After members of the tribal Meena community took down a Bhagwa (saffron) flag hoisted by Hindutva organisations at the Ambagarh fort in Jaipur last week, tensions have escalated with the police bracing for a possible confrontation triggered by calls for hoisting another saffron flag at the site this week.
The Meenas are classified as a Scheduled Tribe in Rajasthan.
Last week, the Yuva Shakti Manch, a Hindutva organisation associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), hoisted a saffron flag with the words ‘Jai Shri Ram’, on an electric pole in the premises of the fort.
“Adivasi communities should not be painted in Hindu colours, we have our own identity, and our own laws and customs,” Arjun Mehar, a member of the Meena Community told Maktoob.
The Meena community consider the fort sacred as it houses the temple of their clan goddess. According to community leaders, hoisting the bhagwa flag with ‘Jai Shri Ram’ is an attempt by Hindutva groups to interfere with tribal culture and appropriate tribal symbols under the Hindu religion.
“Adivasi’s are Adivasis, not Hindus. As per article 342 of the constitution, we are considered ST’s because our customs, languages and laws are different from those of the Hindus, ” Mehar added.
On July 22, members of the Meena community gathered at the fort to remove the flag, led by independent MLA Ramkesh Meena. According to a video of the event, a section of the flag tore off as it was being lowered.
As the video went viral on Facebook and Twitter, Hindutva organisations were outraged and issued calls on social media for followers to reach the fort on August 1 to hoist another flag.
At the Transport Nagar police station, both sides filed police complaints against each other.
“They are hoisting Saffron flags on many ancient forts in Rajasthan. If they are truly patriotic, why don’t they hoist the tricolour?” Mehar asks.
The Sudarshan News TV channel and its editor Suresh Chavhanke, infamous for his inflammatory TV programmes, ran a TV campaign for the saffron flag and announced a massive gathering at Ambagarh to once again hoist the saffron flag there.
Tribal Army founder Hansraj Meena accused the Hindutva organisations of trying to subvert tribal identity and trying to saffronise the Meena community. “We have also instructed our members to reach Ambagarh on the same day in large numbers and carry a plant and a Tricolour flag to give out the message that we worship mother nature and are patriots,” The Wire quoted him as saying.
‘No Hindu-Muslim Angle’ in previous temple vandalisation incident
The fort was earlier also at the centre of complaints of idols being vandalised. ACP Adarsh Nagar Neel Kamal said that following an FIR registered in June on this issue, police detained a group of juveniles from the Muslim community, the Indian Express had reported.
“The Amagarh fort was made by Meena rulers several hundred years ago. Inside the fort, there are several deities worshipped by the Meena community,” independent MLA from Gangapur City, Ramkesh Meena, who is also the state president of the Rajasthan Adivasi Meena Seva Sangh had said, adding that the names of some of the deities were allegedly changed and that “the name of Amba Mata was changed to Ambika Bhawani.”
“They have removed Adivasis who were working in the temple and replaced them with Brahmin priests,” Mehar claimed.
The MLA also insisted that there was “no Hindu-Muslim angle” to the idols being vandalised. He blamed “extreme elements” from Hindu outfits for the idols being vandalised “because they wanted an excuse to enter the fort and try to give communal colour to the incident.”