The religion acknowledges its close ties with Vedic Hinduism,
and in the diaspora (as in Chicago, where I met its regional spokesman
Audrius Dudzila), Romuva adherents regularly participate in Hindu
the truly Brahmanic (hence supposedly “Aryan”) member of the trimûrti
(i.e. Brahma, half-Aryan Vishnu and reputedly indigenous Shiva) is worshipped
in only one temple, in Pushkar, Rajasthan, in the original cradle-land
of Vedic culture.
Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, p.38.
Boon: India, Novib series, The Hague 1997, p.13. It is incidentally, reported
there (p.14-15) that the Portuguese word casta, “guild”, was first applied
to the Indian. jâtis by Garcia de Orta in 1563. otherwise,
the book makes all the conventional claims about caste, such as this popular
howler (p. 17): “For the untouchables and other backwards, it was very
difficult to escape the stranglehold of the caste system. (…) From the
11th century, however, more opportunities came about for breaking out of
the system, when Islamic peoples (…) streamed into South Asia.(…) many
Hindus converted to Islam, more for reasons of caste than by force from
Sergent: Genèse de l’Inde, p.402. Talageri himself (Aryan
Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, p.205 ff.) tries to prove the
same point regarding the Indo-Aryan vocabulary: that words usually explained
as loans from “aboriginal” languages have a demonstrable Indo-European
etymology, e.g. ibha, “elephant”, could be related to Latin ebur,
André van Lysebeth: Tantra, le cults de la féminité,
Verkuyl: De New Age Beweging, p.71.
Parkin: The Munda of Central India, p.222. This view is also known
in Sikhism and Buddhism, see e.g. Harcharan Singh Sobti: “Bhagat Trilochan:
A Study of the Last Wish and the Next Birth”, in K.K. Mittal: Karma
and Rebirth, p. 199-207.
Parkin: The Munda of Central India, p.222.
Ten Dam: Ring van Licht, p.45 ff.
Swarup: Hindu View of Christianity and Islam, p.47.
L. Hart, III: “The Theory of Reincarnation among the Tamils”, in Wendy
Doniger: Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, p. 116.
Ramanujan: “Is there an Indian way of thinking?”, in McKim Marriott: India
through Hindu Categories, p.44.
Ramanujan: “Is there an Indian way of thinking?”, in McKim Marriott: India
through Hindu Categories, p.44, with reference to research by Sheryl
Daniel. The belief in an imprint at birth is all the more compatible
with astrology, which sees the stellar configuration as the agent of this
imprint of fate. This basic postulate is again difficult to reconcile
with karma, yet astrology is immensely popular among Hindus.
Staal: Zin en Onzin, p. 15.
Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, p.40.
Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, p.40. There
is truth in this statement but there are some exceptions, e.g. Jawaharlal
Nehru, the godfather of secularism, made no compromise with casteism, then
marginally promoted by Socialists like Ram Manohar Lohia.
Burger: The Gaia Atlas of First Peoples, p. 50.
Ketkar: History of Caste, p.29.
De Mets: “Fiji’s choice”, Markant (Antwerp), 13-10-1994.
Raspoet: “Scheutist in Kongo”, De Morgen, 20-10-2001.
Kooiman: India, p.22.
von Fürer-Haimendorf: Tribes of India, p. 30.
von Fürer-Haimendorf: Tribes of India, p.218-219.
Topno: “Pati and Parha: Social Structure of the Munda”, Sevartham
1991 (1978), p.9.
Philip Barjo: “The religious life of the Sarna tribes”, Indian Missiological
Review, June 1997, p.43.
Troisi: Tribal Religion, p.227.
Troisi: Tribal Religion, p. 167.
Bouez: Réciprocité et hiérarchie. L’alliance
chez les Ho et les Santals de l’Inde, p.76. Bouez quotes the speech
of a village elder giving the rationality behind endogamy: the ancestors
will be angry if a girl marries outside the tribe and thereby deprives
them of her progeny, who would otherwise become part of the ancestors’
constituency of worshippers, feeding them in the hereafter through sacrifice.
Van Exem: “The Mistake, reviewed after a century”, Sevartham 1991,
Van Exem: “The Mistake”, p.87.
keeping with the anti-caste trend in society at large, some modern-educated
tribal youngsters now conclude love marriages with outsiders. In some cases,
viz. when Muslims are involved, “these marriages have often triggered communal
tension and violence in Chhotanagpur plateau”, according to Manoj Prasad:
“Stupid Cupid sees not caste, creed in Bihar”, 23-1-1994. Indian
Kosambi: Culture and Civilization of Ancient India, p. 172.
at Girilal Jain’s house in South Delhi, March 1990.
with approval by Premchand Roychand: Ethnic Elements in Ancient Hinduism,
in A. Van Lysebeth: Tantra, p. 19.
with kindness: The VHP’s conversion programme betrays bad faith”, Indian
Eschmann, H. Kulke and G.C. Tripathi, eds.: The Cult of Jagannath,
p.xv, quoted in G. Jain: The Hindu Phenomenon, p.23.
Jain: The Hindu Phenomenon, p. 23.
Jain: The Hindu Phenomenon, p. 24, with reference to Eschmann, Kulke
and Tripathi, eds.: Cult of Jagannath, p.97.
Golwalkar: Bunch of Thoughts, p.479. Yajñopavîta:
the sacred thread given during Vedic initiation.
regularly reports on Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram activities, e.g. Prakash Kamath:
“Serving vanvasis is our national duty”, Organiser, 14-12-1997, or Pramod
Kumar: “VKA vows to curb anti-national activities in N-E States”, Organiser,
Heuzé: Où va l’Inde moderne? p. 141.
A. Tirkey: “Evangelization among the Uraons”, Indian Missiological Review,
June 1997, esp. p. 30-32. Tana means “pull out”, a cry uttered during
Heuzé (Où va l’Inde moderne? p. 1 33) aptly notes
that the tribal rebellions of the 19th century, such as the 1830 Kol movement,
the 1855 Santal Hoot and the 1899 Birsa rebellion, were incorporated
by the Freedom Movement in its vision of a native tradition of struggle
against foreign invaders (embodying “the authentic spirit of the nation”),
though in fact, exploitation by native (Hindu and Muslim) landlords and
money-lenders had also played a role in provoking the tribals into rebellion.
Tribals pledge to protect Sanatana Dharma”, Organiser 25-51997.
About the relation with the missions, Niyang “pointed out that the new
generation, especially the school children, are confounded whether to be
a Christian or remain Hindu as the teachers in their schools want to convert
them into Christianity and their family members decide against it”.
Heuzé: Où va l’Inde moderne?, p. 140-141.
Ghurye: The Scheduled Tribes, p.60 ff.
bawdy Vedic hymns (e.g. the duet of sage Agastya and his wife Lopamudra,
who implores him to have intercourse with her more often, Rigveda 1:179;
similarly RV 1:126:6-7, a love song fragment by Svanaya and his wife Romasha;
and RV 10:61:5-8; in Ralph Griffith’s translation, Hymns of the Rigveda,
p.652-653, these passages are put in appendix and in Latin rather than
English translation because of their explicit language) and Vatsyayana’s
Kama Sutra are evidence enough that the quasi-Victorian morality codes
of modern middle-class Hindus diverge widely from Vedic and even post-Vedic
Talageri in S.R. Goel (ed.): Time for Stock-Taking, p.227-228.
Election Manifesto 1996, p.10. Likewise Balraj Madhok’s plea for
smaller states: “Re-draw India’s Political Map!”, India Worldwide,
Deshmukh’s work concerning indigenous forms of “development” including
such innovations as the “rural university” (see Manthan, April 1997)
is a case in point. Deshmukh has said: “My ideal is not Raja Ram
but Vanvasi Ram” (“Nanaji Deshmukh felicitated for national service”, Organiser,
9-2-1997). Vide also Ram Swarup: Gandhian Economics.
India’s leading environmentalist Maneka Gandhi has been the Environment
Minister in successive BJP-dominated governments.
Dasgupta: “Green Terrorism”, Sunday, 5-6-1992.
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