Statesman News Service
BHUBANESWAR, INDIA, April 5, 2005: Are tribals Hindus? -- This contentious issue has been debated in the State Assembly today. And interestingly the participant members -- mostly tribals -- were divided over the issue. While a section of the members claimed that the tribals were a part of the Hindu society, another section argued to the contrary. Even a BJP member differed from the rest of the party which asserted that tribals were Hindus. Raising the issue during the zero hour, ruling BJP member Mr. Pradeep Maharathy, said a recently-retired High Court judge, Mr. Justice M. Papanna had observed at a seminar held at Gunupur Engineering College that the tribals were not Hindus. Such a view had hurt the sentiment of tribals, said Mr. Maharathy. Expressing his concern and anguish, BJP member Mr. Bharat Paik, who is himself a tribal, said such statement would create a division in the society and also hamper communal harmony. Condemning the view, Mr. Dharmu Gond of the BJP argued that tribals are Hindu. Jagannath cult and tribal culture have integral links, he said. The Gond community to which he belongs, worships Lord Siva, Goddess Parvati and Lord Ganesh.
HPI adds: Hindus should be aware of the importance of this discussion on the religious classification of India's tribal populations. It first came to our attention when the second edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia was published with its exhaustive population statistics for every nation. In the first edition, the tribals were included under Hinduism. In the second, they were broken out. The political motivation for this, aside from reducing the number of Hindus worldwide, appears to be in putting Hindu efforts with the tribals on the same footing as Christian conversion efforts. Now the claim is that the tribals have their own religion, and the Christians trying to convert them are no different from the Hindu efforts to bring tribals more into mainstream Hinduism.