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Explained: What Is The Sarna Religious Code And What Are Its Followers Demanding?

Explained: What Is The Sarna Religious Code And What Are Its Followers Demanding?

After Droupadi Murmu, India’s first tribal President, and Jharkhand’s former governor, was sworn into office, the tribes had rekindled hopes to fructify their long-standing demand to be enumerated as a distinct community under the nationwide census.

Followers of Sarna faith in Jharkhand
Followers of Sarna faith in Jharkhand Representative image

Tribal body Adivasi Sengel Abhiyan (ASA) on Tuesday staged a dharna in Ranchi’s Morabadi ground demanding recognition to ‘Sarna,’ a distinct religious category for indigenous people. The ASA, that is leading the agitation for tribals from Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Assam, and West Bengal is demanding that in the census papers, they be identified as followers of the Sarna Dharma code. Here’s all you need to know about the Sarna religion and the key demands made by its believers.

What is Sarna religion?

Followers of Sarna faith regard themselves as belonging to a distinct religious group, and are nature worshippers. The holy grail of the Sarna faith is “Jal (water), Jungle (forest), Zameen (land)” and its followers pray to the trees and hills while believing in protecting the forest areas.

Believers of Sarna faith do not practice idol worship, nor do they adhere to the concept of the Varna system, heaven-hell, etc.

The followers are largely concentrated in the tribal belt states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, and Assam. 

What are they demanding?

“We have been demanding a distinct Sarna religious code for tribals and have written to President Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi among others," ASA president Salkhan Murmu told PTI on Tuesday.

The indigenous people are nature worshipers and are not Hindus, Muslims or Christians, he added. Several surveys and reports have indicated that over 50 lakhs tribal people in the entire country put their religion as ‘Sarna’ in the 2011 census, although it was not a code.

How will Sarna’s recognition as a separate religion help?

Recognition as a separate religious community will enable better protection of their language and history. To this end, tribal organizations are lobbying for a separate code “to save religious identity” of Sarnaism.

In the absence of such a safeguard, many in the community have in recent times converted to Christianity to seek the benefits of reservation as a minority, The Hindu reported.

After Droupadi Murmu, India’s first tribal President, and Jharkhand’s former governor, was sworn into office, the tribes had rekindled hopes to fructify their long-standing demand to be enumerated as a distinct community under the nationwide census.

Has there been any progress on this front?

Earlier in November 2020, the Jharkhand government convened a special Assembly session to pass a resolution to recognise Sarna religion and include it as a separate code in the Census of 2021. The Central government is yet to respond and take action on this resolution.  

In fact, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has also made a recommendation that Sarna religion be accorded an independent category in the religion code under the Census of India. 

In this regard, ASA President Murmu opines that the tribals’ demands have gone “neglected” and told PTI that the tribals in 250 blocks of 50 districts in Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, and West Bengal would be “forced” to resort to ‘chakka jam’ from November 30 if the Centre fails to give reasons for denying the recognition of Sarna code by November 20. Furthermore, he claimed that the population of tribals in the country is more than Buddhists but their religion has yet not been recognised.

Experts argue that with a worldwide focus on addressing pollution and conservation of forests, the native communities should be kept at the centrestage and it is all the more prudent that Sarnaism becomes a religious code as the soul of this religion lies in protecting nature and the environment.

(With inputs from PTI)

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