February 13, 2006

From a troubled district

Continuing with the recent focus on a tribal district in Gujarat, host to the Shabari Kumbh Mela over February 11-12-13.

My Monday MidDay column.

My rediff.com column.

Column in Tehelka (subscription required, thus appended below).


Diary from a troubled district

The road to Ahwa gets worse as we get closer to the little town. We can tell as much by the light of a full Sankrant moon, playing peekaboo as we wind through the hills; brilliant burnt orange when we first see it low on the horizon, gleaming silver high into the sky as the night wears on.

Though really, I don't need the moon to tell me how bad the road is. The bumps suffice.

On the right along one stretch, there's nothing between us and the dull gleam of a river. But wait, what are those flickers of orange just beyond the road's edge? Small fires. We've seen plenty of those, clumps of people huddled around them warding off the January Dangs chill. But here the fires seem ... well, constricted. These are fires inside small shacks.

These are labourers working on the road, living beside it for the duration, as migrant labour does. Labourers, come "home" for the night. Shacks like these, all over the Dangs.

So what's cooking here? The Shabari Kumbh Mela, 500,000 pilgrims expected. Roads are being improved, but there's more. Long tracts of empty fields have sprouted poles, by the thousands, for tents to house pilgrims. Troughs have been dug and lined with multicoloured toilets. Large plastic water tanks stand on concrete platforms. Electricity is making its way all over the district. The Purna river has had 22 -- correct, twenty-two -- check dams built on it to form Pampasarovar, where pilgrims will bathe.

All this, because for years, tribals in the Dangs have quietly venerated a spot on top of a hill near dusty Subir. Kumbh organizers say this is where Shabari sat Ram and Lakshman while she fed them berries. So they are building a temple here, and decided to hold this celebration.

February 11, 12, 13: likely the most crowded and colourful days the Dangs will ever see.

Yet if faith is to be served, if pilgrims are to find spiritual fulfillment in the gentle waters of man-made Pampasarovar -- why the things you hear about the event?

For example, a RSS activist at the Mela office, Mahesh Daga, told Tehelka (October 15 2005) that "the main objective [of the Mela] is to put a full stop to conversion of tribals."

For example, the Mela's website, shabarikumbh.org, has a section titled "About Kumbh." The second paragraph there is a denunciation of the Christian church. (Yes, the second paragraph). Reading further, you learn that the slogan "Hindu jagao, Christi bhagao" has become "popular" in the Dangs. You learn that Swami Aseemananda, one of the moving spirits behind the Mela, told Christians here, "I have come here to drive away those who have come here to serve."

What does such hostility have to do with a tender story from a great epic?

"About Kumbh" has more of interest. "Organizing a kumbh in a remote, heavily forested area is a nightmare," it says.

"The 352 villages in Dang district had no electricity or roads ... There are
no medical facilities or eateries in the vicinity. ... Realizing the importance of
[the Kumbh] the state government of Shri Narendra Modi has extended full
cooperation [and] has undertaken construction of roads on a war footing. All the
352 villages of Dang have got electrification."

Good. But consider: if the state government has done so much just since the idea for the Kumbh, why was the Dangs deprived before? After all, Narendra Modi has been in power several years. Why did it need a Kumbh Mela for his government to bring electricity here, to construct roads "on a war footing"?

The irony goes deeper. We drove between the Navsari border and Ahwa one night, then between Pampasarovar itself and Ahwa the next night. If you discount Ahwa, the number of electric lights we saw could be numbered on two hands. Oh, but plenty of village homes were lit by fires and oil lamps. Some families used to have electricity and meters but could not pay their bills. Why? One farmer told us that bills only came once in two years, thus for large amounts like Rs 12,000. Unable to pay such sums -- though they could have managed smaller monthly bills -- their meters and supply were taken away.

So I have no idea what shabarikumbh.org means by saying all 352 villages have been electrified.

What is electrified, of course, is the temple. Sited on top of a hill with a magnificent view of forested slopes, the Shabari Dham temple promises to be a spectacular tribute to a charming story. Yet here too, hostility. To one side is a large concrete water tank, with this inscription: "Dharmantran aur jehad ke vichaar ko vishwa se nirmool karenge." ("We will remove conversions and the jehadi mentality from this world").

And later, as we drive past dark villages like Mukhammal and Jarsol where meters were installed then ripped out, we can see brightness on that hill. Yes, the not-yet-finished temple has lights at night. The villages don't. Welcome to the Kumbh Mela.


Anonymous said...

The christists have used most devious means to plunder civillizations. One should guard against them. Even in Goa, their torture is story of horror, once they convert they create quite a hostile people, because they convert by devious greed to destroy cultures, through money and power. It is like an organized mafia. I think the author should focus instead on amelioriating the devious propaganda of this missionary empire.

Anonymous said...

Yo DeSouza.. what the eff are you writing man. they have to come and convert you back to hindu first. why do you sick missionaries always target and lure the poor. if you really intend to help the poor... just help them and leave at that. you sick mofos donot give them bread unless they convert and that is SICK. leave them alone... or you face the consequences. you shameles crooks don;t even have the heart to help the tsunami victims and instead go to those hapless victims fighting for life to bargain your christian vote. THATS GROSS MAN. refuse to give them the food unless they convert! is that what your EFFING RELIGION IS ABOUT?

Anonymous said...


If there is any violence, please report to the authorities. Ditto, if people are coerced. Otherwise, I don't see what the brouhaha is all about.

If Christians have a right to convert, Hindus should have a right to reconvert. Temple is shining and there is no light in the villages. Huh! So, the missionaries had electrified the entire area when they were harvesting souls??

It breaks my heart to see such nasty propagands in the media. THe excessive demonization of our religion by vested interests will lead to hardening of attitudes. Why not a fair game - you preach your values and allow us to preach our values. Let the best philosophy win!

Just look at continental America. Leftists, liberals, closet communists, Jihadists and anarchists had such a stranglehold on media, that people felt being Christian is a crime. look what has happened - FoxNews!

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Always amazing to see this torrent of mostly anonymous comments to every such article by Dilip (and others).

I have no sympathy with evangelical Christians of the type America's Bible belt produces, but most Christians aren't like that. As for the ones being converted, who are they?

1. Tribals
2. Dalits
3. (as someone above pointed out) People from the northeast.

Now ask yourselves: what reason do these people have to call themselves Hindus? Why should they feel any kind of affection to a religion that has trodden them down over the past centuries, on a scale incomprehensible to any other religion? Upper-caste Hindu practices were worse than anything in apartheid South Africa -- whites didn't go and take a bath if a black's shadow fell on them.

Indeed, ask whether these people are Hindus in the first place. Read Kancha Ilaiah's "Why I am not a Hindu" before you answer.

Yes Nagas are being converted and yes many of them are separatists. But which is cause and which is effect? The answer: neither is cause, both are effect. The cause is much deeper.

Anonymous said...

As usual while Dilip's fighting windmills in Gujarat, Bareilly clashes killed a couple people.

Obiviously, news reports that Dilip reads or covers don't report that. Ain't it Dilip ;-) else fun will end at 'death ends fun'

Anonymous said...

Dear Dilip D'Souza,

If the idea is to serve people, upliftment ... etc, why convert them to christianity first and then serve them? Has the GOD told the server that you can serve a person if and only if the person getting served is a Christian? I didn't know that GOD is partial against non-christians.

OR is there any other motive behind this seving the poor? Could you please ask these servers and get me an answer for my question. I am not a christian, hope you are impartial and do this big service to me in getting an answer for this question from the CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY SERVERS.

Thank you.


Dilip D'Souza said...

I don't understand why most of the comments here focus on conversions: I really couldn't much care who converts or reconverts. People have the right either way and it hardly is something I waste sleep over. I also cannot see how concern about the hostility in the Dangs is "excessive demonization" of a religion. Who equated the organizers of a Kumbh Mela to an entire religion?

And thank you Rahul for pointing out the simple-mindedness of assumptions about the northeast. The "Northeast is becoming Christian therefore it is becoming separatist" line is lazy thinking by people who look for simple answers to intricate problems.

Finally, it should be said: there are Christians and there are Christians. We met some in the Dangs who, for example, are running a school where most teachers are not Christian and there's no missionary activity whatsoever going on. They themselves told us about other Christians whose activities they themselves deplore.

Anonymous said...

>> is lazy thinking by people who look for simple answers to intricate problems.

Compared to burying your head in the sand like you do Dilip?
So what's up at Dangs.. any riots? Clashes? What happened? Disappointed that monster Modi govt could handle it?

Anonymous said...

If tribals, Dalits etc are willing to reconvert, then why are the missionaries and Dilip making a hue and cry.
We have heard this before. I suggest you read Varsha Bhosle's series of articles on this.
The VHP and others are trying to bring tribals anf others back to the Hindu fold. Now the usual suspects are screaming communalism.
Why are they scared of a level playing field ?
Yes - Govt did neglect the North-east, but tomorrow if they continue development, will the people reconvert?
All the problems of the NE started after Nehru allowed missionaries to start their work there.
Why did the govt make such a hue and cry when Israel discovered some of its lost tribe in the NE?
Apparently different strokes for different folks or religions

Dilip D'Souza said...


> If the farmers were willing and
> able to pay monthly bills, why
> aren't they able to pay yearly
> bills? A yearly bill is just
> monthly bill * 12.

It still is a large lump sum; these people don't have that kind of ready cash available suddenly. If I suddenly got a bill for a year or two's worth of electricity, I would not have that kind of cash available at home to pay it.

> If they knew they weren't getting
> bills but they had meters and
> therefore there was a cost
> attached, did they bring this to
> the notice of the concerned
> official and what was the
> response?

As far as I can tell (from my limited meetings with these people), yes, they did bring it to the notice of the officials. The response? Wait for the bill.

> 12000 for two years is 500 bucks
> a month. Isn't this high? Why so
> high?

I don't think it is particularly high, but even if it is, I have no idea. I heard 12000 at one place, I heard "a big bill" at another, etc. I didn't have the time to inquire, why so high.