No ‘outside festivals’ allowed, nod required for religious activities: Tribal-majority Bastar village’s diktat sparks row

The New Indian Express | March 20, 2023

The Ransargipal gram sabha directs Adivasis not to work in the fields of Hindus and Christians, says Christians cannot bury their dead in the village; the objective is to protect “tribal traditions, culture”, it claims.

In the tribal majority Bastar district of Chhattisgarh, a gram sabha has passed a resolution prohibiting the celebration of “outside festivals” and mandating that its permission be sought for any religious activity. The resolution passed by the gram sabha of Ransargipal village also directs Adivasis not to work in the fields of Hindus and Christians.

The resolution, dated March 15, claims that due to Hindu and Christian preachers, Adivasi people are converting and tribal traditions, culture, and clothing are being lost. It goes on to say that permission will be required for any religious activity, government development project or trading activity, and that the gram sabha can take action against any outsider who preaches any religion. All important activities such as the naming of a child, marriage and prayers will be carried out in accordance with village authorities such as the gaita, who performs tribal rituals.

Christians cannot bury their dead in the village, according to the directive. Those who break the rule will be made to leave the village, states the resolution.

A senior government official from Bastar district said, “The resolution has no legal standing. We will act if there’s any discrimination based on religion. It seems like the resolution is aimed at conversion.”

Chhattisgarh Christian Forum president Arun Pannalal said, “Where is their freedom of religion? Is the PESA (Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996) law bigger than the Constitution?”

chhattisgarh order bastar Those who break the rule will be made to leave the village, states the resolution. (Express)

chhattisgarh order bastar Those who break the rule will be made to leave the village, states the resolution. (Express)
Former Union Minister Arvind Netam (80), a tribal leader from Bastar, said, “Such conflicts are happening because the tribals are frustrated with the government over a long time. We took a lot of effort to legislate PESA in 1996, which is the most important law for tribals today. But it was never implemented honestly, hence this reaction. The conversion issue is heating up because all previous governments have failed to work in the health and education sectors. The (Christian) missionaries are working for the health and education of tribals. The conversions take place due to ignorance of all three political parties — Congress, BJP and the Left — as well as poverty and illiteracy among tribals.”

But, the Sarva Adivasi Samaj, which represents a majority of tribals, came out in support of the resolution. The Samaj’s secretary, Vinod Nagvanshi, said, “The villagers are trying to protect their identity within the limits of the rights given to them by the Indian Constitution. The political powers in the state will have to contemplate on the issue of protecting tribal culture and identity before acting against the resolution.”

Former minister Kedar Kashyap of the BJP said, “I read the resolution. The Congress is supporting the missionaries and when our samaj people protest against this issue and some incident takes place, our people are sent to jail. So fear is getting created as the Congress government has crushed the tribal identity and hence you see such a resolution against Christians as well as Hindus.”

Asked why Adivasis were also distancing themselves from Hindus in their resolution, Kashyap said, “No, they are not distancing themselves from Hindus. But right now they are trying to save their identity. First, they want to get rid of conversion, then they can think of Hindu (samaj) or any other Samaj.”

Religious conversion has emerged as one of the hot-button issues in Chhattisgarh in recent months, with the BJP accusing the Bhupesh Baghel-led Congress government of turning a blind eye to “a conversion drive” to Christianity in the state. In January, Narayanpur district was rocked by violence against Christians after which the Baghel government instructed district magistrates to use the National Security Act (NSA), if needed, to maintain communal harmony. The Opposition party has yet to react to the Ransargipal village resolution.