Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat on Monday said that tribals were the core of Indians’ identity while speaking at a rally in Chhattisgarh’s Raipur. “When we say adivasi, then that is our core identity,” Bhagwat said, according to The Indian Express. “We are their children.”

Most leaders of Chhattisgarh tribal outfit Sarva Adivasi Samaj boycotted the event. Only its Vice President Mohan Tekam, who was the chief guest, attended the 50-minute address before a gathering of Sangh workers. The other tribal leaders had said on Sunday that they will boycott the event after accusing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh of attempting to fuse the identities of Hindus and adivasis.

Bhagwat added that “sanskriti”, or culture, binds India together. “Even though we see different pictures, our forefathers were the same…from 40,000 years ago,” he told the RSS workers at the rally. “From Afghanistan to Burma, and from the slopes of Tibet in China to Sri Lanka in south, the DNA of the people say their forefathers are the same…This is something that connects us.”

Bhagwat added that people should accept India’s diversity as its strength and respect it, according to PTI. “We should talk about uniting everybody and bringing prosperity to the nation” he said, adding that people should stop pursuing their personal interests.

Tribal leader Mohan Tekam said that attempts were being made to break up the tribal society. Though tribals have given their lives for the country, Tekam said, “Some people are trying to convert our adivasi samaj to other religions.”

He also accused the Bharatiya Janata Party-led administration in the state of harassing tribals, especially in Bastar. “In Bastar division, Maoists, and also the administration, harass the adivasi samaj,” Tekam said. “People from the community are honest but they are being misled, and atrocities are being committed against them.”