October 04, 2004

RSS Operation Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram has bash

[The Economic Times _ October 4, 2004
URL: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/872507.cms ]

RSS-backed Vanvasi NGO comes out of woods

NEW DELHI: The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, the RSS-backed voluntary organisation engaged in furthering the Sangh’s attempts to create a pan-Hindu identity by getting the tribals within its fold, has so far stayed away from public glare, preferring to work silently towards its cause.

In a major shift in strategy, the VKA has now has decided to go public with its operations — its aims, ahievements and the problems encountered by its members and activists as they go about sensitising tribals about their socio-cultural and economic identity and their rights.

The RSS-backed NGO, which commenced its activities from Jashpur in Chhattisgarh in 1952, is holding a five-day-long conference here to mark the conclusion of its golden ju[blilee celebrations.

Billed as “the biggest-ever event of its kind held in the country”, the conference, which gets underway on October 6, is expected to attract representatives from some 250 tribes and 200 tribal districts spread over 27 states and union territories, including all the north-eastern states.

“Of the 690 tribes inhabiting the country, we have managed to establish contact with 380,” claims VKA organising secretary Gunwant Singh Kothari, adding, “Barring Lakshadweep, Ladakh, Goa and Pondicherry, we have been successful in striking roots in all the states and UTs.”

The conference, according to VKA join general-secretary Kripa Prasad Singh, is likely to see some 3000 tribal representatives coming together to discuss ways to safeguard their traditions and cultural heritage and also the problems in their socio-economic development.

The organisation, which works with the slogan “loss of culture is loss of identity”, has embarked on a major exercise to help the tribals preserve their cultural identities. “Government-sponsored educational programmes and the activities of Christian missionaries have induced some sort of a inferiority complex among the tribals about their cultural background,” alleges Mr Dwarkacharya, the VKA’s publicity chief.

In an attempt to instil a “sense a sense of belonging and pride about their heritage”, the VKA has compiled a list of historical figures who left an indelible mark in their struggle against foreign rule. These include Birsa Munda, Siddho-Kanhu, Queen Durgawati, Punja Bhil, Alluri Sitaram Raju, Ropuilyani, Begra Bhil, Veer Tantia Bheel, Talom Rukbo, Kartik Oraon and Rani Gaidinalyu.

The VKA has been concerned with the impact of the economic development policies on their lives. “The geographical distance and the lack of means of communication have ensured that the tribals have been deprived of their benefits,” argues Mr Kothari.

During the course of their work, the VKA activists have had several run-ins with the Naxalites in states such as Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh and the insurgents in the north-east.

“In both the cases, their directions are very clear — we can carry on with our work only in the peripheral areas, but not in the core area of their spheres of influence,” he says, adding, “We have to be very cautious. We don’t want any conflict with them.”