Controversial Senator Lynn Beyak isn't the only political figure who sees the “good” in the racist Indian residential school system. As Canada continues to repent for cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples through the infamous schools, Hindu nationalists are repeating colonial history in the world’s so-called largest secular democracy.
Recent media reports from India suggest that groups affiliated with the ultra-Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, of which the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party is a part, are sending young girls from the tribal communities to special schools distantly located for indoctrination into Hindu nationalist ideology.
RSS claims to be a cultural outfit that desires to transform India into a Hindu theocracy. Taking a leaf from the dark history of Canada, where residential schools were opened to Christianize Indigenous children in the name of nation building by the European settlers, the schools run by the RSS affiliates in the Gujarat and Punjab states of India have been bringing in young tribal girls from Assam to teach them the values of Hindu nationalism. The targeted tribes are Santhals and Bodos, whose belief systems differ from Hinduism.
The pretext of education
The story was unearthed by investigative reporters from at least two media outlets, Outlook magazine and Cobrapost, that specialize in sting operations. The investigations were done in the aftermath of an incident in which 31 tribal girls and their handlers were detained at Delhi railway station on suspicion of child trafficking. They were released following protests by Hindu fanatics.
The girls were sent to schools in Gujarat and Punjab, and all concerns were brushed aside on the pretext of providing education to children from impoverished communities. This was despite the fact that the rules were flouted and no permission was ever sought from the authorities concerned. The handlers of these children had obtained signed affidavits from the gullible parents. Interestingly, these documents were drafted in English, a language that is alien to tribal peoples in India. Yet no action has been taken against the culprits.
Notably, the BJP is in power in Assam and Gujarat. The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, who is an RSS man from Gujarat, was the chief minister of the state when anti-Muslim pogroms broke out in that region in 2002. Human rights activists continue to assert his complicity in the massacre.
It is pertinent to mention that tribals were used by the supporters of BJP as foot soldiers during the violence against Muslims. This clearly indicates that the RSS and the BJP have been able to make inroads into the tribal communities and, given the indoctrination of the tribal girls in their schools, their ambition to bring the Indigenous population into the Hindu fold is a well-thought-out strategy.
Eliminating language and culture
As in the case of residential schools that were distant from the homes of the Indigenous children, the schools run by RSS affiliates are on the west side of India and far away from the northeastern state of Assam. According to the United Nations, forcibly transferring the children to another group amounts to genocide. Going by this simple yardstick, RSS affiliates are indulging in genocide much as the colonists did in Canada, which officially apologized for the residential school system in 2008.
Despite that apology, Lynn Beyak created a huge controversy by justifying the residential schools. She remained adamant about her position and refused to change her views even though the 2008 apology was made by the government led by her own Conservative party. In order to do damage control and stop further embarrassment, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was forced to expel her from his party caucus.
As in the case of Canada’s residential schools, where Indigenous children were forced to give up their spiritual beliefs and discouraged from speaking their traditional language, in the schools run by RSS affiliates the tribal girls are forced to speak the Hindi language and adopt Hindu rituals, so much so that those who eat crabs are forced to become vegetarian in line with Hindu traditions.
Not surprisingly, the church that ran the residential schools in Canada enjoyed the backing of the state. Similarly, the schools run by RSS where students perform religious rituals are enjoying state patronage under the Modi regime.
The church in Canada found the idea of matriarchy among the Indigenous communities to be "pagan" and against the European value system. Through the residential school system, it tried to introduce patriarchy into the native culture and to some extent succeeded in doing so. In the case of tribal girls from Assam too, the matriarchy is being replaced through encouragement to adopt orthodox Hindu customs that bring women under subjugation of men. The very idea of picking tribal girls aged between 8 to 14 for indoctrination indicates how Hindu nationalists see them as future mothers who can influence society through values acquired at their schools.
When the residential schools were opened, the Indigenous parents were assured of a bright future for their children. Because of this, many agreed to send them far away from their homes. Others were forced to give away their children, as refusal to do so amounted to a crime. Many of these children were mistreated, beaten, and sexually assaulted. Many died after running away from schools to escape abuse. On top of that, they were not allowed to visit home often or to write letters to their parents. The Outlook story by Neha Dixit suggests how parents of tribal girls are anxious about them and haven’t heard from them in a very long time.
The idea in both cases is to ensure that the cultural memory of children is erased at a very young age by isolating them from their families and the communities.
All these parallels show how dominant societies try to assimilate marginalized communities to construct an artificial society.
In the case of tribal girls in India, the Hindu nationalists are also trying to take advantage of local-level fights between the tribals and the Muslims and Christians in Assam. Undoubtedly, Assam is exposed to migration from Bangladeshi Muslims and the activities of Christian missionaries, but the BJP has its own agenda of creating divisions among these communities to establish a Hindu state by engineering violence and bloodshed against religious minorities and appropriating tribal groups. That reality must be recognized worldwide.
The situation in India is extremely dangerous, as the tribal girls are not only being put at risk of abuse and forced to give up their cultural identity. They are also being trained to hate Muslims and Christians through the controversial curriculum of the schools run by RSS affiliates, where they are taught the virtues of an exclusionist Hindu state.
It’s a shame that the residential school system denounced by modern-day Canada is being adopted by the supporters of the BJP, which governs a country whose constitution guarantees religious freedom and secularism while a section of foreign investors is enamoured by the economic growth of the country under the leadership of Modi.
All those outraged by Beyak’s remarks should think about Canada’s international responsibilities. Both the Tories and the federal Liberal government must also see how a similar system is being practised in India and make a strong intervention to stop this rather than merely focus on business relations with that country. The idea of racial superiority has always been popular with the RSS, which has idolized men like Adolf Hitler. If Beyak's statements justifying the residential school system are problematic, so is the RSS's approach towards Hindu supremacy.