Fanning Communal Fires

By Gladson Dungdung

17 October, 2008

Hindutva groups attack a mistake in a Bible translation into a tribal language in Jharkhand.

A protest against Nemha Bible in Ranchi
A protest against Nemha Bible in Ranchi

After a successful campaign against Christians in Orissa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Kerala, the rightwing Hindutva forces – RSS, VHP and BJP are all busy fanning the communal fire in Adivasi dominated areas of Jharkhand. A hate speech against the missionaries by the RSS chief K.C. Sudarshan at Ranchi on September 14 and the BJP’s huge agitation in the Jharkhand Assembly on the issue of wrongly translated Bible on 22-23 September, was followed by the allegation of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) General Secretary Pravin Togadia, who visited Ranchi on 3 October, that the missionaries were humiliating Adivasis and their Sarna religion in the name of social service. He also justified the violence against Christians in Kandhamal of Orissa. He said, “The violence against Christians in Kandhamal of Orissa and the agitation against church in Jharkhand are the manifestations of the missionaries’ unholy work.”

The rightwing Hindutva groups, protesting the flaws in the translation, have created communal tension in the state. The Sarna Adivasis too are organising a series of agitations against the Church. They burnt the effigy of Cardinal, demanded action against the publisher and ran a smear campaign against the Church. According to Ajay Tirkey the president of the Kendriye Sarna Samiti, the issue will be taken to the villages. “We will fight against it till the culprits are punished”, he said. The members of Sarna Raksha Manch, Karma Oraon and Bahura Ekka are trying to politicise the issue. Karma Oraon said, “The missionaries are working for destruction of the Sarna religion. We are, therefore, campaigning against them as it hurts sentiments the Sarna Adivasis”.

This has provided a golden opportunity for the Hindutva groups to pounce on. The Bible has been translated in Adivasi language “Kurukh” spoken by the Oraon Adivasis the second largest Adivasis of Jharkhand. The “Nemha Bible”, as the translation is called, uses a word “Sarna-tree” in place of “green-tree” in the original Bible. After spotting this error, the Bible Society of India apologised to the Sarna Adivasis and withdrew the books from the market. Secretary of the Society Soma Bhatker said, “The Bible has been translated to the local dialect and 3000 copies were published in demand of North Western Gossner Evangelical Lutheran (NWGEL) Church in 2000. The Society then apologised for the mistranslation and withdrew the book”. Bishop of NWGEL Church Nirdosh Lakra said, “The hurriedly done translation of the first edition would have led to the flaw.”

Although this does not concern the Catholic Church, the Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo has apologised to the Sarna community for the wrong translation and appealed to the communities to sort out the differences through dialogue. He said, “The matter needs to be sorted out through dialogue and the unity of the Adivasis should not be broken. There are many burning issues in the state that demand the unity.”

A forum of Adivasis, the Jharkhand Indigenous People’s Forum sees the issue differently. According to the forum, the issue of the Bible has been raised deliberately to divide Adivasis on communal lines so as to quell the uprising of those affected by displacement. The Bible was published a long time ago but the timing of the protests with the elections just round the corner raises suspicions about their intentions. The Forum’s president Xavier Kujur said, “The Rightwing wants to divide the Adivasi community so that the MOUs signed by the BJP government can be executed. We should question their intentions.”

The general secretary of the CPI (ML) Dipankar Bhattacharya has demanded the banning of the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal for spreading communal hatred.

Observing the seriousness of the matter, Sibu Soren the Chief Minister of Jharkhand has warned the rightwing Hindutava forces against fanning the communal flame in the state. He said, “The state government will ban the VHP and Bajrang Dal attack on the churches takes place in the state.”

In the last monsoon session of the Jharkhand Assembly, the issue of reservation to converted Adivasi Christians was also raised by the BJP, curtailing the proceedings of the house for a couple of days before the Jharkhand High Court judgment that conversion does not lead to a change in social status. The Sangh Parivar had argued that the Christian Adivasis, professing a foreign religion, should not be entitled to reservation.

The communal divisions among the Adivasis were engineered during the regime of the BJP. Sangh Pracharaks and former Chief Ministers of Jharkhand Babulal Marandi and Arjun Munda both claimed that Adivasis are Hindus. Babulal Marandi had justified the claim by saying that ‘every one who had links with the Sindhu Ghati (Sindhu Valley) was a Hindu because the word ‘Hindu’ derives its meaning from ‘Sindhu’. Reiterating Marandi’s stand, Arjun Munda stated that there are similarities between the Adivasi religion and Hinduism, as Hindu Gods are worshipped in many Adivasi festivals.

Both the Chief Ministers supported the other stalwarts of the Sangh Parivar – K.C. Sudarshan, Praveen Togadia and Dilip Singh Judeo — as they went around spreading hatred among the Adivasi communities in the name of “Ghar Vapsi” (‘homecoming’ meaning re-conversion) and reservation to Christian Adivasis. They distributed trishuls (tridents), idols of Hanuman and Ganesh. The communal passion has already been ignited by the Rightwing in the state but it has stayed away from attacking the Christians, churches and their institutions only because the BJP is not in power.

It is an irony that in a secular state, the political parties use religion to canvass and nobody is bothered. Instead of punishing them, the likes of Babulal Marandi and Arjun Munda are rewarded for dividing people in the name of religion. The people who once occupied Chief Minister’s chair accompany the team that gives out trishuls (tridents), idols of Hanuman and Ganesh instead of providing livelihood and education to the people. It is a political conspiracy to divide and rule the Adivasis.

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist. He can be contacted at

1 thought on “Fanning Communal Fires”

  1. The religion schisms are plotted by Christian Missionaries like yourself Godson. While you are Christian, you are also a big liar and terrorist of words who is fueling and preparing grounds for breeding germs of genocide in country. Shame on you who hide true identity and come out as Adivasi while you are filled with the venom of Christians who wiped out natives of Ameria calling them Red Indians, Newzealand/ Australia calling them Aboriginals, Europe calling them pagans and gypsies, Indians calling them Hindoos. Shame on you and your dubiousness

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