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Indian tribals step up demand for Sarna religion's recognition

Sarna followers have been demanding recognition in the national census since the nineties

Bijay Kumar Minj, New Delhi

Bijay Kumar Minj, New Delhi

Updated: October 22, 2020 01:23 PM GMT
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Indian tribals step up demand for Sarna religion's recognition

Tribal people are demanding for the Sarna religion reorganization in Ranchi, the state capital of Jharkhand on Oct. 20. (Photo supplied)

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Tribal people in India's Jharkhand state have stepped up a demand that the federal government legally recognize their Sarna religion in time for the national census in 2021.

Some 20,000 tribal people formed a 'human chain' lining the streets of state capital Ranchi on Oct. 20, seeking official recognition for their traditional religion, called Sarna.

Their leaders also met state Governor Draupadi Murmu presented a memorandum. She was also given a copy of it addressed to India's prime minister and Jharkand's chief minister.

The demand is intensified now because they want the recognition done before starting the federal decennial census in 2021, said Father Nicholas Barla, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops' Commission for Tribal Affairs, told UCA News.

The past six censuses provided no provision for the tribal people to mark their religion, helping officials consider them as Hindu. The tribal people do not want this to happen again. They want to be recorded as those following their own Sarna religion, tribal leaders said.

Father Barla said the first census in 1951 offered 'tribe' as a religion in the census column, helping tribal people opt for it. But it was removed in the subsequent censuses for an unknown reason.

"If tribal people are not given a choice to mark their religion in the coming census, they will be forced to opt for other religions. That will result in losing their identity, culture, language, and tradition," Father Barla said.

The 2021 Census is expected to begin by February, said Sarna religious leader Guru Bandhan Tigga, who was part of the team that organized the demonstration.

He told the media that they plan a march near the Indian Parliament in March 2021. The Sarna religious forum called Sarna Dharam Sansad will organize a series of marches next year, he said.

Some 150 million tribal people in India follow the Sarna religion, said Ratan Tirkey, a member of the state government's Tribes Advisory Committee.

Tireky told UCA News that Sarna people are nature worshippers who see the divine forests, mountains, and rivers. "They do not belong to any religious sect," Tirkey said.

The federal government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and allied Hindu groups want tribal people to register themselves as Hindus to augment their numerical strength, tribal leaders say.

The state has 1.4 million Christians in a population of 33 million, mostly tribal people.

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