A delegation of Adivasis from Nandurbar on Friday met President Pratibha Patil and demanded a ban on the Shabari Kumbh mela organised in the Dangs area of Gujarat, stating that it had no sanction in any religious text.
The Satyashodhak Grameen Kashtakari Sabha, based in this Adivasi dominated district of Maharashtra, met Ms. Patil while she was on a visit there and made the demand.
The President promised to look into the matter.
Kishore Dhamale of the Sabha said the mela was organised in 2006 by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Aseemanand, who was later arrested for allegedly masterminding the Malegaon blasts. It also had the backing of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Last week, the Sabha organised a large gathering of Adivasis near the Gujarat border and a resolution was passed calling for a ban on the mela since there was no historical antecedent to this kind of a religious gathering on the lines of the Kumbh mela.
While only four Kumbh Melas are held in India, the VHS introduced the Shabari Kumbh as the fifth one, the Sabha said. A village in the Dangs district was identified as the place where Shabri met Lord Rama and a pond was converted into a Pampa Sarovar. A temple called Shabari Dham was also built near Subir, which underwent a makeover to handle the huge influx of pilgrim.
The demand for banning the mela was also made in 2006 by the People's Union for Civil Liberties, but the Supreme Court did not entertain the application. The mela was attended by lakhs of people.
Rohit Prajapati of the PUCL, Vadodara, had moved an application seeking permission to intervene in the petition filed against the mela. The application alleged that more than five lakh people from across the country, mostly Adivasis, were expected to gather at the Shabari Kumbh in the forest reserves of Dangs, which could pose a threat to the environment.
This year with Aseemanand in jail, reports said the Shabri Seva Samiti, responsible for organising the Shabri Kumbh Mela, decided not to go ahead with its plans to organise the Mela in January. Now there are plans to host one in 2018. However, smaller meetings were organised to mark the event.
Mr. Dhamale said the story of Shabari was being used to give a twist to the religious importance to the area and there was no truth in it. The Sabha has been opposing the Shabari Kumbh mela on the grounds that it was being used as communal propaganda to “Hinduise or Brahminise” Adivasis.
It was a religious programme which was against the so called conversions in the Dangs area and the right-wing groups were spreading their influence into Nandurbar as well, he said.
In a memorandum submitted to the President, the Sabha also demanded that Adivasis registered as Hindus in the Census must be changed to “adidharma.” It also demanded the implementation of the forest rights act among other things.