The growing demand for recognition of the Sarna religion in Jharkhand

Sarna followers protest against religious conversion under the banner of Sarna Pratharna Sabha in Ranchi. In the 2011 census, around thirteen percent of Jharkhand’s population—roughly 4.2 million people—was identified as following “other religions and persuasions.”

On 15 March, at the sixth protest gathering of the National Adivasi Indigenous Religion Coordination Committee, Adivasis from across the country came together at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to demand a separate column for “tribal religion” in the census. They also appealed for the inclusion of Adivasi languages in the eighth schedule of the Constitution. A month earlier, speaking at a conference organised by Harvard University, Jharkhand’s chief minister Hemant Soren said that “Adivasis were never Hindus, neither they will ever be.” He added, “Adivasis are nature worshipers, their culture, religious rituals, and lifestyle is entirely different than Hindus.” Soren’s comments, which became a point of criticism for right-wing leaders, echoed the voices of Adivasis in Jharkhand who follow their own distinct belief systems, which have been transmitted orally through generations.

In November last year, the Jharkhand assembly passed a resolution titled, “To propose a provision to provide a separate Sarna code for the Adivasis of the state in census 2021 before the Central Government.” This was a significant step in the larger struggle for a pan-Indian census code to recognise tribal religion. Sarna is centred on the worship of nature and holds all natural objects to be sacred. The belief system is shared across numerous Adivasi groups in Jharkhand and its neighbouring states, and it permeates these group’s social and cultural life. Its recognition would secure essential legal rights for Adivasis and help preserve their language, myths, epics, customs and history.

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