A Chhattisgarh government programme to distinguish Adivasi weddings from Hindu weddings

What is the religion of the Adivasis? Are they Hindus, Muslims or Christians? Most Adivasis believe they are none of the above. They insist that they have their own religion and traditions. The Chhattisgarh government has now officially accepted this stand of the Adivasis, reports Tameshwar Sinha

For a long time, different religions have been foisted on the Adivasis. In the last few decades, efforts to Hinduize them have gathered pace. Efforts are on to find ways to describe them as Hindus. Amid all this, the Chhattisgarh government has decided that the weddings of Adivasi couples under a government scheme will be performed in keeping with their traditions and rituals, and not in accordance with Hindu traditions and rituals. 

On 18 June 2020, the state’s Department of Women and Child Development issued a circular addressed to the district programme officers and district Women and Child Development Officers directing them that “Hindu” is not to be written against the “Religion” column in application forms for marriages of Adivasis under Mukhyamantri Kanya Vivah Yojana (Chief Minister Marriage Scheme for Girls).   

Guests at a wedding in an Adivasi family in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, sitting around the mandap erected in the courtyard of the house.

The department has also stated that the marriage-related rituals should be in keeping with the system prevalent among the Adivasis. The directives followed a memorandum submitted by Amrit Marawi, a lawyer from Surajpur district, to Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel at the latter’s Jan Chauhal programme. Amrit Marawi had demanded that Adivasis not be described as Hindus in the official documents and that their weddings be performed in accordance with their – as opposed to Hindu – customs and rituals. 

Mukhyamantri Kanya Vivah Yojana was launched in the state when Baghel’s predecessor Raman Singh was chief minister. Under the scheme, the government provides financial assistance to poor families for their daughters’ weddings. The Bhupesh Baghel government has doubled the assistance provided under the scheme from Rs 15,000 to Rs 30,000. 

Women perform a marriage-related ritual

Representatives of Adivasi organizations have welcomed the government’s decision. Prakash Thakur, president of the Bastar divisional unit of Sarva Adivasi Samaj, said that they had been demanding for a long time that the government preserve and protect the traditions of the Adivasis and not foist outsiders’ culture on them. “But the former Raman Singh government did not listen to us,” he said. “We welcome the decision of the Baghel government. Our marriages should be performed in accordance with our traditions, not Hindu traditions. We are not Hindus and the Hindu religion should not be pushed down our throats.” 

The order issued by the Government of Chhattisgarh

Prakash Thakur said that unlike among Hindus, pheras (the ritual of going around the fire) are not part of Adivasi weddings. “We do not need Brahmin priests for marriages; there are no pujas and no chanting of mantras. We have our own rites,” he said. 

A groom and his mother perform a ritual

Degree Prasad Chauhan, president of the Chhattisgarh chapter of Public People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), said that the Constitution enjoins upon the State not to give preferential treatment to any religion. “On the demand of the Adivasi community, the Chhattisgarh government has decided that weddings of Adivasi couples will be performed in accordance with their customs and rituals. The government has corrected a mistake. Better late than never,” he said. 

According to Anup Toppo, president, Sarva Adivasi Samaj, Surguja, the languages, dialects and culture of the Adivasis are their basic identity. “From time immemorial, the Adivasis have been leading their lives from birth till death in conformity with the rules of nature. We have been demanding that marriages of our community be performed in accordance with our traditions and rites. The former BJP government was ignoring our demands. Now, the Congress Government has accepted them. There is no need for Brahmins in our tradition. Even when pheras are performed in Adivasi marriages, they are performed in the anti-clockwise direction.” 

Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil


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