A Call for the 7th Religion: Sarna Dharma, the New Spiritual Path for India's Indigenous Communities

Adivasi Senegal Abhiyan mobilizes for Bharat Bandh on June 15 demanding recognition of Sarna Dharma Code. Over 50 lakh tribal individuals identified their religion as Sarna in the 2011 census despite the absence of a designated code.
Salkhan Murmu
Salkhan Murmu

In a persistent display of determination, the Adivasi Senegal Abhiyan [ ASA] continues to rally for the long-awaited recognition of the Sarna Dharma Code. As preparations intensify for Bharat Bandh on June 15, the movement anticipates a grand public meeting, titled Vishwa Sarna Dharma Jan Sabha to be held at the illustrious Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata on June 30. The event is expected to receive a large audience over 3 lakhs. ASA is presently active in 7 states including Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Tripura.

Emphasizing their unwavering commitment, the ASA has released a statement articulating a comprehensive set of seven demands. These demands encompass crucial issues, including the urgent implementation of the Sarna Dharma Code in 2023, the restoration of Marang Buru from Jain community, the establishment of Abua Dishom Abua Raj, not grant Kurmis demand for inclusion in the ST list, the bestowing of ST status upon Jharkhand's tribal communities residing in Assam-Andaman, the designation of Santali as the primary official language in Jharkhand, and the enrichment of other tribal languages, accompanied by constitutional reforms to enhance tribal self-governance systems.

With profound conviction, Salkhan Murmu, the national head of the ASA, raises poignant questions about the tribals' subjugation within a free India. Despite constitutional provisions guaranteeing rights, he laments the continued absence of social, religious, and political freedom for the tribal populace.

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A bewildering discrepancy arises from the 2011 census, wherein approximately 50 lakh devotees of nature-oriented Sarna Dharma declared their faith, surpassing the Jains' count of a mere 44 lakh, who have already been recognized as a distinct religious community. Perplexingly, the Sarna Dharma Code awaits official acknowledgment. To recap recent events, the tribal Sengel campaign, along with numerous tribal organizations, staged a sit-in at Jantar Mantar last November. Kolkata and Ranchi have also witnessed a series of demonstrations, all advocating for the recognition of the Sarna Dharma Code.

What is Sarna religion?

The Sarna religion is embraced by its followers as a distinct religious group, primarily composed of nature worshippers. The core principles of the Sarna faith revolve around "Jal (water), Jungle (forest), Zameen (land)," with adherents offering prayers to trees and hills while emphasizing the preservation of forested areas. Unlike traditional practices, Sarna believers do not engage in idol worship and do not adhere to concepts such as the Varna system or notions of heaven and hell. The majority of Sarna followers are concentrated in tribal belt states like Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, and Assam.

Demand for Recognition and Protection

Advocates for the Sarna faith have been calling for the establishment of a distinct religious code for tribals, expressing their views in letters addressed to President Droupadi Murmu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and others. They assert that indigenous people are nature worshippers and should be recognized as a separate religious community, as indicated by surveys and reports showing that over 50 lakh tribal individuals identified their religion as "Sarna" in the 2011 census, despite the absence of a designated code.

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Recognition as a separate religious community would provide enhanced protection for their language and history. Without such recognition, some community members have recently converted to Christianity to avail themselves of the benefits of minority status and reservations, as reported by The Hindu.

The Importance of Sarnaism for Nature Conservation

Experts argue that with the global focus on addressing pollution and conserving forests, native communities should be placed at the forefront. Recognizing Sarnaism as a religious code becomes all the more crucial as the essence of this religion lies in the protection of nature and the environment.

Progress and Challenges

In November 2020, the Jharkhand government held a special Assembly session to pass a resolution for recognizing Sarna religion and incorporating it as a separate code in the 2021 Census. However, the central government is yet to respond and take action on this resolution. The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has also recommended Sarna religion as an independent category within the religion code for the Census of India.

Santhali language neglected

Adding further weight to the Bharat Bandh cause, Kalicharan Kisku the district president of Yuva Morcha of the ASA points out the exclusion of Santhali, the major tribal language spoken by people in Jharkhand from its deserved status as the primary official language in the state. Speaking to The Mooknayak, Kalicharan said that despite majority speakers of Santhali, including the President Draupadi Murmu, Chief Minister Hemant Soren, and opposition leader Babulal Marandi, who all hail from the Santhal community, the language's significance remains neglected.

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Reclaiming Marang Buru

Highlighting a contentious issue, Salkhan Murmu asserts that Marang Buru, revered as the tribal deity situated atop Parasnath Pahar in Giridih, Jharkhand, has fallen under the occupation of the Jain community. In a perplexing turn of events, Murmu questions why Hemant Soren, through a letter dated January 5, 2023, relinquished Marang Buru to the Jains. Urgently reclaiming Marang Buru for the tribals becomes a pressing demand.

Opposing Kurmis demand for ST status

Continuing his impassioned plea, Murmu raises concerns about the inclusion of Kurmi Mahto in the ST list, questioning the intentions behind the JMM, TMC, Congress, and Biju Janata Dal's support for such a move. He contends that approximately 50 lakh authentic Jharkhand tribals, including Santals, Mundas, Hos, Khadiyas, Bhumij, Oraons, and Paharias residing in the tea gardens of Assam-Andaman, have not yet attained ST status. This deliberate oversight appears to jeopardize the existence of genuine tribals, while catering to the insatiable thirst for electoral gains. The need for constitutional adherence and democratic values within the tribal self-rule system becomes ever more apparent. Kalicharan told The Mooknayak that since the inception of Jharkhand as a separate state, the call for Abua Dishom Abua Raj (Our land Our Rule) has been reiterated umpteen times but with the deplorable traditions like Majhi Pargana , Dayan practise and alcohol addiction among the tribal community, people have not been able to liberate themselves, achieve higher education and progress .

ASA supporters also criticise the Soren family, accusing them of betraying the tribal society on all five aforementioned issues. He laments the misfortune endured by the tribals of Jharkhand and greater Jharkhand due to the treachery of Shibu Soren, Hemant Soren, and their political allies. Murmu contends that the Sorens' pursuit of power and personal gratification has overshadowed any genuine efforts to resolve these critical matters. In a stern rebuke, the Adivasi Senegal Abhiyan vehemently condemns the anti-tribal stance adopted by Shibu and Hemant Soren.

As the nation braces itself for the impending Bharat Bandh, the Adivasi Senegal Abhiyan remains steadfast in their pursuit of justice, underscoring the urgency to grant the Sarna Dharma Code its long-overdue recognition.

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