Sarna, a so-called "religion" based on the concept of nature worship, is followed by tribals in several Indian states including Jharkhand. Tribals in Jharkhand have long been demanding a separate Sarna religious code in the Census.
Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM), which is set to form part of the new government in the state, has promised to implement the Sarna Code in its election manifesto. It will be interesting to see whether Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-led new state government implements the Sarna Code in the state or not.
"The demand for a separate Sarna religious code in the Census has been pending for a long time. Sarna followers are worshippers of nature. Jharkhand has 32 tribal groups, of which eight tribes are from Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG)," G.N. Jha, Professor of Anthropology, Hazaribagh University told IANS.
"These tribal groups are Hindus. However, few have converted to Christianity," Jha added.
A social activist said that the tribals are demanding for Sarna Code as they want to "save their religious identity".
Jharkhand has seen three tribal Chief Ministers — Babulal Marandi from Munda tribe, Shibu Soren from Santhal tribe and Madhu Koda from Kora tribe. Raghubar Das was the first non-tribal CM of the state. Now Hemant Soren, son of Shibu Soren, will take oath as the new CM.
"A separate religious code in the Census can't be provided to tribals. They will have to choose between the six options under the religion column as the Registrar General of India has said that it's not natural to form a separate religious code, at present," a government official said on the condition of anonymity.
Bandhan Tigga, Dharm Guru (priest) of Raji Padha Sarna Prarthna Sabha, once claimed that there are 62 lakh Sarna tribals in Jharkhand.
Meanwhile, Sarna Prarthna Sabha in Ranchi is carrying out a population survey of Sarna tribals for its Mission 2021.
It is believed that in 2011 Census, 42 lakh people from Jharkhand and about six crore people from across the country had mentioned their religion as Sarna, which was then included in others section.
Gond and Bheel tribes, which comprise of one crore population-each have not been included in Sarna religious code as these tribes consider themselves as a separate religion.
Under the Census 2001, there were six options under the religion column — Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh — which were given 1-6 code numbers. People from other religious groups were asked to mention their religions but not to highlight the code numbers.
Likewise, in 2011 Census, the same procedure was followed.
Tribals said that in 1951 Census, the ninth column for religion was "tribe", which was later removed. Due to its removal, the tribal population embraced different religions, causing major loss to the community.