A feeling of resentment among tribals at being "cheated" by upper-caste Hindus, of being left out in the race to progress, is now giving way to the urge to get educated, to "make up for lost time". At a pan-India conclave of tribals here, many spoke of the need for education to shake off a widespread "inferiority complex".
Adivasi rights campaigner Thalko Majhi of the Ho tribe of Jharkhand, who had put up a book stall at the Tribal Conclave 'Samvaad', organised by the Tatas, said that upper-caste Hindus had made God their trustworthy ally in order to keep the tribals chronically subservient.
Majhi spoke to IANS about his lifelong circumspection about the existence of God, which he could never describe for want of a proper idiom, until 2012.
"That year I came in contact with Shishir Varge of the All India Mulnivasi Bahujan Samaj Central Sangh (AIMBSCS). I joined his eight-day camp in Nagpur," Majhi recalled.
"They taught people like me how to reason well; taught us the historical facts about the 'varna vyavastha' or the Hindu caste system that had never reached us earlier," he said.
"All this soul/spirit is a lie! Hindus have cheated us," said Majhi, adding, "I always wondered that if God is so benign then why does he allow such gross iniquities in the society? God is a myth."
Majhi said that until he was acquainted with the teachings of Bhimrao Ambedkar he had no idea about the "exploitative system" of the Hindu religion, which he conceded has made deep inroads into possibly every Indian culture through sophisticated propaganda.
"Did Hindus not eat beef? They very much did," he said.
"And they made Buddhists flee when they faced tough competition from them," Majhi said at the Dalit-Aadivaasi literature stall at the Tribal Conclave, which had on display titles like "Shoodron ki Khoj" (Search for the Untouchables) and "Tribals not Hindus".
"I keep telling tribals not to mind such abstractions as God and not spend time on elaborate rituals. We have to make up for lost time," Majhi said.
He rued that people, even those who benefit from the quota system, "tend to restrict the good fortune to themselves, and don't educate others".
AIMBSCS is an organisation formed to spread the ideology of Ambedkar and Birsa Munda, among other such progressive personalities.
Munda, a 19th century warrior, was an Adivasi and as far as can be gathered from his calls to his fellow men, was a confirmed sceptic. He was known to have urged tribals not to make animal sacrifices to appease any deity and not to indulge in idol worship.
Sukhmati of the Ho tribe, who too had a book stall at the conclave, had attended the eight-day AIMBSCS workshop in Nagpur as Majhi.
"I just want my future generation to be educated. I think this is the best way to wean them off their inferiority complex. Otherwise, they will just go on drinking and doing nothing as they have been doing for years," Sukhmati told IANS.
Jharkhand has, among others, three main tribes -- Ho, Santhal, and Munda. Although Mundas have of late come into the mainstream, the other two remain backward, with many of their youths unemployed.
The third edition of the four-day-long Tribal Conclave was held from November 15-19 and was themed around the Tribal Health System. There are an estimated 60 million tribals, or indigenous people, across India.
(Vishal Narayan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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