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Published in the 1-15 July 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

VHP to triple projects in sensitive tribal areas  By John Dayal

New Delhi: The militant Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the religious-militant wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the main instrument of the former ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, plans to triple its presence within two years in India's highly sensitive tribal belt that spans the six states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand. The BJP rules in all these six states, and in the seventh, Orissa, in a coalition government. Barring Jharkhand, where elections are due within a year, the party has clear four years of rule in these states and can patronise the VHP.

Advani still rules?: Female members of VHP train in firearms in the outskirts of Ahmedabad on 27 May 2004

Advani still rules?: Female members of VHP train in firearms in the outskirts of Ahmedabad on 27 May 2004

The main projects of the VHP work in tandem with the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, which is notorious for turning tribals against Christians and Muslims and attacking Christian institutions and personnel.

Recent information from India, the UK and the US has shown that a large chunk of funding comes from non-resident Indians as well as from official, governmental and even church organisations that have been fooled into donating for programmes allegedly for the welfare of widows and for orphan children. However, minority and civil rights groups have repeatedly charged that the money is being diverted to hate campaigns, distribution of hate literature and artifacts and, in the worst case of misuse, in the distribution of the Trishuls (modified tridents) to be carried as a side-arm weapon in its holster. Money is also being used in the so-called Ghar Wapsi or conversion of Christian dalits to Hinduism masterminded by Ju Deo, who as forest minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee BJP-led coalition government, was caught on tape accepting bribes for mine projects. Though he was denied the ticket for the recent Lok Sabha elections, he was active in the electioneering and has now been rewarded with an easy elevation to the membership of the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of parliament while his corruption case is still in the process of criminal investigations.

The VHP had planned a nationwide expansion project, but with the ouster of the BJP from the central government, seems to be focusing its energies in states where it still controls the government apparatus and has the patronage of the chief minister and senior administrative and police officers.

Shyam Gupta, the central joint secretary general of the VHP who is directly in charge of its projects in tribal areas, says the target is to reach 100,000 tribal villages (a fourth of the total villages in India) by 2011. Reports suggest that the RSS may well have over 50,000 to 60,000 trained voluteers in the villages already.

At the core of the VHP tribal project is the one-teacher school. All would be well but for the fact that this teacher is an RSS card-holding cadre, trained by the Sangh Parivar in everything from use of arms to ideological pedagogy. There is no state government certification of the schools, nor of the curricula, and of course not at all of the textual material and propaganda literature and audio visual aids that are used in these schools. In the absence of any such supervision by the state, or audit by the authorities, civil society groups fear that the children are subjected to a systematic pedagogy of hate. For the record, Gupta says the VHP focuses on a four-point programme, which contains education, health, economic progress, and self-respect.

Despite repeated demands by civil society groups, the Vajpayee government failed to give any data on the amount of funds that were being received by the groups.

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