Explained: Why Adivasis Are Protesting Against Jain Dominance In Marang Buru Or Parasnath

The Marang Buru or Parasnath hill range echoed with the slogans in thousands of Adivasi voices demanding the Jain community to evacuate their land and holy mountains as Adivasi bodies protest today.

Parasnath Hills

Adivasi bodies in Jharkhand led by Borio MLA Lobin Hembrom and Geeta Shree Oraon, among other tribal leaders, gathered at Peer Taand in Jharkhand's Giridih district to assert their right over Marang Buru, which the Jains also consider as their pilgrimage site and call Parasnath.

Thousands of tribals climbed the mountain and raised slogans against the Jain community, who they say have encroached their lands and established a hegemony over tribal lands, customs, and practices in the area.

Tribals raise voice, allege Jains' hegemonic control

Shortly after the Union government accepted the demands of the Jain community protesting against a 2019 government notification to make the Jain pilgrim site of Parasnath a eco-tourist hub, the Jharkhand's tribals have also become vocal for their rights and access to the tribal land which they have been worshipping for centuries.

The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) government released the original notification from 2019 to show that the decision to promote the hills as a tourist spot was Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) decision and not that of the Hemant Soren-led government.

The controversy also erupted in the backdrop of alleged instances of chicken bones, meat, and liquor consumption near the Jain temple. However, local leader Sikander Hembrom quashed such claims and stated that the local authorities found no evidence of any such happenings in their investigation.

Furthermore, the land where the Parasnath stands is part of the adivasi-populated region where animal sacrifice is an integral part of their culture. 

Parasnath for Jains, Marang Baru for adivasis

At a distance of about 160 km from Jharkhand's capital Ranchi, Giridih's Parasnath hill rises up to 4,500 feet above sea level. There are about 30 temples there dedicated to Jain Tirthankars and monks who attained moksha on this mountain. Many temples are said to be more than 2,000 years old.

However, for the region's adivasis, these mountains are 'Marang Buru', which literally mean the "eldest mountain deity" in Santhali and Bengali.

While the Jain temple is one part of the hill range, and only one hillock regarded as a Jain shrine, several other hills were worshipped by the Santhal Adivasis as Marang Buru, who revere the nature, mountains, forests and rivers as God.

Lobin Hembrom told Outlook, "The hills have been worshipped by the Santhals for centuries and there are Santhali holy sites on the hills. These hills righteously belong to the natives and their practices which we will not desecrate. The Jain protests were reported by media and were taken congisance of by both the governments. However, the protests occurred because they [Jains] do not want any government interfering with what they have been doing with the money and our people under the garb of religious trusts."

The Santhals suspected that the Jain protests, which drew both the government and media attention, were devised to strip the adivasis of their rights over the hills, which is a shared heritage.

Tribals in the area told Outlook that the Jain community often restricts adivasi women from collecting wood from the forests. Kurmis and Muslims are also prohibited from entering the 10kms radius of the mountain range. Previously, the Disab Manjhi Tand Board, denoting the holy site of the Santhals was also tampered with and removed by Jains, and was later reinstalled by the locals, said the tribals residing in the area.

Historic evidence for adivasi claims

The Bihar district gazetteer, prepared in 1911 by special officer PC Roy Choudhury, in the recision section reads that the Parasnath is the Marang Buru or hill deity of the Santhals of Hazaribagh, Manbhum, Bankura, and Santhal Parganas and each year they assemble at the period of the full moon in Baisakh. It further says that the community celebrates a religious hunt for three days during this time.

The gazetteer mentions that the practice was challenged by the institution of a suit by the Swetambar Jains to have it declared that no such custom exists. That suit was dismissed by the judicial commissioner and an appeal, preferred against his order, was rejected by the High Court. The case then went up to the Privy Council, London, and it was held that the Santhals have the customary right of hunting on the Parasnath hill.

At present, only a decimal of Jain population resides in the Giridih district and even lesser in the areas surrounding the hill range.

CPI(M)(L) MLA Vinod Kumar Singh said that the entire issue has been blown out of proportions with one powerful community trying to reject the identity of the weaker section and that the matter might reach a resolution if the two communities could have an equal peace talk.

He added, "Our natural forests should not be converted into concrete jungles in the name of religion or development as in the case of Joshimath we can see what extreme human interventions to nature can do."