Large numbers of people from various tribal communities across five states, including Jharkhand, Odisha and Assam, demonstrated here on Thursday, demanding that the center recognize their religion as “Sarna” and ensure their counting under that category during the upcoming census.
The agitators also pledged to intensify their struggle to gain state recognition of the “Sarna Dharma Code” and held a mass prayer at Jantar Mantar to invoke the blessings of their deities and revered leaders.
The agitation was organized on the anniversary of the beginning of the Santhal Rebellion against the British on June 30, 1855.
The members, most of whom belonged to the Santhal tribe, made their demands under the auspices of the Adivasi Sengel Abhiyan (tribal empowerment campaign) of up to 250 planned tribal-dominated blocs from 50 districts of Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and Assam.
“We are here to demand that the government recognize our religion as ‘Sarna’ and include a provision in the forthcoming census to include the Adivasis in that category,” said Salkhan Murmu, a prominent Jharkhand tribal leader who is leading the movement PTI.
“We wanted to ask President Ram Nath Kovind to express our feelings and urge him to recognize our religion as Sarna, but we could not get an appointment with him. So we submitted a memorandum to the President through the police with our demands,” he added.
Mr Murmu, who served two consecutive terms as a BJP MP in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj Lok Sabha constituency from 1998 to 2004, said tribal people in the country have their own religion, religious practices and customs, but these have not yet been recognized by the government .
“We Adivasis are neither Hindus nor Christians. We have our own way of life, religious practices, customs, culture and religious thoughts that are different from any other religion. We worship nature and not idols. There is no inequality in our society, nor in any other kind of Varna system,” he said.
In the absence of government recognition of tribal religion, members of the country’s Scheduled Tribe communities are being misled into adopting other faiths, he claimed.
“Over 12 million indigenous people live in India. They were recognized as planned tribes, but unfortunately their religion, although fundamental according to the constitution, was not recognised,” he said.
“Since all indigenous peoples worship nature and their religious thoughts, practices, cultures and customs are very different from those of other religions, we demand that our religion be recognized as Sarna,” Murmu said.
Sarna can be accepted as a common name for the religion of all “Adivasi” in the country as it means “place of worship” in the Santhali language, he stressed.
Up to 1,000 people arrived on trains from the five states, but not all were able to join the protest as police refused them permission, citing some court orders and restrictions imposed due to Covid-19, he said.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published by a syndicated feed.)