Revisiting Shri Kartik Oraon’s Thoughts and Legacy

conversion of Tribals into Christianity has taken place on a massive scale in the independent India than British rule in India. Therefore, as a social activist and a parliamentarian concerned for the cause of tribals, he insisted on the converted tribal people to be put outside the Scheduled Tribes category.

Shri Kartik Oraon also lovingly called by his followers as Baba Kartik Saheb was highly qualified tribal leader from the present day Jharkhand state of India. A politician of utmost commitment to the society that he led, he represented Lohardaga Parliamentary constituency for three times in the Lok Sabha. He also rose to become minister for aviation and communication of Government of India by dint of his hard work and passion to serve the society and nation. His was a committed life for the upliftment of tribal populace and he toiled endlessly for the cause of protection and preservation of tribal life and culture from evangelical aggressions.

He was born in a village named Karounda Littatoli of Gumla District of Jharkhand state on 29 October 1924 to Jaira Oraon (Father) and Birsi Oraon (Mother) belonging to Kurukh tribe. After completing high schooling from  Gumla  in 1942, he passed Intermediate examination from Science College, Patna, and completed bachelor of engineering from Bihar College of Engineering, Patna. Thereafter he moved to England and completed his further studies in engineering from Royal College of Science and Technology, Glasgow and Battersea College of Technology, London University. He also studied Bar-at-Law at the Lincoln&39;s Inn, London.

It is a matter of pride for Indians that during his stay in England for 9 years, he prepared a design of the world&39;s largest automatic power station for the British government in 1959. Today it is known as & 39;Hinckley Nuclear Power Plant& 39;. Shri Kartik Oraon returned to India in 1961and he took over the post of Superintendent Construction Designer at HEC. Along with this, he also designed the building of BAU and Central Library. Later he was promoted to the post of Deputy Chief Design Engineer, but seeing the condition of the tribals of Chhotanagupar at that time; he resolved to work for the society and entered politics in 1962. He was not only a skilled engineer, but also an excellent politician.

In the leadership of Acharya Vinoba Bhave Ji, in 1968, when the Bhoodan movement was intensifying, the land of the tribals was being sold at a cheaper price. At such a time, Karthik Oraon appealed to Mrs. Indira Gandhi to protect the tribals from depriving them of their land thereby becoming landless. He became successful in persuading Mrs. Gandhi, the then Prime Minister and arrangements were made to get back the lost land of tribals by enacting an act on the issue. It was due to Shri Kartik Oraon’s relentless efforts that Birsa Agricultural University was established at Ranchi. He was instrumental in the creation of ‘Tribal Sub Plan’ on the basis of which presently the Central and State Governments are running various development schemes for the development of tribes.

He will always be remembered for his most significant contributions to save tribals of their culture and traditions which were facing grave threats (they still do) in the wake of onslaught of evangelical missions that were hell bent upon converting tribal people into Christianity. As a part of his fight against unscrupulous attempts to convert tribals, he submitted a memorandum to the government of India signed by 322 members from Lok Sabha and 26 members from Rajya Sabha in 1967. The document unequivocally asks for putting restriction on the reservation benefits to the converted individuals meant for Scheduled Tribes (STs).

The suggestions in the said memorandum were countered by 50 members of the Lok Sabha in the Indira Gandhi government who were acting on the behest of Christian missions in India. Despite Kartik Oraon’s relentless efforts the recommendations in the memorandum could not be implemented as the Christian missions put tremendous pressure on Indira Gandhi to not to implement them. The suggestions in the  memorandum were absolutely in line with the recommendations of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment) Bill, 1967.

The committee had recommended the following amendment: “2A. Notwithstanding anything contained in the parliament in Paragraph 2, no person who has given up tribal faith or and has embraced either Christianity or Islam shall be deemed to be a member of any Scheduled Tribes ( Vide Para 2A, page 29, line 38 of the Schedule II of the report).
Such an amendment had already been done in the case of Scheduled Castes (SCs) in 1956 which reads as under –
“3. Notwithstanding anything contained in the Paragraph 2, no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu or Sikh Religion shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Castes”

Timely implementation of the recommendations mentioned in the memorandum submitted by Shri Oraon and the Joint Parliamentary Committee would have proved a step in the right direction. At present huge population of tribals is lured to convert to Christianity, the northeastern states being the worst affected region of India. According to the latest published note on the Religion Data Census of 2011 by the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) Mizoram Manipur and Nagaland have now become almost entirely Christian. The Christian Population among STs is in Mizoram is 90.08 percentage and in Manipur and Nagaland is 97.42 and 98.21 percentage respectively. This trend continues among STs in various other parts of India as well.

Their conversion to Christianity essentially alienates them of their cultural heritage and indigenous faith that these communities have been following for years. Moreover, the newly converted Christians have started persecuting those who continued to follow their indigenous faith. Also Christian converts are the ones who usurp the reservation benefits the most. Shri Kartik Oraon anticipated this much earlier and kept fighting for the cause of tribal all his life.

In his book “Bees Warsh Ki Kali Raat”, Shri Kartik Oraon has observed that rituals followed by tribals and the Hindus are not placed in contradiction but they are complementary. Citing the examples of Nishadraj, Shabari, Kanappa etc. and various anecdotes mentioned in the ancient Indian texts, he said tribals were Hindus since time immemorial. In his book he further observed that conversion of Tribals into Christianity has taken place on a massive scale in the independent India than British rule in India. Therefore, as a social activist and a parliamentarian concerned for the cause of tribals, he insisted on the converted tribal people to be put outside the Scheduled Tribes category.

On the fateful day of December 8, 1981, Shri Kartik Oraon fell on the floor of the corridor of the Parliament House. He was admitted in the Ram Manohar Lohiya Hospital for the treatment but his condition deteriorated and he left for the heavenly abode. He is no longer in our midst, but his
thoughts and actions must serve as the guiding principles for those who work for the tribal cause. His battle for the rights of the tribal people who still adhere to their ancestral faith has till date remained unfinished which needs to be carried forward till the victory is achieved.


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