Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren sent a three-page letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday (shared to media on Wednesday) requesting for the inclusion of a separate tribal religion code ‘Sarna’ in the decadal census.
Significantly, tribals in Jharkhand majority of whom are Sarna followers and nature worshipers have been fighting for a separate religious identity in India for decades and in recent years have staged agitation in Delhi and other parts of the country.
Tribals argue that the implementation of a separate Sarna religious code in census surveys would allow the tribals to be identified as followers of Sarna faith.
Tribal organisations have claimed that with the Centre dropping the “Others” option from the religion column for the next census, Sarna adherents would be forced to either skip the column or declare themselves members of one of the six specified religions: Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh.
Soren had in June last year alleged that the state Assembly had passed a resolution in a special session of the Assembly in 2020 demanding Sarna dharma code to be included in the census and submitted it through the governor to the Centre. But no decision has been taken by the BJP-led central government on the issue.
Narendra Modi. File photo
Soren, who is leading a JMM-Congress-RJD coalition government in the state, and is a member of the newly formed Opposition alliance INDIA bloc coordination committee, has in his letter highlighted about declining population of tribals in Jharkhand from 38 per cent to 26 per cent in the past eight decades.
Soren has also apprehended that the declining population would have an adverse
effect on the policies of tribal development under the Fifth and Sixth Schedule of the Constitution while urging the Prime Minister to pass the tribal/Sarna religion code while mentioning that Jharkhand as per 2011 census had more than one crore tribals (out of 12 crore tribals in the country).
“The culture, worship method, ideals and beliefs of the Sarna religion are different from all the prevalent religions. The concern of protecting the traditional religious existence of tribals based on nature is certainly a serious question.
“The demand for tribal/Sarna religious code is being raised so that this nature-worshipping tribal community can be confident about its identity,” the letter states.
The chief minister pointed out that not only Jharkhand but the tribal community of the entire country had been struggling for the last several years to protect their religious existence and demanded the inclusion of nature worshipping tribals/Sarna religion followers in the census.
“When the demand for a Uniform Civil Code is being raised by some organisations, a positive initiative on this demand of the tribal/Sarna community is absolutely necessary for their protection.
“You are aware that there are many such groups in the tribal community which are on the verge of extinction and if they are not protected on the principle of social justice, then their existence along with their language and culture will also come to an end,” the letter stresses.
Soren reminds that there was a provision of a separate code for them in the census column of 1951, but due to specific reasons, this arrangement was abolished in the subsequent decades.
“I am proud to be a tribal and being a tribal chief minister, I humbly request you in the interest of the tribals not only of Jharkhand but of the entire country that you agree to the long-awaited demand of the tribals for the Sarna religious code and take a positive decision as soon as possible,” the letter urges.