Tribal orgs threaten protests, set Dec 31 deadline for separate religion code

Tribal organisations said it will bring out 200 Sarna Dharma Sagars (Raths) in the five eastern states, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Assam between December 20 and 31 to demand separate religion code for Sarna followers.

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.

“Adivasi Sengel Abhiyan (ASA), Kendriya Sarna Samiti (KSS) and Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad (ABAVP) will be compelled to hold rail-roko and road jam across the country particularly in Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Assam again on January 31 if the Central government fails to accord separate religion code for Sarna Dharma in Census-2021 by December 31,” Janata Dal United (JD-U) Jharkhand president and Adivasi Sengel Abhiyan (ASA) founder president Salkhan Murmu told reporters on Monday.

Earlier some tribal groups had boycotted the census exercise due to their demand of Sarna religion code 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.

According to tribal leader Murmu, the second phase of the protest would start with 200 Sarna Dharma Sagars (Raths) and public awareness campaigns from December 20 till December 31.

He also said the demands of tribals will be submitted to the President of India through District Collectors and District Magistrates.

Last week, the organisations conducted rail-roko and road blockade in five states.

“It was a great success. Trains were blocked at 15 stations and 40 roads and highways were blocked,” he claimed.

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.

It is believed that 50 lakhs tribal in the entire country put their religion as ‘Sarna’ in the 2011 census.