In July 2021, Hindutva groups hoisted a saffron flag, with a “Jai Shri Ram” inscription, atop the Ambagarh fort in Jaipur, Rajasthan. The fort houses the temple of Amba Mata, a goddess revered by the Meena community, a Scheduled Tribe in Rajasthan. The Meenas consider the temple to be a sacred place. According to members of the community, the saffron flag was hoisted by members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The community saw the saffron flag as an affront to their beliefs.
The Wire reported that the Yuva Shakti Manch, an Hindutva organisation associated with the VHP, was responsible for the flag hoisting. I spoke to Narpat Singh Shekhawat, a former Rajasthan VHP president and currently the president of Akhil Bhartiya Vishesh Samapark, a wing of the VHP. He admitted that members of the Sangh had hoisted the saffron flag. “It is a right to hoist the bhagwa”—the saffron flag—“ in India,” he told me.
However, Meena leaders saw that this incident as an attempt to saffronise the Adivasi community. “It is a well-planned conspiracy by the RSS and BJP to capture our sacred fort and erase our Adivasi culture,” Ramkesh Meena, an MLA and the state president of the Rajasthan Adivasi Meena Seva Sangh, or RAMSS, a community organisation working for the rights of Meenas, told me. Ramkesh is an independent MLA who supports the Congress government. He believed this incident is part of a larger effort by the RSS and Hindu-right wing groups to bring Adivasis within the Hindu fold. Ramkesh referred to how Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, in February 2020, urged RSS cadre to persuade Adivasis to mark themselves as Hindus in the census. According to the 2011 Census, Scheduled Tribes constitute 13.4 percent of the Rajasthan’s population, of which Meenas are the largest community. They are also among the most politically influential tribes in the state, with 18 Meena MLA’s in the 200-member Rajasthan state assembly.
On 22 July, the saffron flag at the fort was taken down by an assembled group. The flag tore in the process of it being lowered. A video of the tattered flag was circulated on social media leading to outrage from Hindu groups. Media reports of the incident suggested that the flag had been pulled down by members of the Meena community. However, Ramkesh denied that community members had been involved. He told me that the incident first came to light when Giriraj Meena, the president of the Suraj Pol unit of the RAMSS, heard about it. Suraj Pol is an area in Jaipur near the fort.
“They then informed the state unit of the RAMSS, we went there and saw that a saffron flag was hoisted there,” Ramkesh said. He claimed that he subsequently spoke to members of the Yuva Shakti Manch. Referring to them, he continued, “When we enquired who did it and confronted them, they accepted the mistake and agreed to take it down. While pulling down the flag, it’s stick broke and the flag got torn. We weren’t even present there when the flag was being pulled down, we were away from it. None of our men were there. Those who had hoisted the flag had attempted to pull it down and in that attempt, it tore off. There was no intention to disrespect the flag in this.”
According to members of the Meena community, before the saffron flag was hoisted, idols of local deities worshipped by the community were vandalised in the temple. “Few people with the intention to capture the fort first vandalised the idols, and then hoisted saffron at the wall’s fort,” Ramkesh said.