Updated: July 3, 2022 10:30:20 am
At a time a tribal woman is leading the race to become the next President of India, the long-standing demand to recognise “Sarna” as a separate religion of indigenous communities is gaining traction.
This is perceived as a counter to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) ideological framework and pushback against its agenda of subsuming Adivasis within the larger Hindu identity. Tribal community leaders and parties, including the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), have been advocating the need for a separate code for the Sarna faith during the next Census.
The followers of the faith do not believe in idol worship and instead revere the forces of nature, be it forests, hills, rivers, or land. In the absence of a Sarna code, the followers enlist themselves in the “Other Religions and Persuasion (ORP)” category during the Census exercise.
Timed with the Presidential campaign, and the anniversary of the Santhal Rebellion, the issue has returned to the discourse, with former BJP MP Salkhan Murmu holding a protest in Jantar Mantar on June 30 under the banner of the “Adivasi Sengel Abhiyan”. The organisation headed by the MP aims to “empower” indigenous communities across India.
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Incidentally, between 1998 and 2004, Salkhan Murmu represented Mayurbhanj, the place NDA presidential poll nominee Droupadi Murmu hails from. She was elected as an MLA in the Odisha Assembly in 2000 from the constituency of Rairangpur that comes under the Mayurbhanj parliamentary seat.
“Many are saying Droupadi Murmu’s candidature and possible elevation to the post of the President is merely symbolic. But I sincerely feel the debate and dialogue set off by her nomination has helped bring tribal issues under the spotlight. And going ahead it is going to be beneficial for the community,” Salkhan Murmu told The Indian Express on Friday.
And he is determined to raise the demand with the next occupant of Rashtrapati Bhavan. “We tried to meet President Ram Nath Kovind as well, but reaching him is too difficult. So, we handed over the memorandum to security personnel,” he said. At Thursday’s demonstration, around 1,000 people gathered at Jantar Mantar over the demand amid a torrential downpour.
The demand stems from anxieties over losing identity, culture, and the traditional way of life in the absence of formal recognition, leaving the vast majority of tribals vulnerable to attempts of conversion to Hinduism and Christianity.
“Also, in many cases, Census enumerators trick the tribals into identifying themselves as Hindus. And if 12 crore Adivasis of the country can be recognised under Article 342 of the Constitution as Scheduled Tribes, their faith also deserves recognition under Article 25. This is our fundamental right,” said the former MP.
In November 2020, the JMM-led government in Jharkhand convened a special Assembly session and passed a resolution to send the Centre a letter to recognise Sarna and include it as a separate code in the Census of 2021.
But Salkhan Murmu feels the JMM is not serious about the issue. “After all, they are dependent on Muslim and Christian votes for political survival,” he said, adding that he had voluntarily decided to part ways with the BJP to focus more on social issues than electoral ones.
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