The protests of Jain community against the government's notification to turn one of their holiest pilgrimage sites to an eco-tourism spot created much uproar yesterday with the death of 72-year-old Jain monk Sugyesagar Maharaj who had been on a fast for 9 days at Sanghiji temple in Sanganer area of Jaipur, Rajasthan. After participating in a peace march in Jaipur against the decision, Maharaj who was a native of Banswara district, started fasting.
"He was on a 'vrat' and had not eaten anything since December 25. He passed away in the morning and the funeral was conducted at noon," says SHO of Malpura Gate police station Satish Chand.
The government's declaration to promote the Sammed Shikharji Parvat (Parasnath) in Giridih district as an eco-tourist destination has drawn serious flaks from Jain followers. The Sammed Shikharji is a vital pilgrim center for both the Digambara and Svetambara sects of the community as 20 of 24 Jain Tirthankaras along with monks attained Moksha (nirvana) in this holy mountain peak, the tallest in Jharkhand.
The community fears that government's decision to promote eco-tourism in Jharkhand's Parasnath hills will disrupt the sanctity of the holy mountain temple that is visited by pilgrims for spiritual guidance and peace and has resulted in relentless protests, rallies and demonstrations by the community in different cities. and states.
While talking to Outlook , Munishri Pramansagarji Maharaj, the disciple of Acharya Vidya Sagar Ji Maharaj said, "Only one monk has taken Samadhi yet, will it take the samadhi of all monks for the government to listen to us? Jain community will not compromise on anything with regard to Sammed Shikharji as its eternally sacrosanct to us. The government must think of the cost that would follow the demise of a monk."
Sitting on the floors of Parasnath temple, in the freezing winters of January, 55 year old Digambar monk shows no signs of cold or discomfort as he begins describing the Sammed Shikharji as his life, soul and everything. “Any attack on the pilgrim center is intolerable for the Jain community, hence the outrage is natural. The government's decision is unacceptable,” added the leader of the Jain community.
On being asked why protest now when the notification was passed in 2019 itself, Maharaja said, “There was no mention of the gazette in any national media or publishing house, nor were any local organizations given any formal information when the notification came. The community gradually learned about it and hence the protests erupted now." The 2 years long halt due to covid and absence of community involvement in the making of the decision has led to the sudden explosion of anger.
"People walk up to the mountain top barefoot and hungry in devotion, while the idea of tourism is for fun and games. The government can promote us as a pilgrimage centre, but not a tourist spot. The government should take the sentiments of the Jain community and de-notify the gazette," the monk said.
Requesting the protestors to continue protesting in peace and not to politicize the matter, he continued, "We are not against any government but the government's decision goes against our beliefs and values."
However, speaking on the issue, general secretary and spokesperson of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Supriyo Bhttacharya tells Outlook that the state government assures the community that it will not make any changes hurting their sentiments and nothing will be done against the community wishes.
“The extraordinary gazette was introduced by the Raghubar Das led BJP government in February, 2019 notifying Parasnath as a tourist spot, and the center later notified the Sammed Sikarji also as an eco-sensitive zone to promote eco-tourism. The JMM government was nowhere in the picture," Bhattacharya added.
Bhattacharya also said that the entire issue has been highlighted and framed to target the JMM government in Jharkhand, and if there were to be protests, it should be against the BJP which is solely responsible for the decision of transforming the holy site into a tourist and wildlife sanctuary.
The issue has also brought in the notice of National Commission for Minorities that has received various representations from the Jain community pertaining to the conversion of their pilgrimage site. The Commission is scheduled to hear the issue on January 17 and has summoned the union environment secretary and Jharkhand chief secretary after taking cognizance of representations made by the Jain community opposing a move to turn their religious site into an eco-tourism hub.
"This decision has hurt the religious sentiments of the Jain community all over India. The representations submitted by the community also raise the issue of encroachment and other problems at Shri Sammed Shikharji. The Commission has received requests from Jains all over the country for declaring Shri Sammed Shikharji a holy place. The National Commission for Minorities has already requested the Government of Jharkhand to consider the demand of Jain community members," it said.
"The Commission has summoned the Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, and Chief Secretary of Jharkhand," the statement added. Formed under the NCM Act, 1992, the commission has been entrusted with the responsibility of looking into specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards of minorities to deal with such matters with appropriate authorities.