Jharkhand tribal activists agitating for a separate Sarna Code, arrested ahead of PM Modi’s visit

Modi will visit Ulihatu in Khunti district on Wednesday to pay respect to revered tribal icon Birsa Munda. The tribal activists had threatened self-immolation if Modi during his visit to Ulihatu did not make any announcement on a separate Sarna religion code; the police have put them under preventive detention

Adivasi (tribal) activists who had warned of self-immolation if Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not make any announcement on acceptance of the Sarna dharma code during his address in Jharkhand’s Khunti on Wednesday, November 15, have been taken under preventive detention by the state police reported The Telegraph.

“We have learnt that both the tribal activists — Chandra Mohan Mardi, a native of Peterwar block in Bokaro district, and Kanhuram Tuddu, a native of Sonua block in West Singhbhum district — were taken into preventive detention by the respective district police on Monday late night from their residences. Two other activists, Prithvi Murmu and Vikram Hembrom, have also been detained by Bagbera police in Jamshedpur,” announced Adivasi Sengel Abhiyan national president and former BJP MP of Mayurbhanj (in Odisha) Salkhan Murmu to the media.

Modi is scheduled to visit Ulihatu in Khunti district on Wednesday to pay respect to revered tribal icon Birsa Munda. Adivasi (tribal) activists had threatened self-immolation if Modi during his visit to Ulihatu did not make an announcement on the long-standing demand of a separate Sarna religion code, the indigenous faith of Jharkand adivasis..

“Notwithstanding such excesses by the police against tribal activists, one of our women activist Premshila Murmu, also a resident of Sonua in West Singhbhum district, has threatened to self-immolate herself near the Birsa Munda statue in Sakchi, Jamshedpur, on Wednesday afternoon if the Prime Minister fails to make any announcement on Sarna dharma code,” Murmu added.

Shockingly however, later in the evening, Premshila was also taken into preventive custody by Parsudih police. Murmu also stated that he along with his wife (Sumitra) would undertake a fast between 10am and 1pm near the Sakchi roundabout in protest against the delay in the announcement of the Sarna code. Adivasi activists will also stage protests near statues, busts or photos of Birsa Munda at different district headquarters in Jharkhand on November 15, his birth anniversary, demanding the announcement of the Sarna code.

Bokaro superintendent of police, Alok Priyadarshi said the tribal activist (Mardi) has been taken under preventive detention and would be released on Wednesday. “Since he had threatened self-immolation, which is illegal, the police have placed him under preventive detention and would release him on Wednesday evening,” Priyadarshi said.

Adivasis (tribals) in Jharkhand, a majority of whom are Sarna followers and nature worshipers, have been agitating consistently for a separate religious identity in India for decades and in recent years have staged agitations in Delhi and other parts of the country.

Adivasis argue argue that the implementation of a separate Sarna religious code in census surveys would allow the tribals to be identified as followers of the Sarna faith. Tribal organisations have claimed that with Centre dropping the “Others” option from the religion column for the next census, Sarna adherents will be forced to either skip the column or declare themselves members of one of the six specified religions — Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh.

Sabrangindia has done this in-depth analysis of the long tradition behind the Sarna faith in 2020. This may be read here.

This 2020 report had explained how, for years, tribal communities in the state asked for a separate ‘Sarna’ religion code in Census and other administrative forms. Their demand for a distinct religious identity has intensified recently in anticipation of the Census 2021. Various Adivasi parties including the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) – current ruling party – supported indigenous groups by observing demonstrations and writing letters to Chief Minister Hemant Soren.

Adi-dharma [Adivasi dharma] was practised much before sanatan dharma. Yet, their demand for a separate religion is denied, in turn denying their identity. Adivasis are forcefully converted to other religions. What kind of existence can one have if they don’t have an identity,” asked JMM General Secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya.

Sarna is a place of worship as well as a naturalist religion practised among Adivasi communities. Unlike Hindu rituals wherein people worship idols, adivasis who adhere to Sarna as a religion worship natural elements such as the sal tree or Mother Earth. This belief system is considered Hinduised due to certain similarities between the two faiths. However, adivasis claim that its blind grouping into Hinduism has adversely affected their population count.

A brief analysis of Census records shows that the Adivasi population has reduced from 38.03 percent of the state population in 1931 to 26.02 percent of the state population in 2011. This showed that the tribal population in Jharkhand had reduced by 12 percent in eight decades alone. The demographic table of Adivasis in Jharkand can also be seen in the report.


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