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India

Calls grow for recognition of Sarna religion in India

Tribal organizations plan to boycott next year's national census if their demand for recognition of their creed is not met

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Calls grow for recognition of Sarna religion in India

Tribal people celebrate International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples in Ranchi, state capital of Jharkhand, on Aug 9. (Photo supplied)

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Demands for official recognition of the Sarna tribal religion have intensified in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand after Hindu groups took soil from sacred Sarna sthals to use in the construction of a temple in Ayodhya.

Some 32 tribal organizations plan to boycott next year’s national census if their demand for recognition of the Sarna religion in the census is not met. 

“There is no doubt that we are also included among those 32 organizations because we are tribals first, then Christian. Tribal Christians have always been in favor of the Sarna code and have joined the demand for recognition,” Ratan Tirkey, a member of the Tribes Advisory Committee of Jharkhand, told UCA News.

“Demand for recognition of the Sarna code intensified after the soil-taking incident because that was a conspiracy by Hindu fanatics to divide tribal people in the name of religion.

“Christians are outnumbered by people who practice the Sarna religion in the state, so Hindu fanatics are attempting to alienate Christian tribals by claiming that Sarna tribals belong to Hindu society.

“Sarna tribals are nature worshipers who revere forests, mountains and rivers. They do not belong to any religious sect and their demand for a separate category in the census dates back to the 1990s.” 

In the 1951 census, the ninth column for religion was "tribe," which was later removed. Due to its removal, the tribal population embraced different religions, causing a major loss to the community.

After 1951, in addition to Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain and Buddhist, there was a column titled “Other” that was removed in 2011.

The federal government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party and its Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) wing wants tribal people (Adivasis) to register themselves as Hindus rather than ticking the column marked “Other.”

RSS is attempting to define Adivasis as Hindus and its leader, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, has declared that all those who regard the land east of the Indus as their holy land and fatherland are Hindus.

The definition left out Muslims and Christians, bringing all others within the ambit of the Hindu fold. From the 1980s, due to their electoral designs, the RSS has been trying to claim that all those living in India are Hindus.

“Our organization is campaigning for the cause of the Sarna code and our people are going from village to village to make locals understand the importance of this campaign,” Santosh Tirkey, general secretary of Ranchi’s Kendriya Sarna Samiti, told UCA News.

“We are also planning a big rally for next February in state capital Ranchi where we are expecting more than 500,000 Sarna people to join the protest under the slogan ‘No Sarna, No Census.’

“There are 150 million Sarna followers in India and we have been demanding recognition of the Sarna religion for many years. Many political parties promise to do so during election campaigns, but later they forget.” 

Jharkhand has 1.4 million Christians out of a population of 33 million.

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