Mass marriages conducted by Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders were booked under non-bailable sections of the Indian Penal Code(IPC) after Mamata Banerjee’s administration alleged that the event is an ‘attempt of converting’ the followers of Sari/Sarna religion into Hindus.
As per a report in Hindustan Times, in Malda district, the top leaders of Vishwa Hindu Parishad were booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code(IPC), and Schedule castes and Schedule tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 with the allegations that the mass marriage ceremony they had organised recently was to ‘convert’ the tribals into Hinduism.
As per the HT report, another such mass marriage ceremony has been stopped by the police and state administration in Alipurduar. The ceremony was scheduled for Monday, February 10. A day before the ceremony, the police had interrogated the organizers for hours. The police had also stopped the vehicles of organizers and seized microphones, dismantled the pandals erected on the venue.
The Inspector in-charge of the Alipurdaur police station Rabin Thapa said, “The event was not allowed because the organizers had not taken permission either from the office of the sub-divisional officer or from the police”.
Another police officer alleged that the action was taken after the police found a leaflet of the ceremony which mentioned that the marriages will be organized as per Hindu rituals.
The event was conducted by Shri Hari Satang Samiti in association with Alipurdaur Ganabibaho Samiti, both RSS linked organisations which have been organising such mass marriage ceremonies for poor tribals for years.
Alipurdaur Ganabibaho Samiti’s Ratan Tarafdar has stated, “We have been conducting similar events for several years. Each time, we only informed the administration in writing about the event and even received the administration’s assistance. Never did the question of obtaining written permission arise”. VHP, Banwasi Kalyan Ashram and other Sangh Parivar organisations too, regularly organise mass marriage ceremonies for poor tribal and rural people.
The VHP has mentioned that they have been following due tribal customs and social rituals in their mass marriage ceremonies. A report in Organiser stated that due permission for the Malda event was obtained from local administration and despite over 100 police officials being present, the event was attacked and vandalised by JDP worker who injured many tribal people and also damaged their belongings.
The VHP has alleged the collusion of Christian missionaries and communist leaders in attacking a tribal mass marriage ceremony and has asked for a detailed probe, failing which, they have claimed to launch a state-wide protest.
It is being speculated that the state government’s wrath on the mass marriage events has come after February 2 when some activists of a local political outfit called Jharkhand Disom Party had vandalised the mass marriage venue in Malda.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee too had joined in to vilify the mass marriage events. While speaking in a public meeting in Nadia district, she had said, “Three days ago, in Malda district, tribal women were being converted in the name of marriage. I thank my administration that they acted. One VHP person has been arrested and the rest are evading the police. They are shameless. The government will arrange for a fund for the marriage of tribal people from poor economic backgrounds”.
The Bharatiya Adivasi Ekta Manch, JDP and some other tribal outfits have been campaigning for a separate religion code for Sarna followers. They have also been reportedly urging the state’s schedule tribe population to list Sarna as their religion in the 2021 census.
Meanwhile, RSS’s South Bengal unit secretary Jisnu Basu hit back at Mamata Banerjee saying “I also smell a conspiracy. Are all of the state’s tribal people followers of Sarna religion, according to the census of 2011? Aren’t there tribal people who consider themselves as Hindus? In that case, is there a concerted effort to reduce the number of Hindus?”
As per the HT report, Sari and Sarna are included as ‘other religious practices’ in the census. In the 2011 census, 942,297 people in West Bengal, or 1.03 per cent of the state’s population, had registered themselves as followers of other religious practices, while the state’s ST population stood at 5.8 per cent.