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Being Sarna: a threat to tribal identity in Jharkhand

  • Published
    23rd Jul, 2022

As the demand for a separate Sarna religious code in Census 2021 gathers steam in the State, there is tension in tribal-dominated villages in Jharkhand.

  • Tribal were always a vulnerable group which has exposed to violation of Rights and further worsening their condition.
  • Christian missionaries first started converting poor tribal communities with the promise of an English education, jobs and hospitals.
  • Tribals in India follow their own aboriginal religion but, 19 % of the total tribal population in India follow their own peculiar original religion.
  • Among them are Sarna worshippers of Jharkhand.
  • More than 89% of the tribals follow Hindu religion.
  • Due to their tact with other Hindu communities, they have turned to
  • As many as 53% tribals have embraced Christianity; they are converted Christian tribals. 
  • They have been converted into Christianity by Christian missionaries. This conversion has caused a social problem. 

About Sarna Religious Code

  • The Jharkhand government convened a special session and passed a resolution to send the Centre a letter to recognise Sarna religion and include it as a separate code in the ‘Census of 2021’.
  • Need: Many of the tribals who follow this faith have later converted to Christianity. The state has more than 4% Christians most of whom are tribals.
  • Some who still follow the Sarna faith believe the converted tribals are taking the benefits of reservation as a minority as well as the benefits given to Schedule Tribes.

What is Sarnaism?

  • Sarna are sacred groves in the Indian religious traditions of the Chota Nagpur Plateau region in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Assam, and Chhattisgarh.
  • Followers of these rituals primarily belong to the Munda, Bhumij, Kharia, Baiga, Ho, Kurukh, and Santal.
  • According to local belief, a Gram deoti or village deity resides in the sarna, where sacrifice is offered twice a year.
  • Their belief system is called "Sarnaism", "Sarna Dharma", or "Religion of the Holy Woods".

Sacred Groves

  • Sacred groves or sacred woods are groves of trees and have special religious importance within a particular culture.
  • Sacred groves feature in various cultures throughout the world.
  • They were important features of the mythological landscape and cult practice of Celtic, Estonian, Baltic, Germanic, ancient Greek, Near Eastern, Roman, and Slavic polytheism; they also occur in locations such as India. 

Is it similar to Hinduism?

  • Hinduism is far more developed religion than as Sarna Dharam or Adi Dharam is less defined which is followed by the Adivasi (moolnivasi/picchdi jati) belonging from eastern India.
  • Hindus worship Idols and a particular figure.
  • Adivasi worship spirits of rivers, forests, land, and the whole nature.
  • Hindus view god as something humanly which has to be pleased, make happy, and others emotions like angry, sad.
  • Adivasi do not view their gods like humans. God is no superior humanly above than us.
  • According to Sarna’s, No body, just a holy spirit which calculates our life on its own.

Why religious conversion of tribals is a cause of concern?

  • Some Hindu groups are using the same methods to do something more malicious by changing the very nature of what tribal people believe
  • They try to convince them that the basic principles of Sarnaism and Hinduism are the same even though our practices are distinctively different from any other religion,
  • The thought begins with the promise of elementary schools, pucca homes for villagers, and roads and electricity for the village.
  • Threat to their culture and identity of tribal is unconstitutional and illegal.

What does constitution says about Religion conversion in India?

  • Article 25of the Constitution of India ‘guarantees the freedom to profess, propagate, and practise religion, and allows all religious sections to manage their own affairs in matters of religion; subject to public order, morality, and health’.
  • Until now, there had been no central enactment limiting or managing religious conversions; further, in 2015, the Union Law Ministry expressed that Parliament does not have the administrative skill/competence to pass anti-Conversion legislation.
  • Part IV: Preservation of Culture and Identity of Tribals

The Review of the Uttar Pradesh & Madhya Pradesh Ordinance

  • The Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Madhya Pradesh (MP) Ordinances characterise conversion as repudiating one’s current religion and embracing another religion.
  • Nonetheless, the two Ordinances do not prohibit re-conversion back to the immediately previous religion (in UP), and parental religion (in MP) from this definition.
  • Parental religion is the religion to which the person’s father was born at the time of the individual’s birth.

Some ‘Sarna’ Tribal Organisations

  • Akhil Bharatiya Sarna Dharam (ABSD)
  • All India Sarna Dharam Mandowa (AISDM)
  • Kherwal Saonta Semled (KSS)
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