Explained: Tribal groups, Sarna religion and Jharkhand govt resolution

On 11 October, the Jharkhand Assembly has unanimously passed a resolution seeking the inclusion of Sarna as a separate religion in Census, 2021. Chief Minister Hemant Soren said the resolution, passed during a special one-day Assembly session on Wednesday, will now be sent to the Centre for approval.

Religions and Census

Currently, the census in India classifies people under six religions – Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist – while those who do not subscribe to these are clubbed under the ‘Other’ category.

The Sarna Religion

The followers of Sarna faith believe pray to nature. The holy grail of the faith is “Jal (water), Jungle (forest), Zameen (land)” and its followers pray to the trees and hills while believing in protecting the forest areas. Sarna is place of worship which is sacred grove. It is a religion in the states of Jharkhand, Odisha, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and West Bengal. Followers of these rituals primarily belong to the Baiga, Kudumi Mahato, Ho, Kurukh, Munda and Santal.


Many of the tribals who follow this faith have later converted to Christianity. It is believed that 50 lakhs tribal in the entire country put their religion as ‘Sarna’ in the 2011 census.

Overall population: c. 4,957,000

Jharkhand: 4,223,500

Odisha: 500,000 to 1,000,000 (estimated)

Assam: 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 (estimated)

Bihar: 1,349,460 (estimated)

West Bengal: 1,237,121 (estimated)

Chhattisgarh: 768,910 (estimated)

Demand of Tribal Groups

Tribal groups who follow Sarna have long demanded that their religion be listed separately as they worship nature and have a distinct tradition and culture. Earlier some had boycotted the census exercise due to their demand was not met. The first census in 1951 had the option of being counted as a “tribe” but was later removed. With the Narendra Modi government dropping the “other” option for Census 2021, tribals will be forced to either leave the column or declare their members of one of the six specified religions. According to the Sarna followers, the separate list will help them maintain their religious identity.

2021 Census

The resolution will seek a special column for followers of the Sarna religion in the Census, 2021.