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Does Gujarat government believe tribals are not Hindus? A recent official order seeks to say exactly this

By Our Representative
If you are a Hindu, you are not a tribal, or vice versa. This is the gist of a recent order, issued by the Gujarat government, which “denotified” the Rathvas as a tribe “ostensibly because their school records show them to be Hindus”. The little-known fact has failed to attract any attention beyond the tribal belt of newly-formed Chhota Udepur district of South Gujarat, says a recent report in a top research journal (click HERE) by Arjun Rathva, a tribal activist, in association with two Central University of Gujarat scholars – Dhananjan Ray and N Rajaram.
The scholars say, “What makes the move ominous is that the Chhota Udepur region inhabited by the Rathvas is mineral-rich and laws that protect adivasi rights come in the way of corporate exploitation of these resources. The order could also set a precedent to threaten adivasis elsewhere who protest against the loot of natural resources in their areas.”
The order, say the scholars, has led to some consternation in the eastern tribal belt of Gujarat, where tribals constitute 15% of its population. According to them, “This move is bound not only to hamper the constitutional protection extended to the various adivasi groups across India, but also to pave the way for further displacement and exploitation of natural resources in Chhota Udepur… The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution categorically specifies the role of the state in respect of the scheduled areas and scheduled tribes (STs).” The governors of nine states listed under it “regulate land transfer, allotment and business activities in the scheduled areas”.
These states include Gujarat, and specific talukas of such districts like Valsad, the Dangs, Surat, Bharuch, undivided Panchmahal, undivided Vadodara, and undivided Sabarkantha come under the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) 1996, which empowers adivasis “through gram sabhas to manage natural resources at the village level”, the scholars say.
The order of October 2013, which cancelled the status of 11 government employees who are from the Rathva community, is based a government resolution (GR) of 2010, which says that Rathvas cannot be called tribal because they are registered as Hindus. The Gujarat government also cancelled the jobs offered to 25 persons from the community after due completion of the selection process.
At present, the Rathvas can contest elections to all seats reserved for adivasis ranging from that for sarpanch, to membership of taluka, district panchayats, assembly and Parliament. “It is possible that the order will abolish this right. This order gives the state government further powers to denotify adivasi groups that take part in resistance struggles against corporate loot through undemocratic processes”, the scholars say.
According to the scholars, the state government’s justification for the order is, “the Rathvas categorically stated their religion as Hindu in the school registers. The argument is that the Rathvas cannot be Hindu if they are adivasis. This argument can be extended to other adivasis in Gujarat who declare themselves as Hindu in the school records. By implication, adivasis are not or cannot be Hindu. The official letter further states that the information given in the school records is sufficient proof to declare the Rathvas as non-adivasis.”
The scholars point out, “In Gujarat, as elsewhere, adivasis do describe themselves as Hindus. Moreover, following Independence the state government described the Rathvas as Rathva (Hindu) in its documents and in educational records through schools and this has been an unwritten norm. There is hardly any evidence to suggest that the adivasis asked the state to describe them as Rathva (Hindu). Besides, in the period soon after Independence the adivasis showed a literacy rate of 0.5% thus making it clear that they had hardly any say regarding the nomenclature to describe them.”
Currently, Rathvas form a sizeable group. As per records of 2001 Census, quoted by the scholars, the Rathvas constitute the fifth largest group of STs in Gujarat, comprising 7.2% of the total ST population. “The Gujarat government has gone ahead and taken a decision that will significantly affect the fate of seven lakh adivasis”, the scholars say, adding, “This leads us to arrive at the following conclusions: (a) the state government’s action is not transparent; (b) the sudden denotification without authentic evidence will invariably lead to corporate loot of the mineral-rich Chhota Udepur region.”
“According to one description”, the scholars say, “Chhota Udepur encompasses “a rich forest area of 75,704 hectares, 5.39 lakh tonnes of dolomite, 52,000 tonnes of fluorite, 90.77 lakh tonnes of sand, 4,000 tonnes of granite”. They believed, “The process of denotifying adivasis has begun with the Rathvas but eventually could lead to many other adivasi communities suffering the same fate.”
One of the scholars, Arjun Rathwa, told Counterview that while the Gujarat government has “suspended” the order following opposition to it in the tribal belt, the GR of 2010 on disqualifying the Rathvas remains in force. “Until this is cancelled, it is not possible to say that the state government is serious in its intention”, he said.

Comments

In madhya pradesh also all tribals are put in Hindu category in schools, population surveys and other forms. This should serve as a lesson to tribal cultural organisations to take up this demand seriously of making a column for tribal religion and also spread awareness amongst tribals to insist on not writing the religion as Hindu.
MANIK KAURATHI said…
भारत के सभी मुलनिवासीयोंने इस पर मनन / चिंतन करना अब आवश्क है ।
अगर वे हिंदु,ईसाई,मुस्लीम इ.हो तो मुलनिवासी
नही,और मुलनिवासीहो तो अन्य धर्मावलंबी नही हो सकते ,आपका अपना खुद का मुल धर्म है !
जय सेवा.....!
Mahesh Vasava said…
Jago mere adivasi bhaio usse pehle Kim ye log apna nemo Nissan mita de Marta dam tak apne adhikaro ke lie ladna padege mere bhaio

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