climate change

Indian 'Cult' Blames Climate Change on Capitalists and Jains, Gains Thousands of Followers

“All the deaths [of nature and humans] happening around us are because of the evildoing of these kinds of people.”
Pallavi Pundir
Jakarta, ID
indian cult blames baniya and jains for climate change
Anoop Mandal members gather to strike for climate change in Sheoganj, Rajasthan, on January 1, 2019. Photo via Anoop Mandal Sheoganj/Facebook

Climate change is real, terrifying, and happening because of a ton of reasons. But one popular group in north India that claims it’s committed to saving the planet from climate change thinks it has found the very crux of this problem staring us in the face. According to them, the taps running dry, the heatwave from hell and the “eating” of the glaciers of Himalayas are all the consequences of the existence of the baniyas and Jains in India.


The baniyas are a community in India whose occupation is primarily trade and business, such as moneylenders or businessmen, while the Jains are those practicing a small minority of a religion otherwise known for its gentle inoffensiveness. But according to the controversial yet widely popular Anoop Mandal, their “sinful activities” is what has got us here. In fact, a crime report from the ’90s once called them “an Adivasi body based on distorted Marxist principles, [who use] the religious idiom to target the 'exploitative' traders (Jains).”

“Hum vishwa ko bachana chahte hai (we want to save the world),” Lalita Kanwar, the director of this outfit, tells VICE, apprehension evident in her voice. “The kind of work I do, if you want to know more, it would be better if you come here, to my town. These kinds of things cannot be said over just a call.” Talking to us from Sheoganj, a small town in Rajasthan, her unease is somewhat justified, mostly because of the various controversies the group she leads has run into over the last one decade. She asks, once again, if our call is jaasoosi (spying). But once she settles in, she finally tells me, “We want to [save the world] through Jagathitkarni.”

How this organisation achieved cult status in a country notorious for its apathy towards the environment is a story to be told.

What is Anoop Mandal?

Across the world, activism has a knack for taking some unusual, even if compelling, turns—like stripping for climate change or taking a dip in the holy waters to rid women of “toxic femininity”. In India, early this year, multiple activisms around climate change took place across the country. On January 1, VICE was told about a gathering of 20,000 in the small town of Sheoganj in Rajasthan, to protest climate change—may be the max numbers a protest of this sort has seen in the country.


Organisers say that this protest hosted villagers, labourers, local educators and students, a few members of right-wing outfits, and several unregistered, and a few registered, climate change groups. One of them was Anoop Mandal.

Anoop Mandal’s beliefs stem from the teachings of Jagathitkarni, which literally translates to ‘For the welfare of the world’ and was apparently written in 1909.

The vilification of baniyas and Jains is a problematic part of their otherwise environment-saving agenda. “The baniyas have engineered famine by practicing demoniac activity in order to take the entire wealth of India in their possession…Things have been getting from bad to worse. The sinful activities of these traders are responsible for this situation,” reads the English translation of the book, which is available online for free.

In fact, there isn’t much credible research or literature available on these guys, but a 1991 book titled The Assembly of Listeners: Jains in Society has traced this “anti-Jain” organisation’s beginnings to 1920, by a man called Anoop Das who was very influenced by communism in Europe. The book also talks about how Anoop Mandal workers would constantly raid Jain villages in pre-Independent India, and was subsequently banned by the princely administration, which was mostly made up of Jain ministers.

Today, Anoop Mandal’s activism is closely linked to its climate change theories—making you wonder if this is simply co-opting the noble-sounding cause as a means to a devious end. This, in a state such as Rajasthan where activism around the environment is kind of well-known; fringe (mostly tribal) activists from across this specific region have, over the last several decades, taken it upon themselves to protect the forests they actually rely on for survival. Weaponising the environment is easier also because the state is pretty much dry—only about 8 percent of the region has forest cover. The temperature often crosses 50 degrees Celsius.


In a country where people and the government are mostly apathetic towards a problem such as pollution and climate change despite the dangers around us, the existence of this 135-year-old “cult” is more concerning that intriguing.

“We have to live for jal, jameen aur jeev (water, land, and animals). That’s why people in this region join us,” says Kanwar, who is in her 40s. “But all the deaths [of nature and humans] happening around us are because of the evildoing of these kinds of people.” Most of what they claim appear to have no substantial proof, and their language is almost always filled with hate against this particular community (like how their official English-language website gives out information). When we ask Kanwar about the strength of her organisation, she doesn’t commit to any number. “They must be in lakhs, across India and abroad, wherever Indians are and have read the book,” she says. It remains to be seen whether this number is this unprecedented for a conspiracy theory like this, or merely a hoax to push their pointed agenda.

Why are they popular?

While VICE couldn’t find out exactly how many active members/followers Anoop Mandal has right now, it is mostly known that their popularity (for lack of a better word) only grew when they held a national conference in Zundal in Gujarat in 2009, in which they openly spoke about the Jains being responsible for “excessive carbon emissions that lead to global warming”. Since then, the organisation, which reportedly has over 300 centres, has seen a call for a ban over suspicions of the deaths of Jain monks very close to their centres in Gujarat.

But Kanwar states that if anyone has problems with the organisation, “they should come and interrogate properly”.


The bad press also led to a faction of the group breaking away and forming a different group, called World Pablic Awareness Foundation (sic), with around 10,000 active members. “The original organisation was often misunderstood by a few people, and because of their wrong interpretation, it led to certain activities that we don’t approve of,” Ahmedabad-based Rajesh Patel, the media coordinator of this group, tells VICE, insisting that this division was to ensure their work focuses on environment solely. Patel also adds that one must remember that the baniyas and Jains Anoop Mandal advocates against is more to do with the profession and not a particular caste or sect of the society.

Despite the bad press, Anoop Mandal members have found ways to show their strength by filtering into protests in small towns, such as the one organised on January 1 this year, which brought together environmentalists from across the region. VICE reached out to Suryaban, a local climate change activist in Rajasthan, who helped organise the January 1 gathering, to find out how this network of villagers, educators and local activists works.

india climate change cult

Anoop Mandal members gather to strike for climate change in Sheoganj, Rajasthan, on January 1, 2019

“Sheoganj falls in the Mewar region, where the adivasi people worship trees and nature instead of gods and idols. There is generally a lot of awareness about nature and has been so for the last 60-70 years. You will see a lot of different movements on local levels that talk about climate change. My job is to promote groups like these by including them as part of one movement,” Suryaban tells VICE. “There are lots of small groups [like Anoop Mandal] who have their demands regarding the environment. We just include everyone. Ultimately, their motive is the same: to protect the environment.”


What does its popularity mean?

Chittranjan Dubey, the South Asian coordinator of the global climate change movement called Extinction Rebellion (XR), reasons with the popularity of Anoop Mandal. XR’s global activities have gained international attention for the very drastic nature of their protests—like chaining themselves to buildings or gluing breasts to the streets—which has now led some nations to declare a climate emergency.

As someone who mobilises people for climate change strikes in the subcontinent, he tells VICE about the way fringe groups work. “I do believe that misguided smaller movements are a threat to the larger movement. These could be people who often misuse the intent of the group with vested interests, and they often resort to violence. I have travelled a lot in India, and it’s very difficult to find a balanced group of people when it comes to climate change and ecological justice,” he tells VICE. “A common problem with these kind of groups is that they will raise 100 issues, and only 20 will be right."

In the meantime, it’s clear that Anoop Mandal has quite a strong hold over its followers. “We are ready to die for this organisation,” Raju, a 55-year-old follower who works in the Sheoganj office of Anoop Mandal, tells VICE. “In fact, a few years ago, a man died at a very young age in our village and we went straight to [the baniya’s] temples and to the police station, to protest against the community. We told them that the book tells us they are at fault. We asked them to step forward and prove us wrong. But none of them spoke.”

Raju, who has been a follower of Jagathitkarni for 25 years, claims their shakti (power) is low at the moment but assures me that once they’ve gathered enough force, real “change” will take place. He leaves me with this telling warning: “Agar aapke ghar me koi chor chori karne aayega, aap uske upar hamla karenge, na? (If a thief comes to rob your house, you will attack him, right?). You will take back what’s yours, right?”

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