With raging protests by members of the tribal communities across the state since September, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha government in the state has finally conceded to their demands. The government has convened a special assembly session to create the provision of a separate Sarna Code for tribals in the state which it will then send to the Centre.
The resolution will seek a special column for followers of the Sarna religion in the Census, 2021. At present, they are not classified as a separate entity. Adivasis have demanded a separate Sarna code in the census for decades, which, according to them, will give them a distinctive identity. Without a separate column for members of the community in the Census, they were classified either as Hindus, Muslim or Christians till date.
According to instructions issued in 2001, the Census recognised six religions – Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. The religions were given numeric codes between one and six and if anyone followed another religion, they were asked to write its name down.
The RSS interprets all who fall in the “others” category as belonging to the Hindu faith. Over the years in Jharkhand, the saffron party has pushed the narrative that Adivasis are Hindus ‘by nature’. In 2017, the then BJP government in the state passed an anti-conversion law criminalising religious conversion by “use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means.”
Tribal organisations across the state held protests for over three days beginning September 19.
Speaking to NewsClick, Adivasi activist Deepak Ranjeet said: “In the last two Census exercises we have demanded a sarna code. We want our code and our columns to reflect our heritage, our practices, and our religion. We have now been given a separate column which is a victory for us and a ray of hope, that the Centre will now be compelled to do the same.”
Adivasi not Sarna, Opposition Continues with BJP in Limbo
With the resolution now passed in the state assembly, the ball is now in the Centre’s court. Many feel that it is unlikely the BJP government will relent since it will do damage to the party’s ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Members of the community believe that the Centre will deny them over technical reasons.
Speaking to NewsClick, tribal activist Prafulla Linda said: “We are worshippers of nature. Over the past few years we have struggled to assert that and everyone has tried to rope us into their fold. Adivasis have been on the ground protesting for this and there is no question of any opposition to it. This is a crucial step for us. The maximum number of attempts to convert Adivasis are made from the Hindu and Christian fold; it will enable us hold both back.”
However, a section of different tribal bodies have also started demanding for an Adivasi code, claiming that all tribals cannot be forced to accept their identity as nature worshippers. Many state that the word Sarna reflects the place of worship of the Oraon tribe and cannot be representative of practices of all communities.
Despite differences within the tribal front, members of the community have vowed to stall the growing effort by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological parent, the RSS, to convert tribals into the Hindu fold.
Also Read: ‘Adivasis Not Hindus’: Protests Demanding Sarna Code Intensify in Jharkhand