Representational image | Ministry of Tribal Affairs
Text Size:

Recently, the chief minister of Jharkhand and leader of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Hemant Soren admitted that Adivasis were never Hindus and neither are they now. This was in response to his attempt to get Sarna Code approved by the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. The Sarna Code establishes a distinct, honourable identity for the Adivasis away from the Hindu identity — which is usually assumed as such for the Tribals. The dominant caste savarna Hindus have taken for granted the status of Adivasi and Dalits as being Hindu. It is used to construct a false notion of Hindu majority and thereby establish Bharat nation as Hindus’ land – Hindustan.

After Soren’s statement, the entire Hindu consensus, and especially the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), got rattled. They were shaken to the core. The mouthpiece of the RSS, Organiser, immediately released a statement accusing Soren of “parroting evangelical propaganda”. The RSS’ political offshoot, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), followed with accusations at Soren that he was benefiting from Christian missionaries.

A sitting, democratically elected chief minister and arguably the tallest leader of Adivasis in the country was put to test by caste denialists. The Constitution of India gives the responsibility to the State and society to protect and preserve Adivasi tradition as unique to India’s history. But the savarna advocates of the Hindu mission insist on Hinduising the Adivasis.

The idea of Hindustan is enveloped as majoritarian nationalism. It is used by liberals, radicals, nationalists alike. When one declares the national Indian identity as one tied to the Hindu past, it brushes aside the glorious histories of independent, autonomous, anti-Brahminical legacy of the native people. The natives of India can be broadly classified into Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), and Other Backward Class (OBC) in constitutional terms. These natives were relegated to the lower status by the advent of Brahminism. Pushyamitra Shunga was one of the important Brahmin actors to have ironed the definition of political varna, which gave rise to the clean distinction of varna-based political economy. This meant extermination of Sramana traditions — those that gave rise to Jainism and Buddhism.

Almost everyone in the country falsely promotes the idea of Hindu majoritarianism. The defender and opponents alike use this historically incorrect and sociologically impossible definition of Hindu majoritarianism. The liberals get a piece of cake for framing the recent identity of Hindu-Muslim binarism. I have repeatedly opposed such limiting binaries. These binaries obviate Adivasis and Dalits as non-existing, useless, and irrelevant categories of people without any history of their own. Turns out, these binaries are the relic of the census data that have classified majority (Hindu) and minority (Muslim). Thus, the majoritarian consensus doesn’t need rationalisation. It can be qualified based on assumptions and beliefs — it becomes a matter of faith.


Also read: Hemant Soren’s divide-and-rule Adivasi politics at Harvard is against Birsa Munda’s vision


Fraudulent Census of India

Hindu majority is a faulty idea on many counts. It is a fraud committed by census takers from the time of British colonialism. The construction of Hindu is ahistorical. There is no prevalence of Hindu or Hinduism before the British census started putting Hindu as an identity in its census in 1881. Although the census was to take off in 1861 but the 1857 rebellion quashed those efforts. In 1872, it finally started to take shape but did not cover all of India.

Though British census was faulty, it gave the administration enough to regulate laws and decide for the ruled mass. Better governance was the primary objective of the State and knowing more about this extremely diverse nation was pursued by curious anthropologists. As census started to formalise over the years, Hindu began to become a more known identity. The Brahmins, as usual, jumped on this proposition to claim ownership over recently manufactured pan-India Hindu identity. Initially, the census covered disparate provinces.

The census chart of religion later classified into groups such as Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Parsi, Jewish, and Animist. Animist meant the aboriginal tribes who had not yet come under the influence of Hinduism, argues census scholar Bhagat. When Hindu was introduced in the census, there arose enormous problems. How to define a Hindu? There were two broad classifications of Shaivites and Vaishanvities, who were bitterly divided over the common belief. Then there are those who classify as Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj. Add to it the enormous divisions of caste and independent religious practices. Nevertheless, it had to be defined.

Hindu is anyone who is not “European, Armenian, Moghul, Persian or other foreign descent, who is a member of a recognised caste, who acknowledges the spiritual authority of Brahmans (priestly caste), who venerates or at least refuses to kill or harm kine, and does not profess any creed or religion which the Brahman forbids him to profess” [sic].

This gave a push for Brahmin interpreters like Arya Samaj, who merrily accepted this adjustment and promoted a common Indian identity as being Hindu. Social reformers at the time and the Congress party embraced this fallacious identity by setting a political agenda of mythical Hindu supremacist past. This worked in two ways. The first was to establish a historical sense of sovereignty in the past, and the second was to counter the European colonisers as ahistorical barbarous.

In 1911 census, Hindus were separated as genuine and non-genuine. The latter were those who denied Vedas, authority of Brahmins, did not have Brahmins into the fold, ate beef and did not revere cows.

This intervention by the British officials led many in the postcolonial scholarship to believe that caste was highlighted and incoherently promoted by the British. Thus, the controversial argument of caste becoming sharper during British period prevailed in the thesis of Bernard Cohn and Nicholas Dirks. Many in the Right-wing interpreted this to say that the British imported caste from Europe by giving it an anglicised taste.


Also read: Why the farmers’ protest is led by Sikhs of Punjab


Census of 21st Century

The 2001 census found 1,700 religious categories apart from the dominant ones. They were clubbed into the ‘Other’ column. Adivasis are also clubbed into this. However, it is now being taken out in 2021 census, which indirectly puts them in the column of Hindu or other religious groups, Hemant Soren gestured.

The Indian State has issued the Socio-Economic Caste Census separate from the rest of the nation. The report is disturbing because it shows the marginalisation of Dalits and Adivasis on each level. The purpose of post-independence Indian census was to record the lives and stories of those on the margins in order to protect them.

Thus, the celebration of postcolonial nationalism does not only mean changing of colonial-era names and laws but getting rid of colonial-era laws and ignorant identities. India is an extremely complicated country. Each region, caste, sect, religion has its own history, and they are a nation in themselves. We cannot afford to combine them under a pretence of British-given identity. To rescue Adivasis from the stranglehold of Hindu is the real work of Birsa Munda, Sidhu, Kanhu Murmu, and Narayan Singh among scores of heroes and heroines.

The Brahmin and other Savarna castes only seem to care about Adivasis when the Christian missionaries are taking the word of equality propounded in their religion. Tribals like Dalits on the coastal regions and in Southern India immediately converted to Christianity in the colonial era as they did during the colonial Mughals to Islam. Brahmins, through organisations like the RSS, have started to convert Tribals to the Hindu fold. This is not very different from what Christian missions do.

Everyone who is indigenous to the land and worship their ancestral gods should be allowed to register as a non-Hindu with separate identity. As the Census of India 2001 report on religion stated, India is host to “indigenous faiths tribal religions which have survived the influence of major religions for centuries and are holding the ground firmly”. The Census of India is an ideal way to establish yourself without relying on the patronage of the oppressive majority. By forcing Dalits, Adivasis and many backward classes into the Hindu fold, the savarnas assume an undemocratic, unelected majority. The Adivasis and Dalits should be allowed to have a separate column in the religious census. This will be a tribute to their contribution to India’s freedom struggle and the nation as a whole.

Dr Suraj Yengde is Senior Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School. He is the author of Caste Matters. He hosted Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren at the 18th edition of India Conference at Harvard. Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

VIEW COMMENTS

59 COMMENTS

  1. This article is beyond incompetent. First they claim a Hindu king oppressed people in 180 CE and then claim Hinduism isn’t real and wasn’t real until around the 1860s.

  2. When we can celebrate Kamala Harris, Sundar Pichai and many others for being ‘Indian’ irrespective of their citizenship and in many cases irrespective of what they profess to be, let those who wish to celebrate the ‘Hinduness’ of anybody including tribals, scheduled castes, even Christians and Muslims staying in ‘Hindustan’ do so. For those who do not wish to be associated with the Hindu culture, it is their personal choice. It does not really affect anybody else. The importance of including or excluding any community arises only when there is political gain /loss associated with clubbing people together for votebanks and pitching them one against the other. Remove this direct link and nobody will care whether one believes himself/herself to be a particular religion. It will be purely a personal matter.

  3. I say let each person decide what to label themselves and once they do, respect their choice. So if a tribal decides to identify as a Hindu, respect their decision. If not, respect that decision too. Hinduism is a pluralistic faith, so it really wont make a difference. We are not expected to venerate a particular book or person or not worship a particular god. Such insecurities really aren’t part of Hinduism.

    Now on to the actual concern. Whether tribals identify as Hindu or not, if they vote for BJP or join RSS, respect their decision too. Ultimately, that is what the whole hubbub is about, so lets stop pretending like it isn’t.

  4. Just as the New Zealand maori tribe’s manaakitanga (others are more important than any one) or the Ubuntu tribe’s “I am because we are” or the world’s most ancient language declares ” Yadum Oorey, yavarum kelir” (All towns are my towns, all townsmen are my relatives), one of the Upanishads followed by the so-called “Hindu”s declares “Vasudeiva Kutumbakam”. If a “Hindu” is one who lives in harmony with the Universe he or she would in fact be a genuine member of the human “tribe” if the designation tribe is understood as a universal human fraternity without any pejorative implications.and without being confined to a limited geographical ecosystem

  5. Writers like Hengde / Anti India CM making money in this Covid period, by deciding the society fooling the people.
    Stop this nonsense n by giving better article.

  6. Article like these are pointless unless Adivasis decide which religion they belong and we all know which religion is that. Sitting in Boston and writing imaginary stories with scant evidence has no meaning unless you have vested interests like Xtian conversation. As far as, Adivasis are concerned, they were first exploited by Maoists, then Avengilicals. It’s time they get fruit of industrialization, stop getting fooled by Avengelicals.

  7. The word Hindu was coined by Arabs. Adivasis are the real sons of soil. Brahmins are invaders just like Mughals. Brahmins divided the people into different castes based on birth. By the way the word Brahmin is derived from Ibrahim. They projected Rama and Sita who were Arab Muslims as God. Till now they are collecting huge amount from innocent people. This is the height of cheating innocent dalits and Adivasis.

  8. Wpw, blatant denial of Adivasi’s Hinduism when adivasi dieties are part of Hindu patheons such as shiva, ganesha, etc. This article is written by Christian evangelist to target Hindu Adivasis as soft targets for leftist war against the state of India and to enslave them to christianity. What a dangerous game is being played here. Home ministry shouud raid Shekar Gupta for keep giving platform to tukde tukde gang, and punish this author. I have filed the complaint with GoI against Shekhar Gupta, The Print AND THIS AUTHOR.

  9. Adivasis are the first inhabitants of India who have lived here thousands of years before the arrival of the Aryans. Brahmins have been continuously exploiting their lands and women under the garb of religion. Time to ban these inhuman Manu laws.

    • Are you sure that these Adivasis did not displace Neanderthal men, killing them and raping their women?

  10. प्रत्येक समूह एक अलग राष्ट्र है ।

    लेखक सूरज येंगड़े के ये विचार तो जिन्ना से भी खतरनाक हैं।

  11. The moment I read half way through the summary I was thinking this must be written by one of the supposedly wise guys from Harvard or Oxford or some Western based NGO. And Lo! I was right 🙂

  12. there is no precise definition of being a Hindu. there is no single book, no single male god… in such a scenario , the religion of adivasis can never be defined not being Hindu or Hindu alone ( i mean the converse is also true). given the breadth of Hindu religion, the adivasi practices would in some way or other would be similar.. the devil always lies in details… tell us which practices that are unique and dont have resemblance of to Hindu religion.
    you dont work in Harvard Divinity School ( on Divinity Avenue) or Center for the Study of World Religions
    For your postdoc work , don’t draw a strawman argument. do u have theology background ???
    dear print, all that glitters is not gold. just becoz a guy is from Harvard doesnt mean he is speaking truth.

  13. Belonging to a tribe in India I very much agree with what Mr.Suraj and Hemant Soren(only tribal CM in India) are arguing. Its time Indian state provides proper recognition to tribal religions.

  14. Brilliant article. And see the reaction of dumb witts manuwadis. Instead of discussing the issues raised they spread usual non sense of Christianity and all.

  15. David Lorenzen has already debunked this theory of whether Hindu or Hinduism existed before 1881. The first all-India census was 1872, this article ignores it and goes for 1881 to push the date even further into the future. There were also censuses in the 1860s that included the term Hindu. There are also a lot of references to ‘Hindus’ or other terms to refer to this religion from earlier in the colonial period. There are authors that have written about the religious category in the pre-colonial period. Whether Adivasis consider themselves to be Hindu today or not — that is something we cannot extrapolate from the 1881 census. What we CAN extrapolate from the history of censuses is that the category is not the religion, and whether the term Hindu / Hinduism was used is not evidence of whether the religion existed under other terms (dharma, sanatan dharma etc). Buddhism was also not called Buddhism [adding -ism does not create new religions].

    • @Historian: Ha!! Ha!! Here comes a rice bag convert!! Only truth is supreme!! Christianity/Islam has only lies & BS evil for killing/converting others!! You people are paying for your sins in Europe & America where Christ has been wiped out!! The Muslims & communist China there will make you eat dust!!

      Meanwhile, Hindu Sanatan will survive because truth never dies!!

  16. Ha ha ha, i notice some bhakts are doing thei jobs, ha ha ha
    Karlo karlo apna kaam jo RSS ne tumhe bolne ne ke liye lagaiya hai, par hum log na samhaj nahi hai

  17. One of the best article so far I have read about the myth about Hinduism and it’s so called main theme calling entire world brother while oppressing own people from weaker section. Most of tribal are non-vegetarian and their customs are quite different. These people can not be and should not be club within Hinduism. We should respect all the native peoples living in India.

  18. Dear half knowledge editor of this article
    Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world with approx 1.2 billion followers.Santandharma is the greatest and oldest religion ..Hinduism is a way of life …how dare a brainless jerk like u call my religion a false notion !! Hindus are peace loving and non violent ..this doesn’t mean that u can say whatever u want about my religion…anyways it’s no use talking to u people who get paid for writing anti Hindu articles. .this is not free journalism…u r a prisoner of hatred ..your humanity has been robbed ..u r locked behind the bars of narrow mindedness. ..
    Thank u

  19. Adivasis are definitely Hindus. But you are no longer a Scheduled caste person as you have risen in social status because of society’s patronage.

  20. I disagree with quite a few statements made by the author. Personally, I feel it’s impossible to exactly define what entails Hinduism. It’s extremely diverse in itself and difficult to club under one heading.

    Ultimately, there should just be the citizens, their rights, their duties and rule of law based only on constitution. Religion should be personal and nobody’s business.

    Unfortunately, that is a distant dream for India.

  21. The strongest identifying theme of Hinduism today is idol worship. Tribals worship nature, not idols. So they are indeed different, maybe not a well defined religion but surely tribals are unique culture and government should give them the space to preserve themselves.

  22. Now that we have established they are not hindus by publishing a article, let us convert them to Christianity. HIndus these leftist liberals are out to get your religion if you are not awake.

  23. Let me tell you a fact
    Tribals are not Hindus
    Dalits are not Hindus
    Shudras are not Hindus
    Vaishyas are not Hindus
    Kshatriyas are not Hindus
    Brahmins are not Hindus
    Hindus are not Hindus

  24. If they do not belong to this place, did they land from Mars? The idea of Hindu (Indu) was from colonial rule world depicting the people who live around and east of river Indus, which no missionary will accept. There was no religion attached to people before 2500 years. It is more to the culture and food habits of this region. Buddism, Jainism, and Sikhism were all off-shoot of the way the people were living in this region. They have a certain way of worshiping God, living, and practices. Islam came from the Middle east as much Christianity from Europe. They were not native to this place. If we say, Hinduism is much larger than what it is.

  25. Only aryans should be classified as hindus. Indigenous people should choose their own identity separate from hindu. Tribals were never hindus…if we go back far enough then none of original people were hindus until aryans nomads migration started in india.

    • Muslims should leave Islam and so should Christians as these ideologies close to zero spirituality, lots of lies & politics to kill or enslave/convert Hindus & other people!!

  26. Utter nonsense!!. In my state Assam the Bodos worship a deity called Bathou who is non other than Lord Shiva.

    • Constitution does not allow reservation based on religion. Hence if Adivasis are not a sub section Hindus and indeed a separate religion, the reservation afforded to them would be void.

      • You can change your religion but not your caste.

        Contrary to what people usually think, truth is SC and ST are not uplifted in Islam or Christianity also, Elites in these religions still look at them differently and will not intermarry with them. The stigma of caste still carries over despite converting.

        Religion does not uplift people economically , only education, social skills, self-expression and confidence does. That is why I feel weaker sections of society ought to be given assistance by the State whichever religion they belong to.

  27. Whatever religion Adivasis were/are following is more similar to Hinduism than any other religion. Which is why the British clubbed them with Hindus.

  28. Native religion of India have always evolved. If Adivasis are not Hindu, no one is Hindu! Because real definition of Hinduism is way of life in subcontinent (including its culture, rituals, food, believes, etc). From that definition their is no Hindu organized religion. It started getting more organized due to efforts of Britishers. Majority of Hindu believe in animistic and natural thought process. The similar tenants of spirituality connects them at fundamental level. So if Adivasis are a separate religion then we have 10,000+ religions in this country. And majority religion is Islam! I do not see anyone practicing Brahminism nowadays. Though my outlook and reach is mostly urban. But to punish the current generation for sins of ancestors of Brahmins, we should stop giving false narratives. Ideology of RSS to unite is much better than trying to divide us in 10 thousand religions and kill the national identity which flows through ‘way of life’.

    • I did not understand how asking respect and recognition for their tribalistic native way of life has anything to do with punishing the current generation of brahmins? Brahmins are proud of their ancestors and their holy scriptures and have kept it alive to this day. What is wrong if tribals seek an identity of their own?

    • Hindu means one acknowledges the supremacy of the Vedas and Vedic culture and practices. Hindus visit temples where the Vedic scriptures are chanted. The RSS definition may be different but if Hinduism is really to be considered as a religion then the Vedic ideas and beliefs must be it’s core.

      But here the tribals are simply attempting to rediscover their own roots. That is fine, if it preserves their “way of life”.

    • Very aptly explained. Unity in diversity has always been the underlying thought. Just by giving Adivasis a Hindu identity, does not stop them from following their centuries old tribal lifestyle.

    • I think even having a hundred religions may be a true reflection of India’s multi-ethnic society. It’s possible it will strengthen national identity as religion will take a back seat and we will be able to focus on human development – schools, jobs and better infrastructure and public services. Or maybe it won’t strengthen national identity if different groups start demanding special considerations. Either ways India is still a work in progress and so far our democracy has managed to keep us all together despite our differences.

  29. This Suraj Yengde is a converted Christian, fed by missionaries, living a comfortable life in USA with his American girlfriend, he is part of Tukde Tukde Gang, they thrash Brahmins as these Leftists and Tukde Tukde Gang knows Brahmins won’t retaliate violently, the day Brahmins starts reacting violently in the same way as Muslims do , these Rice bag converts will be wiped out of Indian society.

    • SY: your thoughts are divisive and doesn’t qualify as words of a Dr. You people including Soren, choose a stage to echo the senseless voice.

      Instead of doing this please write a book or put efforts to improve the life of the Adivasis. That will be a positive impact.

  30. Yes Mr. Yengde. Adivasis are NOT Hindus. Hence, they are up for grabs for Christian missionaries and Islamic preachers.

  31. Adivasis are under religious attack by church sponsored naxal and conversion mafia being paid in millions of dollars and given jobs abroad.

    • Does not the RSS and BJP also get hundreds of thousands of dollars from rich Gujarati businessmen abroad? I am not sure about the “millions” though.

  32. I guess, we are looking at a catholic Jharkhand in the near future. Let’s keep narrowing our idea of who a “Hindu” is, and keep expanding the list of non hindus. Then the conversion mafia can swoop in with the book. Tab tak, let’s call Hinduism as the aggressive/dominant force.

    • @Mayank: The pope washes feet of Muslims when they invade Europe!! The hypocrisy, lies & evil perpetrated by the desert books they call religious is immeasurable!!

      Indians, especially Hindus will suffer a slavery 10x worse if they are not able to protect their splendid civilization & religion!!

      Meanwhile, this sold out Hemant Soren would have been behind bars for life or worse had he uttered similar evil BS against the Han Chinese!!

Comments are closed.