Jaipur: A five-kilometre shaky uphill drive, replete with tricky curves, followed by a 100 feet walk up a jagged staircase leads to the Amagarh fort in eastern Jaipur.
The centuries-old fort is now at the heart of a growing conflict between a Rajasthan tribal community and Hindu bodies in the state after a saffron flag was hoisted at its ramparts in June.
For the Meenas, an adivasi community in the state, the fort houses the Amba Mata mandir, a clan goddess worshiped by its members.
The community alleges that members of right-wing Hindutva groups were behind the hoisting of the saffron flag, in a bid to “Hinduise” the fort.
Representatives of the Meena community say they identify as followers of the Sanatana Dharma, but not Hinduism, and have their own set of beliefs and culture.
In a very public pushback, members of the Meena community, led by Independent MLA Ramkesh Meena, decided to take the flag down on 21 July.
The flag, however, got torn in the process — Meena community activists claim that it was ‘inadvertent’ and a result of the heavy wind blowing that day.
But the Hindu groups didn’t see it that way. Videos of the incident began circulating on social media with hashtag #Arrest_Ramkesh_Meena, following which an FIR was registered.
MLA Meena, however, told ThePrint that he only “defended the Meena community’s heritage” and is against “any imposition by Hindu groups”.
The Hindu outfits involved in the case insist that they did no wrong in hoisting the flag.
In all of the ruckus, four FIRs have so far been filed in the case — one by the Meena community against the hoisting of the flag, a counter FIR by the Hindu outfits against the taking down of the flag, a third against Muslim youth for allegedly stealing Shiva idols kept in the fort premises, and yet another against Sudarshan TV editor-in-chief Suresh Chavhanke for hurting the Meena community’s sentiments.
Idols stolen, Hindu-Muslim angle
The hoisting of the saffron flag was preceded by the theft of idols on 4 June from a small Shiva mandir that lies on the premises of the Amagarh fort.
The Rajasthan Police filed an FIR and detained five men — four of whom were juveniles. The men were all Muslims, prompting Hindu outfits to claim that they attempted to vandalise the temple to communalise the atmosphere in the state.
“They broke the idols with the intention of spreading communal agenda; it was clear in the way the idols were destroyed. This angered the entire Hindu community,” Bharat Sharma, patron of the Rajasthan Dharohar Bachao Samiti, a body that claims to work for the state’s heritage, told ThePrint.
Police, however, denied the communal angle narrative. “They were there to steal the idols; it was an act of theft. There was no communal angle to it whatsoever,” Jaipur Assistant Commissioner of Police Neel Kamal told ThePrint.
All five were eventually released on bail.
The Meenas too insist that there is no communal angle to the thefts.
MLA Ramkesh Meena hinted that the theft of the idols was used as an excuse to capture the fort by those who hoisted the flag.
“There is no Hindu-Muslim issue here; this is needless polarising,” Ramkesh Meena said. “One thing is clear — whoever did this (the theft), it was done as a means of taking over the fort.”
‘We did it proudly’ — Hindu outfits on saffron flag
Sharma, of the Rajasthan Dharohar Bachao Samiti, told ThePrint that following the thefts, he and his followers visited the fort on 13 June and decided to install a new set of idols of ‘Shiva parivar’.
“We conducted a puja and the idol-installation ceremony with a lot of fanfare as we are committed worshippers,” Sharma said.
Following the puja, Sharma said the group went up to the ramparts of the fort and hoisted a saffron flag.
In a video of the hoisting, Sharma and his followers can be heard shouting ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ and ‘Jai Rana Pratap ki’. He defended the act, and said there was “no harm” in it.
“Humara maqsad tha waha ki Shiv mandir ki sthapna karna, aur humne woh seena thok ke kiya, isme kuch galat nahi (Our primary intention was to install the Shiv idols, and we did it openly and proudly. There’s nothing wrong with that),” Sharma said.
A few days after the hoisting of the flag, a bigger saffron flag was hoisted right at the centre of the fort — one that was visible from the city.
The Hindu groups have the backing of the opposition BJP.
“The Meena community follow all Hindu religious traditions right from birth to death. Ramkesh Meena is trying to hurt religious sentiments by inciting a group of the Meena community. He should be arrested,” the BJP’s Kirodi Meena had said in a statement earlier in July, PTI reported.
‘Amba Mata changed to Ambika Bhawani, a way to impose Hinduism’
Nearly a month later, on 21 July, members of the Meena community led by MLA Ramkesh Meena — who is popular in the community — took down the saffron flag. But videos of the act went viral on social media, which showed that the flag was torn in the process.
In the presence of ruling @INCIndia-supported MLA on the hill of #Amagarh, located at Galta Teerth, #Jaipur, the sacred saffron flag written "Shri Ram" was torn off the pole.
Where are you fake janeudhari @RahulGandhi? pic.twitter.com/xRjxE1piNf
— Raman Malik🇮🇳 (@ramanmalik) July 22, 2021
ACP Kamal said two FIRs were then registered in the matter — the first one from the Meena community against the hoisting of the saffron flag, and the second against the taking down of the flag. Both these FIRs have been registered under Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which pertains to injuring or defiling a place of worship with the intention of insulting the religion. Both cases are currently being investigated, ACP Kamal said.
Ramkesh Meena defended the taking down of the flag, questioning why it was hoisted there in the first place.
“They are now saying we hurt Hindu sentiments. But why did they go and hoist a saffron flag there in the first place? The fort is part of Meena heritage and culture; this was their attempt to capture it,” Ramkesh Meena told ThePrint.
Other outfits in the Meena community are also up in arms against the hoisting of the flag, saying it was an attempt to “Hinduise” the fort and the Meena culture.
“We follow the Sanatana Dharma, and we are nature worshipers. But these people are forcefully trying to make us Hindus. The hoisting of the flag is part of that scheme,” Giriraj Meena, leader of the Rajasthan Adivasi Seva Sangh, told ThePrint.
Another bone of contention is the Amba Mata mandir that the fort houses.
The Meena community claims the Hindu outfits had also attempted to change the name of the goddess from ‘Amba Mata’ to ‘Ambika Bhawani’, with rocks leading up to the temple inscribed with that name.
The priest at the temple, Shrawan Kumar Meena, feels that this isn’t merely an attempt to impose Hindu culture on tribals, but also an attempt to keep the community away from religious institutions.
“Yeh log apne aap ko dharm ke thekedaar samajhte hai (These people act like the self-appointed guardians of religion),” Shrawan Kumar Meena told ThePrint.
“For thousands of years, these people have excluded Adivasis and Dalits from religious scriptures and learning, and kept it for themselves. These people don’t hold the patent for religious worship,” he added.
Sharma, however, denied that there was any such attempt. “It is Amba Mata mandir and will remain so. But the Meena community needs to safeguard it properly. Where were they when the Shiva temple was destroyed? They need to be there regularly,” he said.
Where is Rajasthan’s manhood, asks Chavhanke
Following the taking down of the saffron flag, Suresh Chavhanke, the editor-in-chief of Sudarshan TV led a series of shows on the matter, titled ‘Bhagwe ke samman mein, Hindustan maidan mein’, and also used the #Arrest_Ramkesh_Meena in the title.
In one such show on 23 July, Chavhanke asked “why is Rajasthan’s manhood quiet?”
“If this act was committed 70 years ago, would Rajasthan’s mahaveer have gone to the police in order to protect their Bhagwa flag?” he further questioned.
Then, on 29 July, the Rajasthan Police registered an FIR against Chavhanke for allegedly hurting the sentiments of the Meena community.
Political relevance of Meena community and history
IPS officer-turned-writer Hariram Meena said the fort dates back to the 10th century, before Rajput rule in Jaipur.
“The Amagarh fort was made by the leaders of the Meena community in 967 AD. This was a fort of strategic relevance, and continues to be an important pillar of Meena community’s history,” Hariram Meena told ThePrint.
Meena, who is the author of books like Adivasi Duniya and Adivasi Darshan Aur Samaj, further said that unlike the Hindu community, the tribals either worship their predecessors or elements of nature.
“The Amba Mata, also referred to as the ‘Ama Mata’ is a means of worshiping nature’s element of creativity, as Ama means creativity,” he added.
Besides the historical relevance of the fort, the Meena community is also an important one politically. There are a total of 200 seats in the Rajasthan assembly, and 25 of these are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, of which 18 are currently held by MLAs of the Meena community.
While the Meena community finds representation in both the Congress and the BJP, a third party founded in 2017 called the Bhartiya Tribal Party is increasingly gaining popularity in the community. The BTP has been a vocal proponent of protecting tribal culture, and has backed Ramkesh Meena’s efforts too.
Ramkesh Meena is an Independent MLA supporting the Congress government, but the ruling party hasn’t taken any stance on the matter so far — maintaining a safe distance from the controversy.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
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