The Adivasi Sengel Abhiyan (ASA), a tribal organization, has announced a “symbolic” Bharat bandh on December 30 to advocate for the recognition of the Sarna religion. ASA President Salkhan Murmu emphasized that the Sarna religion code serves as the identity for 15 crore tribals in the country, and the denial of its recognition is considered a “constitutional crime.”
Murmu expressed concerns about the pressure on the tribal community to embrace other faiths, describing it as a form of religious coercion. He accused both the Congress and the BJP of depriving tribals of their freedom of religion. According to Murmu, the 1951 census initially included a separate code for the Sarna religion, but it was later removed by the Congress. He alleged that the BJP is currently attempting to categorize tribals as Vanvasis and Hindus.
The ASA is advocating for the protection of the interests of the tribal community and has declared their intention to support political parties that recognize the Sarna religion. Murmu stated, “We will vote for whichever party recognizes Sarna religion.”
Sarnaism is the indigenous religious faith of tribal communities, characterized by the worship of natural elements such as mountains, forests, and wildlife. The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has recommended that Sarna religion be accorded an independent category in the religion code of the census. Various tribal organizations and Christian missionaries are also urging the establishment of a distinct census code for Sarnaism.
Murmu revealed that approximately 50 lakh adivasis declared their faith as ‘Sarna’ in the 2011 census, surpassing the 44 lakh reported for Jainism. Despite this, Jainism has been granted a separate religion status, while Sarnaism continues to be deprived of such recognition.
The ASA’s decision to call for a symbolic Bharat bandh on December 30 is a response to the lack of attention given to the Sarna religion by political leaders. Murmu highlighted that neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor President Droupadi Murmu has addressed the issue during their recent visits to tribal areas.
As part of the protest, tribals are expected to take to the streets, blocking road and rail movements to draw attention to their demand. Murmu urged political parties that supported the Sarna Religion Code Bill in the Jharkhand assembly to rally behind ASA’s cause.
The Jharkhand Assembly had previously passed a resolution in November 2020, unanimously advocating for the recognition of Sarna as a distinct religion in the census. The upcoming Bharat bandh serves as a collective effort to bring national attention to the long-standing demand for the acknowledgment of the Sarna religion and the protection of tribal rights.