Revisiting Kartik Oraon
Shri Kartik Oraon, also lovingly called by his followers as Baba Kartik Saheb, was a highly qualified tribal leader from what is present-day Jharkhand. A politician of utmost commitment to the society that he led, he represented Lohardaga parliamentary constituency three times in the Lok Sabha. He also rose to become minister for aviation and communication in the Government of India with hard work and passion to serve the society and nation. His lived a committed life for the upliftment of tribal population and 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 in Gumla district in what is now Jharkhand on October 29, 1924 to Jaira Oraon and Birsi Oraon belonging to Kurukh tribe. After completing high school in 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 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's Inn, London. It is a matter of pride for Indians that during his stay in England for nine years, he prepared a design of the world's largest automatic power station for the British government in 1959. Today, it is known as 'Hinckley Nuclear Power Plant'.
Shri Kartik Oraon returned to India in 1961 and 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.
Under the leadership of Acharya Vinoba Bhave Ji, in 1968, when the Bhoodan movement was intensifying, tribal land was being sold at a cheaper price. Karthik Oraon appealed to Indira Gandhi to protect the tribals from losing their land. 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. 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.
He will always be remembered for his most significant contributions to save tribals from evangelical missions. As a part of his fight against 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 converted individuals.
The suggestions in the said memorandum were countered by 50 members of the Lok Sabha in the Indira Gandhi government who were acting at 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.
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 in Mizoram is 90.08% and in Manipur and Nagaland is 97.42 and 98.21%, respectively. This trend continues among STs in various other parts of India as well.
Their conversion to Christianity essentially alienates them from their cultural heritage and indigenous faith. Moreover, the newly converted Christians have started persecuting those who continued to follow their indigenous faith.
In his book “Bees Warsh Ki Kali Raat”, Shri Kartik Oraon has observed that rituals followed by tribals and Hindus are not placed in contradiction but 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 independent India rather than British rule. As a social activist and parliamentarian concerned for the cause of tribals, he insisted on the converted tribal people to be put outside the Scheduled Tribes category.
On December 8, 1981, Shri Kartik Oraon fell on the floor of the corridor of Parliament House. He was admitted to the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital for treatment but his condition deteriorated and he breathed his last. He is no longer in our midst, but his thoughts and actions must serve as 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 remained unfinished which needs to be carried forward.