My being Adivasi is enough to kill me,
Naxalite or spy, that’s just an excuse.
You have your eye on my land,
Development and harmony, that’s just a ruse
-Poem by Jitendra Maravi
Last year, October 9th 2019, angered and frustrated by the imposition of brahminic and anti-adivasi festival, 22 year old Jitendra Maravi or “Sonu”, an active member of the movement responsible for the resurgence of Gond identity and heritage, killed himself in protest.
In Ketaka village of Surajpur district in the Adivasi-majority state of Chattisgarh, local officials forced Jitendra to perform the festival at his very own home. Durga Puja celebrates the killing of Bahujan God, Mahishasur. As Mulnivasis (indigenous population), Dalits, Adivasis and other Bahujan communities consider Ravan and Mahishasur their ancestors, and find the brahminical festival period to be a slap in their face.
Jitendra’s friend, Rupesh Markam told the Caravan that a Durga Puja committee was formed at the local level and his father, Dhansay Maravi, was also a part of it. His father was pressurised to force his son to perform Durga Puja at his house. According to Rupesh and his friends, Jitendra was upset with his father for performing the festival despite its demonisation if Mahishasur.
On September 26th, 2019 Jitendra and his friends had submitted a memorandum to the the district collector opposing the burning of Ravana’s effigy and demonising Mahishasur. Moreover, police arrested and jailed Jitendra the previous year for his opposition to the brahminical festival; he had posted a social media post criticising Durga puja and mentioning the greatness of Ravan and Mahishasur. Per court’s order, he was jailed for 55 days.
In his suicide letter, Jitendra wrote that the imposition of the festival in his very home made him feel as if “the 55 days of sacrifice had gone to waste” and that it was “breaking (him) day and night.” Through his suicide, Jitendra hoped he would achieve martyrdom for the Gond assertion movement that he was active in, especially against the celebration and imposition of Durga Puja.
At a local level, people raised questions about Jitendra’s suicide and the lack of police investigation against the accused, but this news was not covered at all at a State or National level.
Opposing Durga Puja
A veteran adivasi rights activist, Gulzar Singh Markam said that the RSS is pushing tribals towards Hinduism for their own political gain. While imposition of Brahminical rituals and festivals is true of all Savarna political parties and groups, the RSS wants to force Bahujans into the “Hindu” framework to push forward their anti-muslim agenda. Forcing Adivasis to perform Durga Puja- especially anti-brahminical activists like Jitendra- is part of the same plan. But such Brahminical stories directly attack their culture, history and traditions.
Adivasi and Dalit communities in various states besides Chhattisgarh, such as Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat consider Mahishasur and Ravan as their ancestors. The framing of Bahujan icons as demonic or negative light is a method of subjugation through cultural domination. Previously, in Pahankhanjor of Kanker district of Chattisgarh, Moolnivasis first warned authorities not to let other groups celebrate Durga Puja and, when this wasn’t implemented, registered an FIR and a case was taken forward.
Many Bahujans also oppose the festival as leftist leaders often force revolutionary work and protests to be put on halt during the festival period, especially in West Bengal.
Suicide note of the 22-year-old Adivasi youth, Jitendra Maravi:
~ This was my moral loss and I could not bear this loss. I have not taken this step out of fear, but only to open the eyes of these people. And the committee members are fully responsible for it. I want to apologise to all my friends, for leaving the fight midway. Remember one thing, that the revolution always demands sacrifice. I hope to achieve this martyrdom. Those who dishonour our ancestors should not be spared. This Durga Puja was breaking me day and night. I felt as if the 55 days of sacrifice had gone to waste. I would like my friends to fight my unfinished battle with much passion. I am always with all of you. I would like to apologise once again to all the people who were associated with me. I also want to apologise to my family members as they had to be ashamed because of me. I am giving you this last trouble. I won’t anymore. My body should not be dissected, this is my wish.
– Sonu ~