Tribal organizations in the five Eastern states of India are planning to launch the second phase of agitation for a separate religious code for Sarna followers in the states. Sarna is a distinct religious category and the community worships trees, hills and mountains to protect the forest areas. Last month, the Hemant Soren government of Jharkhand passed the separate Sarna tribal religion code and sent it to the Centre to accord a separate religious column for the tribal community in 2021 census.
Leaders from Central Sarna Committee, All India Tribal Development Council and Adivasi Sengel Abhiyan informed in a press meet that as part of the second phase of the struggle, they will organise a blockade and bring out 200 Sarna Dharma Sagars (Raths) in Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Odisha and Chattisgarh between December 20th and 31st after having led a successful railroad blockade jam on December 6th.
Last year, before the Jharkhand Assembly elections, the BJP had promised that it would implement the demand for a separate Sarna Code in 2021 when a fresh Census begins - a promise which was not kept.
Subra Roy Chaudhary, a social activist who works for tribal rights told Madhyamam, "Christian missionaries are working for the welfare of tribals there. RSS has entered there to counter Christian missionaries. Because of the hegemonic stands of Hinduism, the present generation has lost all the ideas of religion. "We are from Sarna religion and it comes under Hinduism," this is the statement put forward by RSS. They are working with propaganda."
"Sarna is, moreover, a Central Indian idea than a North-eastern one. The labourers in the tea gardens of Assam are people from Jharkhand or Chattisgarh. Their demand to be separated from the Hindu religion is very essential so that they can conserve their own identity. By implementing the code, we will be very close to nature. People will start worshipping environment as their own. The idea of a separate religion is very much needed in this age," he added.
Tribal women in the eastern states have been looking forward to the essential benefits of Sarna code. Dhimoyee Banerjee, a Jharkhand based activist from Noamundi said, "Tribal women will be benefited by the Sarna code. In the tribal population, women are always given preference. The Hemant Soren government implemented good schemes for tribal women as well. If Sarna code is implemented, the situation of tribal women is going to be impacted positively. Tribals are much ahead of any other religion. It will empower tribal women and give them recognition and identity of their own. The beliefs and practices they are doing for all these years, these things will get highlighted."
"Recognition of Sarna is not something new; it is prevalent from the beginning. Due to various factors, tribals are asking for identity, the main factor is religion. Some people don't know how to speak in their traditional languages. They are losing their identity. They are always being oppressed. Sadly, most of them in this generation don't want to recognize as tribal as they feel ashamed. They suffer from an identity crisis. By implementing the Sarna code, it will have huge impacts on preserving languages. If the code gets implemented in these states, the percentage of exploitation will be less," she said.
All India Tribal Development Council General Secretary Lalit Kachhap said, "For 2021 census, only one and a half months is left. In such a situation, the central government should speed up the process for according separate religious code for Sarna tribals. 15 crore tribals in the country are fighting for their rights. If the tribals are not given the religion code, then 15 crore tribals will oppose the census."
Scheduled Tribes in Jharkhand is 70,87,068 strong constituting 26.3% of total population of the state. Among them 91.7% reside in villages.The Sarna Adivasi Dharma code was unanimously passed by the Hemant Soren-led government on November 11 this year.