What is the Sarna Code?

India Dec 23, 2020

The protests and meetings held by various tribal groups in Jharkhand and around aiming to fulfill their demand since last many years finally paid off. The Jharkhand state assembly allows the members of tribal communities in the state to recognize themselves as “Sarna”, a distinct religious category by passing a resolution during a special one-day assembly session on November 11, 2020. The resolution was presented by Chief Minister Hemant Soren leading to its unanimous passage by a voice vote in the assembly. If approved by the Central government, the upcoming Census in 2021 will have a separate column for the community, allowing members of these communities to identify themselves as belonging to a distinct religious community.

“Jal, Jungle, Zameen” and pray to the trees and hills while believing in protecting the forest areas, the followers of Sarna believe in the prayers to nature. The Sarnas do not consider themselves as Hindus, yet because of the working class migrating from one state to another, they are not recognized as tribals and are not recorded in the Census.  It became one of the reasons for a decrease in the tribal population from 38.3 percent in 1931 to 26.02 percent in the year 2011.

A large number of tribals that later converted to Christianity increased the Christian population of the state by 4 percent. The Sarna followers believe the converted tribals are taking the benefits of reservation as a minority as well as the benefits that are given to Schedule Tribes. Leaders of the Sarna Tribe think the benefits should be advantageous specifically to the candidates of minority or Schedule Tribes rather to those who have converted.

In 2013, the installation of the statue of Mother Mary in a white saree with a red border, her hair in a bun, bangles around her wrists, and carrying infant Jesus on a sling like a tribal woman, on the outskirts of Ranch added as a move to promote conversion. The anti-conversion law in the year 2017, fueled and deepened the division.

The ‘Sarna Code’ was demanded to save the religious identity of the tribe as well as to ensure recording their population since the declining numbers affect the constitutional rights given to them and how the rights will be bestowed upon the Adivasis under the 5th Schedule of the Constitution.

Between 1871 and 1951, the tribals did have a different code, however, was changed around 1961-62. The tribal leaders and followers also claim that in 2011 the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes had recommended to the Centre to add the Sarna code in the Census, but was not implemented. Experts see this as an attempt to reduce pollution and protecting the environment through the soul belief of the Sarna religion, hence supporting the tribe to have a separate religious code to themselves.

This article has been written by Pooja Varade for The Paradigm

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