Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said “vanvasi” (forest dweller) was a ”derogatory” term to refer to adivasis and asked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to apologize to tribals for using the word to describe them.
Gandhi, leading his party’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, alleged the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideology had helped the Britishers who hanged tribal revolutionaries like Tantya Bheel. The Lok Sabha MP was speaking after visiting tribal icon and freedom fighter Tantya Bheel’s birthplace Baroda Ahir in Khandwa district’s Pandhana tehsil on the second day of the Madhya Pradesh leg of his cross-country foot-march.
Addressing a rally later, Gandhi demanded that the BJP apologize with folded hands for disrespecting tribals by calling them ”vanvasi”.
“A few days back, I heard a speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which he used a new word, ‘vanvasi’, for ‘adivasis’. It means adivasis are not the first owners of the country and that they only live in forests,” said the former Congress president. The thinking behind using the ”disrespect” word may be that once forests disappear under the BJP rule, tribals will have no place to reside in the country, he said.
Referring to the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA Act) formulated during the Congress regime at the Centre, he alleged this landmark legislation along with key laws like the Land Acquisition Act and the Forest Rights Act were weakened during the BJP rule. The Congress leader said tribals must get back their rights related to water, land and forests.
Gandhi alleged that maximum atrocities on tribals took place during the BJP dispensation in Madhya Pradesh. “If the BJP government does not restore rights of tribals in the state, we will do so in a phased manner when we (Congress) come back to power,” he said.
Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh are due in 2023-end.
A day before the arrival of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Baroda Ahir, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan visited Tantya Bheel’s birthplace and flagged off Gaurav Yatra taken out in honour of the tribal hero. The 3,570-km-long foot-march of the Congress started from Tamil Nadu on September 7 and will culminate in Srinagar in late January.