“The demand for a separate Sarna religious code in the Census has been pending for a long time. Sarna followers are worshippers of nature. Jharkhand has 32 tribal groups, of which eight tribes are from the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG)”, said Professor G.N. Jha of Anthropology, Hazaribagh University. “These tribal groups are Hindus. However few have converted to Christianity”, Mr Jha added. According to a social activist, the tribals want to “save their religious identity” and hence are demanding the Sarna Code.
Jharkhand has elected three tribals to the post of the Chief Minister- Shibu Soren from the Santal tribe, Babulal Marandi from the Munda tribe and Madhu Koda from the Kora tribe. The first non-tribal CM was Raghubar Das. Now the son of Shibu Soren, Hemant Soren is all set to pledge as the new CM.
The Sarna Prarthna Sabha of Ranchi is doing a population survey for the Sarna tribals as a part of its Mission 2021. It is believed that in the Census of 2011, 42 lakhs tribals from Jharkhand and a total of 6 crores across the country had mentioned their religion as Sarna. The Gond and Bheel tribes which comprise of one crore population each are not included in the Sarna religion as they consider themselves to be of a different religion.
The demand for a separate religious code for Sarna in the census spurred as the Census of 2001 had six options under the religion column- Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain and Buddhist- each were given code numbers from 1 to 6. People from other religious identities were asked to opt among these six codes or write their religion without highlighting the code numbers. The same procedure was followed for the 2011 census.
According to the tribals, the census of 1951 had a ninth column under religion called “tribe”. It was later removed and the tribal populations had to embrace different religions causing a huge loss to the community. Since decades now, they have been demanding for their culture and traditions to be recognized officially.
A government official from Jharkhand, however, stated, “A separate religious code in the Census can’t be provided to tribals. They will have to choose between the six options under the religious column as the Registrar General of India has said that it’s not natural to form a separate religious code.”
Tribals and the Six Major Religions
Majorly the tribals are considered to be Hindus until they mention otherwise. However, their rituals and customs along with their faith and worship are quite different from Hinduism. Evidently a large number of tribals had opted for Christianity or Buddhism due to the caste-based discrimination in the mainstream Hindu society.
They demand their recognition. Going beyond the question of identity, the absence of recognition given to the Sarna code denies government welfare benefits meant for the tribals to its followers. The ignorance of tribal demands have infuriated people and forced them into protests a number of times in the past few years. “The government is adamant about pleasing corporate houses at the cost of tribal marginalization,” fumed a student of Ranchi University.
To read more about the Sarna Code and its legal implementation, move on to the next article- WHAT IS SARNA CODE AND WHY ARE THE TRIBALS DEMANDING IT (Sarna Code and Religious Identity).