In the socio-religio-political context of post-1990 India, the term gharvapasi (lit. homecoming) refers to the return to the mother Hindu society of individuals, families or communities who had broken away from it. Specifically, it refers to the return to the Hindu fold of Muslims or Christians who have Hindu ancestry. The term refers both to the process and the act of homecoming. Terms such as Shuddhi (lit. purification) and paravartan (lit. reversion) are also used to describe this phenomenon. While the terms gharvapasi and paravartan are contextual synonyms, the scope of the word Shuddhi is broader, as it could also mean the first entry into the Hindu fold of individuals or communities who were historically non-Hindu.
The importance of gharvapasi has been implied by Swami Vivekananda (“every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more”), Veer Savarkar (“change of religion is tantamount to change in nationality”) and third Sarsanghchalak M.D. (Balasaheb) Deoras (“those parts of the country where Hindus are reduced to a minority break away”). The process has scriptural basis and historical precedent. In fact, gharvapasi was initiated by the intrepid Hindus close on the heels of the first Islamic invasion and was continued even in the dark days of Firuz Shah Tughluq, Sikandar Lodi, Aurangzeb and the Portuguese. No Hindu community remained immune to the forcible abduction of their kith and kin into the enemy camp. The process of gharvapasi has been championed from Kashmir to Malabar and from Saurashtra to Jessore by sages and saints, kings and commoners; social reformers and political leaders; organizations and individuals; indeed, the finest of the Hindu race have espoused or effected Gharvapasi.
Freedom of a country ought not to be limited to freedom of its land but more importantly ought to extend to its people. Freedom of the people ought not to be merely political and economic but also social and religious. In the words of the second Sarsanghchalak M.S. Golwalkar (Shri Guruji), “The foreign invader not only subjugated them (converts) politically and culturally but ultimately converted them to his faith. That too is foreign domination. There are political, economic and cultural dominations and this is religious domination… it is our duty to call these, our forlorn brothers, suffering under religious slavery for centuries, back to their ancestral home. As honest freedom loving men, let them overthrow all signs of slavery and domination and follow the ancestral ways of devotion and national life. All types of slavery are repugnant to our nature and should be given up. This is a call for all those brothers to take their original place in our national life…there is no compulsion here. This is only a call and request to them to understand things properly and come back and identify themselves with their ancestral Hindu way of life in dress, customs, performing marriage ceremony and funeral rites and such other things.”
The term Shuddhi is used by Arya Samaj (which has played a stellar role in this field) and Masurashram while the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) uses the term paravartan. The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (hereafter Sangh) use the term Gharvapasi.
The present article examines the role of the VHP and the Sangh in the gharvapasi movement over the last four decades. The gharvapasi of one Muslim and Christian community each by the VHP and the Sangh respectively will be described as illustrative examples.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad and paravartan
Right from its inception in 1964, the VHP has kept paravartan as its objective. At a VHP-organized Vidwat Sabha (lit. Assembly of the Learned) held on 26-28 March 1967 in Madras (now Chennai), Shankaracharya of Dwarka Peeth Abhinav Sacchidanand Teerth, Swami Vishwesh Teerth of Pejawar Mutt and other dharmacharyas (lit. teachers of Dharma) unanimously approved the paravartan sanskar (lit. rite of reversion). This was followed in the same year by paravartan of 176 Christian families of village Idinthakarai (dist. Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu). Large number of converted people were brought back in VHP-conducted programmes in Nashik, Dhule and Pune districts of Maharashtra (around 10,000 from 1983-1991), Phulbani in Odisha (around 21,000 over 8 months in 1985); Nalgonda, Karimnagar, Mehboobnagar, Warangal, Rajamahendri, Khammam, Mallipattinam, Taddanpally, Nellore in Andhra Pradesh (around 34,000 from 1987-1993); Raipur district now in Chhattisgarh (around 1000 in 1991) and Mandla in Madhya Pradesh (around 2500 Christian Gonds in 1995).
Beawar Seva Pariyojana
The oldest-running and probably the largest gharvapasi project run by the VHP is the Beawar Seva Pariyojana (lit. Beawar Service Project) with its headquarters in Beawar (dist. Ajmer, Rajasthan).
Geographical area: The approximately 120 sq.km upland region of Magra-Merwada in Central Rajasthan, adjacent to the Aravalli mountain range and extending from village Narwar (dist. Ajmer) to village Dewair or Dawer (dist. Rajsamand) with Beawar (dist. Ajmer) as its epicentre is the area of service activity. The Government of Rajasthan includes 1715 villages with a total of 16 panchayat committees of the five districts of Ajmer, Bhilwara, Chittorgarh, Rajsamand and Pali in the Magra region. The Beawar Seva Pariyojana focuses on 578 villages in nine tehsils in the four districts of Ajmer, Bhilwara, Rajsamand and Pali. The word Merwada literally means abode of the Mers who historically formed the dominant social group in the region.
Communities: The Chauhan vanshiya Kshatriyas or Kshatriyas of the Chauhan lineage (rulers from 6th to 12th centuries) in the Magra-Merwada region form the focus of service activity. Tracing their lineage to Prithviraj Chauhan (born c.1166- died 1192), they include Rawat, Merat (Mehrat), Kathat and Chita communities. The Chita Mehrat community is around 10 lakhs strong and spread over Ajmer, Bhilwara, Pali and Rajsamand districts.
Briefly, Jodh Lakhan, a son of Prithviraj Chauhan married a girl of the Mina community and had two sons named Anhul (or Anangapal) and Anup (or Anib). The Chitas (or Chita Thakurs) have descended from Anhul while the Barars (Barads) have descended from Anup. The term Merat which is generally used as synonymous with Muslim Mer, is a patronymic derived from Mera, who was a Chita in the reign of Babar. Harraj, a grandson of Mera became a convert to Islam and became known as Katha. He is said to be the progenitor of the Kathat Merats who largely inhabit villages in the north and east of Beawar tehsil as well as villages in Ajmer. Harraj’s brother Gora who remained Hindu is progenitor of the Gorats who largely inhabit villages in the center and south-west of Beawar tehsil and northern part of Todgarh tehsil. The Barars or the descendants of Anup prefer to call themselves Rawats rather than Mers. They are largely concentrated in Todgarh tehsil and Kali Kankar, Sendra (Sendada), Bailan and Khera Sangnotan villages of Beawar tehsil.
The social customs of the converted Kshatriyas of the Chauhan lineage are largely Hindu to this day. Essentially, the converts have adopted three Islamic practices of dafan (burial), Khatna (circumcision) and Zabiha (eating halal). The names, marriage rituals and dressing styles are practiced according to whether they follow Hindu Dharma or Islam.
Previous Efforts towards Shuddhi
Even as the country was on the threshold of freedom, the Alwar Arya Samaj reclaimed around 40,000 Meo Rajput Muslims back to the Hindu fold in July 1947. Against this backdrop, the Arya Samaj now focused on the Chita, Mer and Rawat Muslims of Alwar. On 12 October 1947, a huge Shuddhi Sammmelan (Purification convention) was held at village Sendada (Pali) under the President ship of Rao Raja Ganpat Singh of Kharwa (dist. Ajmer). Thousands of Chitas and Merats from surrounding villages attended. The convention was addressed among others, by Kunwar Chand Karan Sharda (Pradhan, Arya Pratinidhi Sabha Rajasthan), Pt. Ram Sahay Sharma, Pt. Bhagwati Prasad Abhay and Kunwar Mohar Singh. The convention was also attended by Arya Samaj workers of Beawar such as Swami Sachhidanand, Pt. Ravidatt Vaidya and Jaidev Dhoot. On 30 October 1947, a similar convention was held at the same village under the Presidentship of H.H. Maharaja of Jodhpur Hanwant Singh Rathore. He announced a warm welcome to Chitas, Merats and Rawats of the region back to the Kshatriya fold. Prominent attendees included Arya Samaj leaders Pt. Jiya Lal, Pt. Ramesh Chandra Shastri and Swami Madhavanad who was Rajguru (royal Preceptor). The first homecoming of Mer Rajputs probably occurred in 10 to 15 villages of Bhim Tehsil (Dist. Udaipur) in 1947.
On 19 January 1975, the Chauhan Rajput Sabha held a meeting at Kana Khera (dist. Ajmer) which was attended by Hindu Chauhan Rajput heads of several villages. In its resolution, it appealed to the Muslim Chauhan Mers to abide by the following decisions of the Sabha:
1. Circumcision should be done away with.
2. Keeping in mind the glory of our caste, the marriages of our children should be performed in Hindu style by circumbulation of fire.
3. On the death of any Chauhan, no fakir (Muslim mendicant) should be called and nor should the Fatiha (the short first chapter of the Quran which is an essential part of Muslim ritual prayer) be recited.
4. since we are the descendants of Prithviraj Chauhan, to maintain the glory of our caste, we should give our children only Hindu titles and surnames such as Singh, Raj, Chand, Kumar, Lal, Ram etc.
The gharvapasi carried out by the VHP in this project is referred to as Sanskritic deeksha (lit. cultural ordination). The word Seva (service) in the gharvapasi project refers to the objective of holistic transformation of the ordained individuals and communities. A person is considered to have returned to the Hindu fold if he abandons the two Islamic practices of Nikah and burial of the dead and rather marries according to Hindu rituals or has his dead body consigned to the flames. Even if a person undergoes circumcision or has a Muslim name but abandons the two key Islamic practices mentioned, he would be still considered a Hindu. Thus, gharvapasi may not be an abrupt or absolute phenomenon and those performing it may not abandon their non-Hindu practices at the next instant. Rather, gradual de- Islamization or de-Christianization as the case may be, may sometimes be the starting point for total Hinduization.
The milestones in this project may be briefly enumerated as follows:
- 1. The Beawar Seva Pariyojana commenced in 1977 when Pt. Ravidatt Vaidya met senior VHP worker Mohan Joshi at the instance of one Gargia of Jodhpur. Pt. Ravidatt Vaidya and Bhagwandas Heda gave detailed information to Joshi about these so-called Muslim communities.
- 2. Thanks to the untiring efforts of Mohan Joshi and local workers, the first Sanskritic deeksha programme was held on 11 September 1980 (birth anniversary of Baba Ramdev, a 14th century mystic revered by Hindus and Muslims) was held at village Khare Khadi (dist. Ajmer). The programme, which was supported by Sarpanch Nathu Singh saw 1500 brethren from 300 families receiving deeksha.
- 3. From 1984 to 1992, Mohan Joshi was in charge of the project. It was during this period that Arjun Singh Sojal (Pali) and Thakur Kubera Singh gave up their jobs and became the first two purnakalik karyakartas (lit. fulltime workers; in Sangh or VHP parlance, a purnakalik karyakarta may be of either gender, of any marital status, is expected to travel for the assigned work for at least 20 days in a month and is given a monthly subsistence to cover basic expenses; a purnakalik is to be distinguished from a pracharak who is celibate, unpaid and does nothing else but Sangh or VHP work at the organization’s bidding for at least two years in a lifetime). Sanskritic deeksha programmes were conducted at Ajaysar, Dhola Danta, Rudlai, Naya Badiya, Surajpura and other villages. A temple dedicated to Ashapura Mata, the patron deity of the Chauhans came up in village Kol pura (Dist. Pali). A hostel was started in village Masuda (Dist. Ajmer).
- 4. From 1984 to 1992, Uma Shankar Sharma was in charge of the project. Contact was established in new villages. Screening of films on Prithviraj Chauhan and other subjects was started in different villages using mobile film projectors. A Shiva temple that was to serve as an activity hub was consecrated at village Chang (dist. Pali).
- 5. From 1994 to 1995, Surendra Singh was in charge of the project. The construction of the Ashapura Mata Mandir and the Hindu Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan Chhatrawas Bhavan (hostel), Beawar were completed in 1995. The hostel has become a Centre for imparting education and moral values to students from backward areas of the region.
- 6. On 26 June 1999, vegetable seeds were freely distributed to around 5000 people of different villages. From 1999-2000, Sanskritic deeksha programmes, Satsangs (spiritual preaching) and sports tournaments were conducted at several villages. Purnakalik karyakartas from the communities in focus such as Doong Singh, Hazari Singh, Ana Singh, Lal Singh, Uday Singh played a major role in these programmes. An Akhand Jyoti Rath (lit. chariot with perpetual flame) was started at the famed Ashapura Mata Mandir, Nadol (consecrated 973 C.E.). This chariot traversed several villages in the Magra-Merwada region spreading the message of protection of Dharma.
- 7. On 10 February 2000 (Basant Panchami), Ashapura Mata Mandir in Beawar was consecrated in the presence of around 50,000 people. Prominent attendees included International Working President of VHP Ashok Singhal, Sadhvi Rithambhara and Swami Satyamitranand Giri.
- 8. In 2001, training in recitation of Shri Ram Katha, Shri Krishna Katha was imparted to some individuals in Ayodhya, Mathura and Beawar. Thirteen busloads of newly ordained Hindus participated in a Hindu Sammelan in Prayag from 11-13 February 2001 and visited other places of pilgrimage.
- 9. From 2002 to 2005, Jugal Kishore was in charge of the project. A mobile medical van was started. Education of boys and girls in the 5 to14 years age group who had been deprived of education was started through the setting up of 90 Ekal Vidyalayas (one-teacher schools). To strengthen Hindu values, 67 Mandir sanskar kendras (temple-affiliated value centers) were established. Newly ordained Hindus from communities in focus were appointed as priests. They receive training each year. Temples dedicated to Baba Ramdev were established in Bariya Heera, Masuda and Rajiyawas. A Trisula deeksha (lit. trident ordination) programme was conducted on 12 January 2003. Copies of Ram Charit Manas were distributed in a programme graced by Ashok Singhal on 15 February 2004 in Andheri Deori village, Shekhawas, Rajwa, Bharatwa, Kalinjar, Sarveena, Ateetmand, Khapri and other villages. These have subsequently become higher secondary schools. Sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan participated in a Dharma Raksha Yagna on 18 April 2005.
- 10. From 2005 to 2009, Gulab Singh was in charge of the project. A sacred flame brought from Vaishno Devi was merged into the flame of the Ashapura Mata Mandir, Beawar on 5 October 2005 in the presence of senior Sangh worker Indresh Kumar. Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Ashok Singhal, Sant Raghavacharya (Revasa) graced the programme held on 16 June 2006 to unveil the huge statue of Prithviraj Chauhan in the premises of Ashapura Mata Mandir, Beawar. A similar statue was installed at Dev Kheda village. The birth anniversary of Prithviraj Chauhan is now celebrated with great fanfare at various locations with Magra Merwada Chita Mehrat Mahasabha ensuring full participation. Quiz programmes on Chauhan’s life are conducted in different schools. Worship of Ram shilas was conducted at 200 villages from 23 November to 15 December 2007. A two-month long Rath yatra of Baba Ramdev reached around 300 villages in which around 1,00,000 people participated. A computer training center was started in the hostel premises in 2007.
- 11. From 2009, Laxmi Narayan was in charge of the project. In association with Nari Shakti Manch, sewing and beautician training classes were started for women. Large conventions of women and youth were conducted in 2010. From 2012 onwards, gatherings of ex-servicemen of Magra region are conducted. On 5 February 2010, around 6000 women participated in the Gangajal Kalash Yatra to mark ten years of the consecration of Ashapura Mandir, Beawar. Gatherings of Bhajan singers are regularly conducted. Weekly or monthly meetings of Bhajan singers are conducted at 110 places as of 2014. A gathering of Vanshavali (lit. lineage) writers was conducted in 2010 in which 55 participated.
- 12. As of 2014, a total of 73,508 individuals from 13,539 families have received Sanskritic Deeksha conducted in 399 programmes. Currently, umashankar Sharma is in charge of the project.
In response to the VHP efforts, Islamic organizations such as the Jamiyat-Ul-Ulema-i- Hind (JUH), Rajasthan Dini Talimi Sangh and Muslim United Forum of Pali stepped up efforts to bring back the Mers to Islam. In 1983, Muslim politician Syed Shahabuddin wrote to the government seeking its opinion on the matter. In response, the Home Ministry in its letter dated 29 December 1983 to Shahabuddin opined that the Chita- Merats who had come under the influence of the VHP had only thereby “re-affirmed their faith in Hinduism”. The JUH, Tablighi Jamaat and the Hyderabad-based Tamir-e- Millat have set up numerous madrassas and mosques.
Muslim politicians are trying to facilitate the Islamization of these communities. Accusing the Rajasthan Minority Welfare Minister Shale Mohammed of promoting religious conversion, the Opposition BJP staged a walkout from the State Assembly on 7 March 2022. The leader of Opposition Gulabchand Kataria and BJP MLA Shankar Singh Rawat raised the issue in the Assembly and alleged that the Minister had written a letter to the Collector and ordered to issue minority certificate to people belonging to Chita, Merat and Kath castes on basis of OBC certificate or affidavit. It was alleged that the Minister had written a letter to the Collector and ordered to issue minority certificate to people belonging to Chita, Merat and Kath castes on basis of OBC certificate or affidavit. It was alleged that efforts were being made to get children admitted to hostels by luring them to convert. A lack of material advantage in becoming Hindu may adverse impact on Gharvapasi on the ground. While Government policies may not directly impact Gharvapasi, they certainly may have an indirect impact for better or for worse.
While the Sangh founder Dr. Hedgewar himself performed Shuddhi in 1931, the Sangh as an organization included gharvapasi as its activity (gatividhi in Sangh parlance) in 1996 with the formation of the Dharmajagran Samanvay (lit. Dharmic awakening coordination). Largely conceived by then Sarkaryavah H.V. Seshadri, this activity has been led at an all-India level by veteran pracharak Sohan Singh (1996-2000), Vishwanath (2001-2005), Mukund Panshikar (2006-2015) and Sharad Dhole (2015 to date). While any Sangh activity is collective and progressively unfolding, the Dharmajagran Samanvay owes its present shape and form largely to the uncommon vision of Panshikar.
The objective of Dharmajagran Samanvay is two-fold viz. to stop conversion of Hindus and to bring about homecoming of converted Hindus. The activity rests on the four pillars of Hindu jagao, Hindu bachao, Hindu badhao and Hindu basao (lit. awaken Hindus, save Hindus, expand Hindus and settle Hindus). The aspects (ayam in Sangh parlance) of this activity include pariyojana (lit. project), nidhi (lit. fund), vidhi (lit. law), prashasan sampark (contact with administration) and Sanskriti (lit. culture; refers to engagement of religious figures). The word pariyojana refers to planned, concentrated and persistent work in sensitive (sanvedanshil in Sangh parlance) communities or geographical areas and could be Muslim or Christian. Fund-raising and account- keeping are essential aspects. Educating workers on legal aspects of conversion and gharvapasi is vital. Contact with administration at different levels is useful to appraise it of illegal conversion activities. Engagement of religious figures with community-specific, regional or Pan-India influence is important as their endorsement of gharvapasi carries weight among the Hindu masses. It may be mentioned that the number of individuals who undergo gharvapasi annually through the efforts of the Dharmajagran Samanvay runs into five digits. One can only imagine the immense spadework done by thousands of nameless workers in hundreds of communities across the country. Experience shows that efforts in a given community usually yield fruit after around five years.
While the Sangh has assigned pracharak to this activity, purnakalik and lay karyakartas form its backbone. At a local level, community participation is channelized into specific activity through 8-10-member Dharma Raksha Samitis (lit. committees to protect Dharma). Corresponding committees exist at district and provincial levels. Observing Bharat Mata Pujan (lit. worship of Mother Bharat), Dharma Raksha Bandhan (lit. tying wrist band that signifies protection of Dharma) on occasion of Raksha Bandhan festival and area-specific or Pan-India Dharma Raksha Divas (lit. Day of protection of Dharma) to mark an important event such as martyrdom of Swami Shraddhanand (23 December) or Swami Lakshmananand (23 August) are three essential annual events in the calendar of the Dharmajagaran Samanvay.
Organizing kumbhs (lit. pitcher; huge gatherings where intellectual and social churning is thought to fetch nectar for Dharmic purposes as for example, Shabri Kumbh in Dangs, Gujarat from 10-12 February 2006, Ma Narmada Samajik Kumbh in Mandla, Madhya Pradesh from 10-12 February 2011 and the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Gor Banjara va Labana-Naikada Samaj Kumbh held from 25-30 January 2023 in Godri, dist. Jalgaon, Maharashtra), starting or reviving Yatras (lit. pilgrimages or processions) to promote Dharmic awakening (as for example Hariharnath-Muktinath yatra from Bihar to Nepal, Baba Laldas yatra among the Meos of Rajasthan and Haryana; Meen Bhagwan yatra among the Meenas of Rajasthan; Kshatriya Gaurav yatra among Kayamkhanis of Shekhawati, Rajasthan; Sant Ravidas yatra among Regars of Jaipur district; Shri Guru Tegh Bahadur Samajik Chetana yatra among Mazhabi and Rai Sikhs of Mamdot, Taran Taran, Batala and Husssainiwala in Punjab; Shri Guru Nabhadas Samajik Chetana yatra among Mahashas of Pathankot and Bhagwan Valmiki Samajik Chetana yatra in Punjab), organizing Rudraksha Mahabhishekh Abhiyan (lit. campaign of anointing with dried stone-fruit prayer-beads; this campaign is largely done in Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh) are need-based or region-specific periodic events.
It is difficult even for totalitarian ideologies such as Islam and Christianity to erase the collective memories of converted communities. Fact is that virtually all Muslims and Christians in India have Hindu ancestors. Further, most communities know exactly when and how their ancestors were converted and to which Hindu caste they belonged to. Not surprisingly, many converted Muslim and Christian converts follow some of their pre- conversion customs and practices and often marry within the community. The knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the conversion of individuals, families and communities is due to the peculiar practice of Vanshavali lekhan (lineage writing) among the Hindus, which continues even after a family has converted or migrated (to Pakistan for example). Records of important events such as birth, marriage, death of an individual together with mention of the family progenitor, family deity, gotra (patriline that forms an exogamous unit), original residence, family tree and family-specific practices as recorded in the traditional note-books of family record-keepers are accepted in Indian courts of law as evidence. These record-keepers are variously known as Bhats, Brahmabhat, Barot, Rao, Badva, Jaga, Vansharaj, Tirthpurohit, Ranimanga, Helwa and Panjikar in different parts of the country. Armed with experience that such family records facilitate gharvapasi, an important aside to Dharmajagaran Samanvay activity is identifying and organizing such record-keepers, digitizing their documents and giving strength to this weakened tradition. Started in August 2011, the Jaipur-based Vanshavali Sanrakshan evam Sanvardhan Pratishthan (Lit. Institute for Lineage Protection and Strengthening) is doing Yeoman work in this field.
The Dharmajagaran Samanvay also aims at socio-economic transformation of Scheduled Tribes majority areas especially in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. With this end in view, research into current development policies and facilitation of putting indigenous development models into practice is done under the auspices of Pune-based Yojak (lit. Planner) – Center for Research and Strategic Planning for Sustainable Development that was started in 2012. Intellectual activity of the Dharmajagaran Samanvay includes running the Akhil Bharatiya Sanskriti Samanvaya Sansthan (lit. All India Culture Co-ordination Institute; started in 2011) that publishes books as well as a bi-annual, bi-lingual research journal Sanskritic Pravah (lit. Cultural Stream; started in 2014). An initiative to contemporaneously document the process of gharvapasi (pra lekhan in Sangh parlance) was started in February 2018. Thanks to painstaking documentation, we can give an illustrative example of Gharvapasi among the Korkus of Melghat in Maharashtra.
While Sangh work started in Melghat in 1947, it became significant after 1970. In 1980, the then Sarsanghchalak Deoras directed Sangh workers to establish regular and close contact among the Scheduled Tribes residing in the Jiwati hilly region in eastern part of Chandrapur district and Melghat forest area of Amravati district. The VKA work started in 1980-1981 while the VHP made some inroads in 1988-1989. Several Hindu spiritual and community specific organizations also work in Melghat.
Though Dharmajagaran Samanvay was started at an all-India level in 1996, work in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra (Vidarbha is a distinct province in the Sangh setup) started in 1999. The Dharmajagaran Samanvay runs two Pariyojanas in Melghat viz. Korku (Scheduled Tribe) and Balai (Scheduled Caste). We shall concentrate on the former.
The Korku pariyojana is confined to the Melghat area that is composed of 153 villages of Dharni tehsil and 197 villages of Chikhaldara tehsil of Amravati district, Maharashtra. Of the total area of 4436 sq.km, 1674 sq.km is a tiger reserve. Chikhaldara is the sole hill resort in Vidarbha. The word Melghat means ‘meeting of the Ghats or ravines’ and is reflective of the fact that around 60% of Melghat is hilly and has ridges and narrow valleys. Heavy rainfall results in widespread flooding and loss of contact with several villages. Mobile connectivity is poor leading to limited communication.
Though 70% of the population of Melghat is inhabited by Scheduled Tribes or Castes such as Korku, Nihal, Gond, Balai, Gavli, Gavlan (Gawalvansh), Bhilala and Mongia, the Korku pariyojana is community specific and confined to the Korkus. The Nihals are a sub-group of Korkus. The population of Korkus and Nihals in Melghat is estimated to be 1,75,000.
The word Korku consists of kor meaning man and ku is the plural. Therefore, Korku means men. The story prevalent in Raipur village of Chikhaldara tehsil in Amravati district, about the origin of the Korku narrates that Lord Mahadeo once created two figures out of clay, one of which was male and the other a female. Mahadeo then put life into the dolls who become the first Korku man (Mula) and woman (Mulai), and predecessors of the Korku Tribes.
The Korkus particularly worship Meghnath Baba, Mutheradeo (Muthwadeo) and Mahadeo. Each Korku family has a family deity at the dharan or central pole of the hut. They also have village and regional deities in addition to Lord Shiva. They worship ancestors and there is a separate place for the dead of each clan, usually outside the main settlement, for erecting a memorial post. A typical Korku village has an Ada Patel (chief), Bhagat (priest), Mukhri (culture in-charge) and Police Patil (law and order in charge). These four together with a village elder form a Panch kameti (lit. committee of five) that resolve village disputes.
Christian activities in Melghat
During the summers, British officers used to go the Chikhaldara to escape the heat. Hence, there are British-era churches in Melghat such as the ones in Khari (1810), Chikhaldara (1823 and 1896) and Mariampur (1824). Christian pastors established contact in all villages in Melghat usually by food distribution and health services. The Amravati Diocesan Social Development Society runs Jeevan Vikas Sanstha to train pastors among its other activities. There are seven Church-run hospitals in Melghat. Daya Sagar Social Centre, Ranigram and Daya Sagar Hospital are large Church-run institutions. Chikhaldara, Duni and Malkapur are the three parishes in Melghat, having St. Francis de Sales Church, Rosarian Mission Church and Roman Catholic Church respectively. There are five diocesan priests, 37 religious sisters and 4 religious brothers in Melghat. The following activities among others were noted by workers of Dharmajagaran Samanvay before the Pariyojana started in Melghat:
- Conversions are taking place in 41 villages in Chikhaldarai Tehsil and 15 Villages in Dharni Tehsil and are largely restricted to Korkus, Nihals and Balais.
- Christian NGOs are active in 287 of 350 villages in Melghat.
- Regular prayer meetings are being held at prayer centers in 22 villages in Melghat: of these 22, twelve viz. Aamzari, Awagarh, Didamda, Duni, Kara, Khatkali, Kulangana, Makhla, Mariampur, Memna, Pastalai have become 100% Christian. Around 35-40% of Korkus have been impacted by Christian activities.
- From June to December, Korkus go to other villages and work as laborers and reside in fields. Pastors go to these fields at night, distribute food and sing songs in praise of Jesus. Korkus are told that they are descendants of Meghnad and Ravan and hence should oppose Ram.
- Attendance in Christian prayer centers is swelling and so is attendance in Church-run dispensaries and hospitals where Christian literature and food grain are distributed in addition to medicines. Though tube wells are being constructed by Government funds, Korkus are being told that this has been done by grace of Jesus.
- Foreign missionaries come on tourist visa to Melghat and do preaching.
- Jai Yeshu has replaced Ram Ram as form of greeting, worship of Muthwadeo and observance of Deepawali and Holi has declined, traditional family customs are disappearing and marriages are being solemnized in Churches. Mariam yatra has started in village Mariampur with observance of Mariam ki Navratra (Nine nights of Mary rather than Shakti) and singing of Yeshu Aarti (hymns in praise of Jesus).
- The Korku pariyojana may be said to have started in 2000 even though the word pariyojana entered the Dharmajagaran Samanvay lexicon only in 2009. Sangh pracharak Shyam Harkare, who was assigned to do Dharmajagaran Samanvay in Vidarbha undertook his tour of Melghat to establish contact with Korku youth. He was assisted by pracharak Sanjay Rane and Sangh worker Avinash Dandavate who can speak the Korku dialect. The first two years were spent in touring Melghat and establishing contact. With the combined efforts of Sangh, VHP and VKA, 10 to12 small meetings of locals were organized in these two years. Nandu Bhilavekar who is himself a Korku, now started accompanying Harkare. He went on to become the first Korku Purnakalik Karyakarta in 2004.
- A turning point occurred on the night of 16 November 2002 when Jatu Baba, a Hindu saint who was serving the people of Melghat for more than 30 years was found murdered by asphyxiation and his hut set ablaze at village Bod in Dharni tehsil. Jatu Baba who hailed originally from Haryana or Rajasthan was staying ina Hanuman Mandir in Bod. He was instrumental in setting up Hanuman Mandirsin 25 to 30 villages around Bod. The Korkus would flock to his satsangs. On one occasion, a pastor who had enraged the Korkus by tying the sacred nandi (bull)in his field had to escape their wrath by falling at Jatu Baba’s feet. Pastors ingeneral now became objects of scorn. Clearly, Jatu Baba was becoming at thornin the Church’s side. His murder created a wave of resentment among theKorkus against the Church. On the third day of the murder, a 5000-strong protestmarch of Korkus and other Tribals was taken out.
- The Dharmajagaran Samanvay undertook the Sant Jatu Baba Dharma Raksha Yatra from 5 to 10 February 2003. The yatra toured 150 villages in 27 Mandal (lit. circle) centers. Public meetings were held at 68 locations. The resultant awakening produced immediate results. Enraged Korkus in villages Kamida and Semadoh evicted their pastors. The pastor in Awagarh who had initially opposed the yatra and divided the villagers over beef-eating now repented and came to the village temple and underwent gharvapasi. Even in the 100% Christian village of Mariampur, the yatra was welcomed. The yatra has now become an annual event.
- At a four-day meeting starting 29 January 2004, it was decided to conduct the regular events in the Dharmajagaran Samnvay calendar (described above). The martyrdom day of Sant Jatu Baba (16 November) was designated as Dharma Raksha Divas. Hanuman Chalisa recitation on Tuesdays and Saturdays was started in Hanuman Mandirs in every village in Melghat. Illustrated copies of Ramayan and Mahabharata were freely distributed to those Korku families who had been converted but did not go to weekly Christian prayer meetings.
- At the massive Shabri Kumbh held in February 2006 in Dangs, Gujarat, 1150 Korkus from 150 villages in Melghat were in attendance.
- On the occasion of the centenary celebrations of second Sarsanghchalak Shri Guruji, close contact was established with Korku elders. Some 26 tribal sants participated in a convention in Dharni on 5 October 2006. Three Yatras covered 190 Korku villages from 10 to 15 December 2006. Two massive Hindu conventions were held in Chikhaldara and one in Dharni. The Hindu convention in Dharni on 21 December 2006 was addressed by then Sarkaryavah Mohan Bhagwat and attended by 12,000 Korkus, Nihals and other Tribals from 165 villages.
- A plan to bring about socio-economic transformation of Korkus through self- reliance was started under auspices of Yojak in 2015.
- The Ma Narmada Kumbh in 2011 gave fillip to gharvapasi with speeches now being given in Korku and distribution of Dharmic literature in Korku.
- As of January 2020, 290 villages have Dharma Raksha Samitis with weekly satsangs in 140 villages and monthly satsangs in the remaining 150. There are twelve purnakalik karyakartas. Illegal church construction was stopped at around 17 locations. At several places, churches have become desolate. Temples have been constructed in 18 villages and mobile book banks distributing Hinduliterature are functioning in 25 villages. At village Padidam, a statue of BharatMata has been installed with daily arti being performed.
- The first gharvapasi of Korkus took place on 13 June 2007 when 50 Korku men and women of 14 families came back to the Hindu fold. Till 2015, 25,000 Korkus had undergone gharvapasi. By December 2019, that number had exceeded 50,000. Gharvapasi has started even in the 12 villages that were 100% Christian. Around 190 villages have zero Christian presence.
On 11 August 2004, Congress President Sonia Gandhi toured Melghat ostensibly to get information on the malnutrition in Melghat. Accompanied by pastors, she visited the family of Christian convert Sajjulal Dhikar whose fifteenth offspring Susmita was suffering from malnutrition (it is a measure of the success of Dharmajagaran Samanvay that today, this entire family has undergone gharvapasi and the Bhagwa flag flutters atop Dhikar’s house). Christian activities that had slowed down in the aftermath of Jatu Baba’s murder now visibly increased after Sonia Gandhi’s visit.
As per a diary recovered by the police, a certain pastor named V.G. Gaikwad had made elaborate plans for a large-scale baptism drive that was to be held from 26 November to 3 December 2004 in ten villages in Chikhaldara tehsil. With false promises of entry into savings groups to women and jobs to men, Tribals were pushed into Tata Sumo cars and taken to water bodies on the outskirts of these villages where they were to be baptized and a copy of the Bible was to be placed on their heads. The plan was foiled in village Bihali by five Korku youth who opposed the baptism. 18 A massive protest march of Korkus and other Tribals turned into a large public meeting. The issue of conversions in Melghat was raised by BJP MLA Rajkumar Patel in Maharashtra State Assembly on 20 March 2005.
Humane and constructive
The Muslims and Christians of India have Hindu ancestry or the same DNA, to quote Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s words. Hindu primacy in India is essential if Hindu civilization and the Hindu nation are to survive and pulsate. Indeed, Hindu primacy is also the guarantee of democracy, pluralism, human dignity and all the values that liberals of every hue do not tire of chanting. If demography is destiny, then it is gharvapasi that will safeguard India’s destiny. India’s Muslims and Christians need to be looked upon as the lost Hindus who are waiting to be reclaimed. To paraphrase French philosopher Ernest Renan, Muslims and Christians are the first victims of Islam and Christianity. To liberate the Muslim and Christian from his religion is the best service one can render him. Seen in that light, gharvapasi is a humane and constructive activity. Its success depends not so much upon the attitude of Muslims and Christians as upon the ability of the Hindus to digest them. It is time for Hindus to shed delusion and show heroism.
Four Decades of Hindu Renaissance, edited by Arvind Singh
Find the purchasing link of the book here: https://www.vivekprakashan.in/books/four-decades-of-hindu-renaissance/
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