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Demand for Sarna code by Adivasis

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

Recently all tribal leaders and tribal associations did a huge rally at Morabadi ground in Ranchi to demand a separate religion code for Adivasi i.e Sarna code from the central government. Thousands of people from different states gathered and raised a slogan in unison-“Sarna code nahi to vote nahi”, which means there will be no vote in the coming election if Adivasi will not get a separate religion code.

The Demand March

The Background behind these demands

If we see the first census of India(which happened in 1881), to 1941 pre-independence, Adivasis are counted in a separate column as animists, aboriginal or nature worshippers but the post-independence separate column was removed, and a contention was given behind this, now Adivasis are mostly converted in Christianity, Islam or some other religion. By adding these, they also said that Adivasi rituals and ceremonies are much more similar to Hindus. So rest of the Hindus are still they are counted as Hindus while the Adivasis are on the list.

The first time the demand for the Sarna code was brought by the then Member of Parliament for Lohardaga, Kartik Oraon in the 1980s which led to more such movements and the demand for the Sarna code was raised by many MPs.

The 2011 commission for Schedule Tribes also advocated for a separate religion for the Adivasi in their report. The Xaxa Committee was formed to see the situations amongst the tribes and also advocate for the same, that the tribes should have a separate identity. Over 50 lakh tribal people in the entire country put their religion as 'Sarna' in the 2011 census.

Current status

In the early half of November 2020, the Jharkhand government convened a special Assembly session to pass a resolution to recognise the Sarna religion/tribal religion and include it as a separate code in the Census 2021. Now the bill is pending with the Centre to decide on these matters. The Trinamool Congress government, on 17 February brought a motion in the State Assembly— seeking recognition of the Sari and Sarna Dharma. The motion was brought by MLA Rajib Lochan Soren.

How Sarna religion different from Hindu or the other religion

  1. If we see the Hindu Marriage Act,1955 section 1(2) states that nothing contained in this act shall apply to the members of tribes. Courts, in one of the famous judgements in the case of Surajmani Stella Kujur vs Durga Charan Hansda, held that codified Hindu laws do not apply to tribals and that they are governed by their own tribals' rituals and customs.

  2. If we see other religions like Hinduism, their sources are in codified religious books but for the tribal religion, the source is nature and worship nature.

  3. Hindus are idol worshippers but tribals don’t believe in any idol or any form of God. They don’t have pictures of gods; we consider trees, forests or mountains as our deities.

  4. Other religions have priests who manage all the rituals, but tribals do not have to be the upholders of rituals and worship, although they do have an appointed member from the tribe who can only perform some specific rituals.

  5. Hindus, generally after death, their bodies are cremated but in Adivasis, they usually bury the dead.

  6. Hindus are divided into varnas through a hierarchical system or caste system but the tribals don’t have such differences.

  7. If Jains and Buddhists have their religious codes, although they are fewer in number as compared to Adivasis, then why not the same treatment for them too?

Many such differences differentiate us from other religions.

Practicing Sarnaism

Issues behind this demand

If we see Sarna its plain meaning is that place where the Oraon tribe worship that is “Sarna”. so many tribal groups opposed the Sarna religion stating that a place of worship cannot become a religion. so they want tribal religion instead of Sarna religion.

Moreover, it is also there that all tribes are not followers of the Sarna religion, like Bhil follow their religion, Khasi in Meghalaya follow Niam Khasi, and Tani tribes in Arunachal Pradesh follow Denyi -polo. So the Registrar General of India rejects the proposal every time saying that if they provide separate Sarna codes then others also follow the suit.

Sarnaism and environmentalism

So better than Sarna it might be called Sarnaism. It is a more naturalistic way of life that just happens to involve nature worship. Its belief in nature worship all the rituals are connected with nature. Sarnaism follower believes in the protection of the environment and maintaining harmony between them. all the folk songs were somehow connected with nature. In Sarnaism every Thursday people gather at Sarna and pray to their ancestors for their betterment and protection. they offer to them little water and rice in three places after that they depart from there. Now even the world recognises that indigenous /tribal ways can be a tool to overcome the problem of climate change, global warming and other environmental issues. The Indian government can set an example by giving tribal religion recognition who worship nature and believe in environmental protection as the religion of our country and at the same time tribal get their denial the right of having their religion.

Deepak Oraon is a final-year L.L.B. student at Campus Law Centre, Delhi University. He hails from Ranchi, Jharkhand. His fields of interest lie in Tribal Law, Adivasi Rights, Books, Social Issues and random political and philosophical discussions.


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