Time to right historical wrongs
On September 25, the RSS Chief, Mohan Bhagwat who was on a visit to Meghalaya made a bizarre statement at a public function. He claimed that everyone living in ‘Bharat’ is a Hindu and there was no need to convert anyone from this stated position. For the tribal people of Meghalaya whose integration and initiation into the Indian political system began in 1948 after the Khasi chieftains signed the Instrument of Accession (IoA) under questionable circumstances, Bhagwat’s histrionics naturally caused outrage. Bhagwat was speaking at a public function largely attended by adherents of the local RSS and members of the BJP.
From his statements it can be gleaned that Mohan Bhagwat does not have a rounded understanding of the state and people of Meghalaya other than that fed by acolytes from the local RSS. For a very long time the Khasi-Pnar people who did not embrace Christianity were, for want of a better official description, simply labelled as “Hindus” in official documents where individuals have to declare their religious affiliations. This has stuck on and resulted in those holding fast to their indigenous faith practices being deprived of scholarships from the Ministry of Minority Affairs. Hence it is religion, not ethnicity that determines one’s minority status and which is patently unjust because those following the indigenous faith are as backward, poor and in need of financial assistance for their education as those belonging to minority religious groups such as Christians, Muslims, Parsis, Buddhists etc. That this patent injustice has continued for 75 years without any public representatives being able to convince the Central Government that this needs rectification also shows just how weak and fragmented the voices of the North Eastern representatives in Parliament are.
It merits mention that Late JJM Nichols Roy argued vehemently in favour of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution even when fellow members of the Constitution Drafting Committee from Assam tried to checkmate him. The Sixth Schedule has stood the tribals who are pitted against a majority non-tribal population of Assam in those days, in good stead insofar as safeguarding their cultures and practices are concerned. But it perhaps never occurred even to the astute Nichols Roy that such a situation would emerge when a section of the tribes who held on to their indigenous faith practices would be deprived of their minority status merely because of a wrong nomenclature.It is pointless to debate Mohan Bhagwat’s absurd statement. As an RSS heavyweight his brief is to assert the superiority of Hindus and fuse it with the semantics of Bharat – the ancient name of this country that certainly excluded these hills. Instead, what needs to be done is to right the wrongs of history and restore to the people of the Indigenous faith – Niam Khasi, Niam Tre, their rightful place in the Constitution.