By Albert Thyrniang
For the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) boss, Mohan Bhagwat everyone is already a Hindu and a devotee of Hindutva, by default. Arguing from the Khasi creation mythology of Sohpet-Bneng and forklores like U Manik Raitong, Bhogtoram Mawroh turns the tide by insisting that Khasis are not Hindus but Hindus are in fact Khasis. He claims all the non-Khasis, including Hindus, belong to the lost Khasi sub-tribe, the Dikos. Bhagwat will certainly laugh off such a suggestion but his fundamentalist statement on September 25, which by coincidence or design, happened to be a Sunday must be condemned and resisted by all.
The declaration of the RSS chief is, of course, nothing new. Reports of the carbon copy statement appear regularly in the press. On September 19, 2018 Bhagwat claimed that everyone who lives in India is Hindu by identity. On 26 December 2019 he even dared to pronounce that all the 130 crore Indians belong to the Hindu society irrespective of their religion and culture. In February this year the head of the right-wing organisation contended that there are no more ‘Ahindus’ (non-Hindus) but the 4 types of Hindus — ‘proud, reluctant, unfriendly, ignorant.’ So, wherever the supremo of the progenitor of the Sangh Parivar goes and speaks he only repeats his conviction to turn India into ‘one nation, one religion, one culture’ country. The significance of his statement is because he made in Meghalaya, a state with a predominantly Christian population. He has now branded all Meghalayans – traditional religious practitioners, Christians, Muslims and others – ‘Hindus’.
It is understood that the leader of the outfit with a 5–6 million membership, is trickily persuading people to believe that what he refers is a geographical area and not a religion. Under the guise that Hindus are referred to as the people who live between the Himalayan mountain range and the Indian Ocean, work is on to club all others under the Hindu fold. The RSS and others are the first to acknowledge that Hindus are not just inhabitants of the above geographical territory. They openly propagate that Hindus are those who follow a certain way of life. This is crucially problematic. ‘Way of life’ in intertwined also with religion. So a Hindu is someone who practices the Hindu religion. Hinduism is not just a way of life. It is a religion. It is, in fact, the world’s oldest religion and the third-largest in the world behind Christianity and Islam. So to say that Hindus are just inhabitants of the subcontinent from time immemorial is incorrect.
The attempt of the RSS and other affiliates in clubbing everyone under the Hinduism umbrella is to play down the existence of the unique history of indigenous tribal communities, their ancestry, culture and religion. The ancestors of the Khasis were never Hindus. The Khasis have a different religion and way of life. The Khasis (the adherents of Ka Niam Khasi) do not worship idols. They do not have temples. They do not consider cows as deities. There has never been a caste system here. The same is true of the Jaintias, the Garos, the Nagas, the Mizos, the Bodos and the numerous Adivasi tribes and sub-tribes all over India. They are basically animists with their own concept of God. They have no similarities with Hinduism. In case of the Khasis their definition of God is ‘U Blei, U Nongbuh-Nongthaw (God, the creator). It is a different matter that many tribal groups in the North East and in other parts of India have been influenced by Hinduism and have added the idol and the temple concept in their religious practices. But originally idols and the temples were alien to the tribal mind. I have seen the symbol ‘OM’ (ॐ) displayed in frames at the entrance of some houses of tribes. Certainly ‘OM’ (ॐ) was not part of thier religion. By and by these indigenous believers would forget thier original practices and remember only the idol, temple and ‘OM’ (ॐ) elements. Ultimately they will identify themselves with Hinduism. The objective has already been achieved to some extent in many tribal settings. That’s the reason the Adivasis in Jharkhand, Odisha, Assam and other states have vehemently rejected that they are Hindus and are persistent in their demand that the Centre recognise their religion as ‘Sarna’. In Meghalaya, a section of the Khasi society, it looks, is ready to embrace ‘Hinduism’ and more dangerously ‘Hindutva’ of the RSS.
To the point that we are all citizens of ‘Bharat’ the tribes of Meghalaya and the whole of North East was never a part of it. Pre-British rule, chieftains and kings were independent rulers. The Ahom kings, the kings in Manipur and Tripura, the Naga, Mizo, Khasi chiefs, the Nokmas in Garo Hills were independent outside the so-called ‘Bharat’. The British annexed these highlands in the 19th century and when they left in 1947 the different princely states and territories became part of India under different circumstances. In this state, the 25 Khasi states signed the Instrument of Accession and Annexed Agreement on December 15, 1947 and March 19, 1948, respectively to be part of the Indian Union. So, reacting to Bhagwat people in social media assert that their ancestors and ancestresses were never Hindus. Their land is the ‘Hynniew Trep’ (Land of seven Huts) which was never a part of ‘Bharat’ before the British conquered it in 1826. Today, they affirm they are Khasi/Jaintia and Indians and not Hindus by any stretch of imagination.
The RSS is a twofold organisation. It is a political parent and mentor of the BJP. The BJP is only its political wing. Its members actively campaign for the BJP. Without its support the BJP will struggle to win any election. The RSS is not a neutral social organisation. Meghalaya is not an exception. The objective of the RSS unit is to enable the BJP to rule the state. Secondly RSS is a pro-Hindu organisation. It is quite anti-Christian and anti- Muslim in its outlook.
It is defined as a Hindu Nationalist group. So, for the Bhagwat events only BJP leaders and members of different Hindu organisations were invitees. In 2023 you will see the RSS crusade for the BJP vigorously. If the RSS which claims to be a social organisation is permitted to openly work for the BJP why not other pressure groups and church associations? Why should not church bodies support the Congress or the TMC or the NPP or the UDP, etc? Why should not the Church take a public stand against the BJP since the RSS effectively rejects all other political parties?
The link between the Seng Khasi and the RSS is now beyond doubt. The Seng Khasi has steadily grown over the years. So also the influence of the RSS is fast taking roots in Khasi and Jaintia Hills. The clout of the Sangh on the Seng Khasi is also more and more visible. There is a possibility that the Seng Khasi will be completely ‘sanghised’ and saffronised (probably the process is already on). The RSS chief prayed with the leaders of the Seng Khasi (indigenous tribal faith) at the sanctum sanctorum of U Lum Sohpetbneng (Navel of the Universe). The Seng Khasi is a socio-cultural and religious organisation. But, inspired by the RSS, the organisation might transform into a political force in this part of the state. Either it will lend its support to the BJP or start its own political party.
Dismissing Mohan Bhagwat’s statement as a personal opinion is at our own peril. Wishing away his view saying the Constitution is secular is a complicit act. The ultimate dream of the RSS is to change the Constitution. If the BJP gets the required majority in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha ‘secularism’ will be removed from the rule book and India will be declared a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. There are already noises to this effect from the Sangh family.
The Seng Khasi is soliciting the support of the RSS because of the perceived threat of Christianity. The traditional body has genuine concerns as a vast majority of the folks in these hills have turned their back on the Khasi religion and has embraced Christianity. The Seng Khasi is facing an existential crisis while the number of Christians swells. It is for this reason that the Seng Khasi have teamed up with the RSS. It is their wisdom but allying with another anti-Christian organisation to preserve itself is quite questionable.
Alleged to be inspired by Nazism of Germany and Fascism of Italy, the latest clubbing is the affirmation of the RSS ideology of the supremacy of the Hindu race (religion) and the subservient existence of all others under it. This supremacist dogma could even lead to suppression and ‘second class citizen treatment’ of others. At the end, I too assert emphatically that I am a Khasi (Maram) and an Indian but not a Hindu. No one can force me to identify myself as a Hindu.