Question Of Ecological Identity
Down To Earth|December 16, 2020
ISHAN KUKRETI speaks to a legislator, an anthropologist and legal experts to make sense of this simmering debate
Ishan Kukreti

ON NOVEMBER 11, the Jharkhand State Assembly in a special session sent a resolution to the Union government asking for a separate religion code for the tribal population in the upcoming Census 2021 exercise. The resolution named it “Sarna Adivasi Dharam”. Followers of “Sarna” are usually nature worshippers. They have been demanding recognition of it as a distinct religion for decades. At present, under the census, there are codes for only six religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism. While filling in these columns, a tribal resident has to identify himself or herself as one of these or as “others”, but cannot specify his/her religion as a different one.

In census surveys during 1871-1951, there was a separate category for tribal population. But later this was dropped. In independent India, the tribal identity has been about constitutional provisions promising to protect their rights and central laws promising to protect their land. Although recognised as an administrative and social category—Scheduled Tribes— these communities have never been recognised as a separate religious group.

For the Census 2011, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes did recommend the addition of this code. Demand for the separate religion code picked up in Jharkhand as preparations for the survey started in September.

Till now, the Union government has not agreed to this. But while debating the resolution, state Chief Minister Hemant Soren said the Sarna Dharam can teach a lot to the world facing problems, such as pollution and environmental degradation, as it is all about worshipping nature, forests, and mountains.

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