Last week witnessed two historic achievements of tribal women in India. The first one was catching the attention of people across the world as a tribal woman stepped into the highest office of the world’s largest Democracy. She is the first tribal woman and the youngest president of India. Tribes in India have a great tradition & rich culture, however, despite being the bearer of a proud tradition, the tribal society of the country had to suffer great neglect for many years. This historic moment of Smt Draupadi Murmu’s presidential position is not only a proud moment for the neglected tribes in India but also recognition of its Indigenous communities in other parts of the world.
The second achievement which didn’t garner as much attention but was equally important was that a tribal woman won the national award as the best playback singer for her traditional tribal song. This achievement is a recognition not only of Smt Nachiyamma but also of the traditional music and culture she represents. These two events show how India respects the traditions of Janjathis (Tribes) and their culture.
Nachiyamma’s achievement for the traditional tribal song gives us great pleasure but at the same time reminds us of impending extinction. This great culture is vanishing at a drastic rate because of religious conversions. Even the Siddhi Muslim tribes at Gujrat used to follow their indigenous culture and used to celebrate festivals like Navaratri. But as religious institutions began dominating on those groups, they grew distant from their original, indigenous culture and traditions. Christian missionaries create a lot of propaganda against the tribal culture and alienated them from their customs, culture and rituals. They were once lovers and worshippers of nature, but with the influence of the conversion lobby, they moved away from this practice.
Across the world, there are more than 3 dozen countries that have legally banned groups involved in proselytizing activities. More than a dozen of countries including Greece and Islamic countries treat proselytism as a criminal offence. Many Islamic countries consider it a capital offence. In the Indian constitution, Article 25 gives religious freedom to all the citizens, it also allows one to propagate one’s own religion. The word ‘propagate’ is misused by these Missionaries to proselytize non-Christians into Christianity. In a reported judgement of the Supreme Court, Rev. Stanislaus vs State Of Madhya Pradesh & Ors clearly held that the right to propagation does not mean to convert to another religion. The same article also assures freedom of conscience and the free profession of religion.
Religious freedom is not ultimate in India. Govt could control this freedom subjected to public order, morality and health and other fundamental rights offered by the constitution. But our identity is unity in cultural diversity, which is being affected by these religious conversions. Moreover, the constitution is silent about the cultural effects. The direct connection between the cultural change due to conversion can be observed in tribal areas, mainly in the backward ones. These religious conversions are resulting in our cultural genocide. Like other countries, we too have to protect indigenous rich cultures from religious conversion legally.
Rare cultural treasures like Nachiyamma’s music need to be safeguarded through legal means by the constitution. Otherwise, over time we will lose these treasures in oblivion like many others.