On Wednesday, Jharkhand's Chief Minister Hemant Soren penned a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging the acknowledgment of the 'Sarna' religious practices among tribal communities.
Soren highlighted that the tribal population in the state has decreased from 38 percent to 26 percent over the past eight decades.
"We, the tribals, are followers of ancient practices and are the worshippers of trees and hills. We consider protecting the forest our religion. There are around 12 crore tribals as per the Census 2011. There are more than 1 crore tribals in Jharkhand that I represent, which is a tribal-majority state. A large number of people follow the Sarna religion. Our rivers, land, and forests are the living scriptures of our ancient Sarna religion. The traditions, worship rituals, and beliefs of the Sarna religions are distinct from all other religions," he said in the letter.
"The concern of protecting the traditional religious existence of tribals... is certainly a serious question. Today, the demand for Tribal/Sarna Religious Code is being raised so that this nature-worshipping tribal community can be confident about its identity.
"At present, when the demand for Uniform Civil Code is being raised by some organisations, positive initiative on this demand of Tribal/Sarna community is absolutely necessary for their protection," he further added.
Previously, the Jharkhand Assembly had unanimously approved a resolution advocating for the recognition of 'Sarna' as an independent religious category in the census.
"You are aware [Mr Prime Minister] that there are several communities today that are on the brink of extinction and, as per the principles of social justice, if we don't preserve them, their language, culture, and very existence would cease to exist."
"In light of the above circumstances, a separate Sarna Code is essential for the recognition of the identity and the safeguarding of the constitutional rights of the nature-worshipping tribals, who are distinct from the Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, and Jains."
Further he writes in the letter how If the Sarna Code is in place, the tribal population could be accurately assessed and their language, culture, and history could also be protected along with their constitutional rights. Notably, there was a column from the Sarna Code in the Census 1961, but, for some reasons, the column was removed in later censuses.
Earlier this year, the Chief Minister had requested President Droupadi Murmu to support the state's efforts in obtaining central approval for recognizing the 'Sarna Code' as a distinct and officially recognized religious category.