Swami Aseemanand: Anti-conversion godman who sang, danced and prayed with tribals
But some of them recall he was a non-compromising proponent of Hindu Rashtra who did the most difficult task of “stalling Christian evangelism in tribal areas of Gujarat in the late nineties.”
Assemanand, as part of Hindu organisations, has worked in Bengal, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram, but his major work has been in the Dangs area of Gujarat, Andaman islands and in Jharkhand.
Born in Bengal to a family that believed in Hindu values and was close to the Ramakrishna Mission, active in that area, a senior RSS leader said, Aseemanand changed his name when he was initiated into sanyas by a guru, after which he got involved in work for tribals. “He was very clear that he would work for tribals right from the beginning.
He started in West Bengal after which some leaders of RSS noticed his work and sent him to Andamans in seventies, where the Sangh was trying to establish itself,” a senior leader of the RSS who has worked with him in Gujarat said. The senior leader said Aseemanand was disillusioned by Ramakrishna Mission but “has great regard for Swami Vivekananda and his call to Hindus. “His words to others were simple – get more Hindus to the fold but make sure not even one Hindu leaves it, because the threat to the religion is more when believers turn foes,” the leader said.
Aseemanand came to Gujarat in the late nineties to launch a ‘re-conversion’ movement in the tribal Dang district, where his aim was to mainly to keep a check on Christian conversions, activities of Christian pastors and reconvert as many Christians to Hinduism as possible.
“The RSS gives an aahuti (offerings) of its swayamsevaks every year to improve the lives of tribals,” a senior member of the VHP said. “Swamiji lived in Dangs for more than two years, trying to get people out of the Christian fold. Some of the families had converted into Christianity just in the seventies.
So he felt it was easy to get them or their children back into the Hindu fold,” he added. “His way of working was very different from others – he would live with them, have informers among them, speak their language,” said another leader said.
He would get people from other States who would sing lively bhajans and tell stories to the tribals. He would arrange for attractive celebrations during Hindu festivals.
He would also encourage tribal women to weave handicrafts with characters f r o m Ramayana. He also believed that it was important to discern between Dharam and Daan, to mean that those who cease being Hindus will also cease getting food, milk and medicines from patrons,” another leader said.
Aseemanand’s activities i n Dangs, primarily a christian-tribal area are learnt to have caused anti-Christian riots which led to both the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi paying a visit to the area.
Aseemanand, it is learnt, is said to have had problems with sangh leaders too. That he openly advocated demolishing churches went against the impression of the sangh that was known to be law abiding, and he was a man who listened to no one, another leader said. “The news of violence in a BJP ruled State was not good. Aseemanand did believe in the open use of violence to impose Hindu beliefs on people which also affected the formal working of the Hindu organisations in the State and their acceptance,” a sangh worker said.
Aseemanand built the Shabridham temple in Subir village in Gujarat at a spot he claimed was where Lord Ram was offered berries by Shabri. Apart from the 2006 Shabri Kumbh Mela that he organised with a lot of fanfare, Aseemanand in a course of five years held discourses and reconversion ceremonies in Dangs, Valsad, Navsari and several other places. “He would ask the tribals to wear Hanuman lockets to protect themselves. He would even organise prayer sabhas for the Hindus, to offer worship collectively, just like the Chrsitians and Muslims did,” another leader said, adding that unlike others, Aseemanand would always ask the tribals to pay for the worship material he would give them.
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