Thursday, April 7, 2011
Forget the conversions to Christianity. Forget, also, the re-conversions by the champions of Hindutva. It is Jainism which is fast growing into a major religion among Adivasis of the Vadodara and Panchmahals districts of Gujarat, thanks to vigorous campaign by a number of Jain organisations, all belonging to the Shwetamber sect. Though Christian missionaries and various Hindu religious sects, like the Swaminarayan, Jay Yogeshwar, Pragat Purushottam, Ramanand, and Kabir Panthi sects, and the Swadhyaya Parivar have been active in the area for many decades, lately Jainism has been attracting more and more converts.
According to a rough estimate of the Jain missionaries, more than two lakh Adivasis in Chhotaudepur, Jetpur Pavi, Naswadi, and Sankheda talukas of the Vadodara district, and Halol and Jambughoda talukas of the Panchmahals district have embraced Jainism in the last six years.
As many as 60 Jain temples have come up, and religious schools are running in 40villages to teach the neo-converts.
What began as a de-addiction and vegetarian movement 40 years ago, with the efforts of an Adivasi convert to Jainism, Jain Indradin Suri of Salpura village in Jetpur Pavi taluka, has now transformed into ``a Jain missionary movement'', says Purushottam K. Jain, manager of the Parmar Kshatriya Jain Dharma Pracharak Sabha of Bodeli.
The Sabha is one of the two local organisations involved in conversion activities. The other is the Parmar Kshatriya Jain Seva Samaj at Pavagadh in the Panchmahals. The Vijay Vallabh Mission Trust of Ludhiana in Punjab is also active here. Its main functionary in the adivasi belt is Yashobhadra Vijayji Maharaj. Jain businessmen from all over the country, especially the Oswals of Ludhiana, regularly visit the area, according to neo-Jains.
What is the attraction of Jainism for the tribals? It is the anti- addiction and non-violent teachings of the faith which have impressed the tribals, replies deputy mamlatdar of Chhotaudepur Parsinh NarsinhRathwa, who has himself converted to Jainism. Rathwa says the tribals regard Jainism as ``a reform movement''.
Dharamsheel Rathwa, a neo-Jain of Kavra village, 25 kms away from Chhotaudepur, says that alcoholism and frequent infighting in the clans, combined with ignorance and ancient evil practices, had damaged the social fabric of Adivasi society. This has been checked
to a great extent amongst neo-Jains and improved their quality of life, he said.
Thirty-two-year old Varsinh Mandubhai Rathwa of Sajwa village in Jetpur Pavi taluka, who embraced Jainisim three years ago, agreed with Dharamsheel. ``There is more peace in life now,'' he said, adding there is no protest from fellow Adivasis against Jainism.
But some do have reservations, like primary school teacher Bachubhai Nanubhai Rathwa, who alleged that the Jain missionaries were using money power to convert poor Adivasis. ``Whatever may be the reason for Adivasis' new-found love for Jainism, it will certainly lead to social tension when the convertsbegin to assert themselves politically,'' he said, citing the example of Kavra village, where some of the Adivasis had opposed the construction of a Jain temple two years ago.
According to Ganjbhai Kanbhai Rathwa, the Jain priest in Kavra, as many as 50 families of his village embraced Jainisim two years ago, and an 18-year-old youth and two children of 12 and 10 years, respectively, were ordained into priesthood recently. More than 100 families in Sankad, Asar and Kaidawat villages in Kawant taluka also embraced Jainism recently.
The visible symbols of the fledgling religion are also there. A big temple has come up in Salpura village near Bodeli and another temple and a `upasray' on gram panchayat land in Kavra village at a cost of Rs 20 lakh. Yet another temple is proposed to be built soon in
Tejgadh, said a Jain businessman in Chhotaudepur. A colony, named Mahaveer Nagar, too, has come up in the interiors of the tribal belt along Bodeli-Kawant Road.