Adivasi Sengel Abhiyan, a tribal organisation having a presence in Jharkhand, Odisha, Bengal, Bihar and Assam, has threatened a rail blockade on November 30 to mount pressure on the Centre to include the Sarna religious code in census.
The tribal group, led by former Mayurbhanj (Odisha) MP and Jamshedpur-based Salkhan Murmu, will organise “peaceful” dharnas during the intervening two months in the five states.
“We would be using the two months to mobilise tribals and well-wishers about the November 30 rail roko agitation. We would also be using the intervening period to set up a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah or Registrar-General of India to convince them about the significance of including the Sarna religious code in the census. We would convince them that acceding to the demands will augur well for them politically in the long run too,” Murmu said.
The tribal leader claimed that the daylong rail blockade would affect Jharkhand, Odisha, Bengal, Assam and Bihar from where bulk of minerals and ores were transported through the railways.
“We have a significant number of our members in these five states and they would be mobilised for the rail roko agitation. We are ready to withdraw the agitation if the Centre calls us for talks or agrees to include Sarna in the religion column of the next census,” said Murmu, who had met President Droupadi Murmu in August in Delhi with the same demand.
A meeting was held at Buddha Mandir in Bhubaneswar on Monday to chalk out strategies for Tuesday’s dharna.
“We will hold a peaceful dharna at Mahatma Gandhi Road near the PMG office in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday between 12 and 3pm with representatives from the five states,” Murmu said.
Murmu said another dharna would take place at Rani Rashmoni Road in Calcutta on September 30.
“We hope to make the Calcutta rally a massive one and appeal to all political and social organisations to support the cause of the tribal people in India,” Murmu added.
They have plans to organise another rally in Ranchi and Guwahati in October.
“We are surprised as tribals, who are mostly nature worshippers, are denied this recognition. The 50-lakh tribal people, who had put their religion as Sarna in the 2011 census, although it was not a recognised code, are more than the Jains and Buddhists. The adivasis are not Hindus, Muslims and Christians,” Murmu said.
The tribals in Jharkhand, who are Sarna followers, have been fighting for a separate religious identity in India for decades.
The tribals argue that the implementation of a separate Sarna religious code in census surveys would allow them to be identified as the 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.
Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren had in June this year said the Assembly had passed a resolution in a special session in 2020 demanding Sarna dharma code to be included in the census and submitted it through the governor to the Centre.
However, no decision has been taken by the BJP-led central government on the issue.