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EFI – JARSOL (THE DANGS), SEPTEMBER 20: Far away from the national limelight in this interior village in south-east Gujarat, the RSS and its affiliates are making preparations on a mega scale for the holding of ‘Shabari Kumbh mela’ early next year.

The mela—expected to be attended by around five lakh pilgrims from across the country—is part of the RSS offensive against Christian missionaries and an attempt to establish Hindutva in this adivasi-dominated district, Sangh activists at the site said.

The Dangs had hit the headlines following attacks on churches and missionary schools in December 1998. Since then, no open violence has taken place but the RSS and its affiliate organisations—notably the Hindu Jagran Manch and the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram—have been steadily working to ‘‘Hinduise’’ the Bhils, Konkanis, Varli and other tribes that live in the heavily forested Dangs region.

The RSS outfits have hit upon the figure of Shabari—the adivasi woman who offered ‘ber’ to Rama and Lakshmana when they were searching for Sita in the forest—to bring the adivasis into the Hindutva fold and counter-efforts at alleged ‘‘conversion’’ by Christian missionaries.

To follow up on the success of the temple, RSS affiliates decided to hold a ‘Shabari Kumbh mela’’ at a little natural pool formed by the Purna river which they claim is the same ‘Pampa Sarovar’ mentioned in the Ramayana.

‘‘Hindu samaj faces two big challenges—Islamic jehad and Christian conversions. We need to confront both these threats on a global scale,’’ he said. The four traditional kumbh melas (held at Prayag, Hardwar , Nasik and Ujjain ) had begun when ‘‘Hinduism was under threat’’. ‘‘We thought it was time to start a fifth Kumbh to meet the threat posed by conversions in this region,’’ Asheemananda said.

Activists belonging to the RSS, VHP, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and other affiliates are working round-the-clock to make that a reality. A camp site has been set up at a clearing in the forest, and a kilometre-long road is being constructed from the camp to the Pampa Sarovar site.

Laxman Bagul, who lives in Kangariyamal village opposite the Shabari Mata Mandir, said the villagers had already suffered because of the temple. The Kumbh Mela would make things much worse. ‘‘We are harassed by forest officials even if we cut a single tree. But over 700 trees were cut to build the Shabari temple. And thousands more will be destroyed to build the ‘nagars’ near the Pampa Sarovar.’’ The adivasis of the district, activists said, are too poor and ignorant to resist the Hindutva offensive.