Did Nehru Ban Sadhus in Nagaland?


(B Someshwar Rao)

INDIA’S FIRST PRIME MINISTER Jawaharlal Nehru had banned Sadhus (Hindu ascetics)  from entering Nagaland, a north-east state which was then a part of NEFA or North Eastern Frontier Agency, in a pact with Verrier Elwin, a British Christian missionary who had become Mahatma Gandhi’s follower but later left the nationalist movement.

An anthropologist and ‘ethnologist’ (expert on ethnic traits) he was an admired and popular figure in the 1960s. Everyone knew that he could speak in the Maria language of Bastar tribes and that he had married a 13-year-old Raj Gond tribal girl, a student of his school, when he was 38 years old.

If the ‘ghotul’ system of initiating Bastar boys and girls into adulthood is known today to the world, it is because of him. He was known to be able to address public meetings in the tribal language of the Maria tribe, which our tribal welfare officers could not. His admirers included me, born and brought up in a state of which Bastar was a part.

While much is known about Elwin (1902-1964), nothing was known till now about the pact with him reportedly signed by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, banning the entry of Hindu ascetics into Nagaland, which is today 88 per cent Christian according to the census of 2011.

After all, Sadhus were parasites living on the society’s charity, while Christian missionaries brought in a lot of money. As a friend put it, this would not have come to pass if Hindu religious leaders befriended and worked with the aboriginals.

If Nehru bans Hindu Sadhus, it is a great act of secularism and liberalism according to those idolizing him.  However, if Narendra Modi just restricts conversions or bans use of force or inducements for it, he is an intolerant communalist! Or that is what the dynastic Congress and the parties supporting it want us to believe.

Today, there is a pestering problem of insurgency and armed conflict in Nagaland, which could not be resolved for the last some decades.

The news of this ban would have been dismissed as a concoction of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT Cell and mere propaganda, as the liberals are fond of saying without any verification, but I received a picture of a newspaper cutting confirming it.

It was of the days before fake news, paid or unpaid, was even heard of or every media unit having an axe to grind or political leaning, as is common now.

They must work overtime to prove this news wrong. They could, however, be busy trying to justify Father Elwin’s marriage, as there was no ban on child marriage then, but condemn many Indian practices such as kings having many wives, which, no doubt, were wrong. No wonder they had not heard that the ideal was Shri Ram who abstained from this and loved Sita alone.

After all they would not know, because they are seculars busy supporting triple talaak on phone (divorce by just uttering talak thrice) and Islam sanctioning four wives for every man, These practices could certainly be justified in the social system of the ancient days but adhered to only because of laws made hundreds of years ago for another system and another culture which required them.

What is not needed is the double standard of wanting reform in some system and orthodoxy in another.