April 08, 2018

India: State Body Objects to Papers on Adivasi Religion a seminar is postponed

Objecting to Papers on Adivasi Religion, Government Body Cans Philosophy Meet

Indian Council of Philosophical Research orders postponement of conference on religious pluralism because 'there are some papers on tribal religious practices, some papers are by foreign scholars.'
New Delhi: The Sangh parivar’s fear of adivasi culture and beliefs was brought home in a dramatic fashion on Friday when the Indian Council of Philosophical Research – the human resource development ministry’s apex body for the study of philosophy – forced the postponement of an academic seminar on the theme of religious pluralism because “there are some papers on tribal religious practices”.
The ICPR is headed by S.R. Bhatt, a philosophy professor considered close to the RSS, who was appointed to the post by Smriti Irani when she was HRD minister.
On Friday, the ICPR informed the organisers of the conference at Jawaharlal Nehru University – who had originally been asked by the council to convene the event in the first place – that it had “decided to postpone the seminar.”
“This is with reference to 11 papers and 20 abstracts submitted for the ICPR Seminar on ‘Religious Pluralism and the Relationship between Religions’, submitted via email on 24.03.2018. As per the norms of the ICPR the papers were sent for the evaluation.
Report of the paper evaluation submitted to Chairman ICPR is as:
(1) There are some papers on tribal religious practices. (2) Some only abstracts. (3) Some papers are by foreign scholars. (4) Many of the papers do not seem to conform to the theme note.
The evaluator in his evaluation report advised for postponement of seminar and Chairman, ICPR has decided to postpone the seminar. There, the seminar stands postponed and may I kindly request you to inform all the participants accordingly.”
The irony of an official body citing the presence of papers on adivasi religion as a reason for withholding clearance for a seminar on religious pluralism will not be lost on tribals – who constitute 8.4% of the country’s population.
The letter, which was signed by R.K. Shukla, member secretary of the ICPR, adds that the council will make good any of the cancellation charges that the participants will incur as well as the “retention charge for accommodation arrangements”. These expenses are expected to run into a few lakhs of rupees.
The seminar concept note, which the ICPR cleared, clearly lists “arguments about religious diversity in Classical and contemporary Islamic texts, the Bhagavad Gita, Jain Buddhist and tribal traditions”, “a philosophical examination of different religious traditions with a view to recovering religious arguments about how one ought to respond to differing and different religious others” and “any related topics that can throw some light on the central theme of the seminar.”  Why the ICPR is now objecting to papers on tribal religious practices is not clear.
One reason could be the RSS view that adivasis are essentially forest-dwelling Hindus, or ‘vanvasis’ and that their belief systems should not be treated as something independent of Hinduism. Indeed, to the extent to which adivasi religious practices – especially in central India – do not conform to the Sangh’s idea of Hinduism, the organisation has been using its network of schools and other organisations to ‘Hinduise’ them. [. . .]