Recently, a main opposition party leader promised to bring out a separate Sarna religious code for tribals in the ongoing general election campaign. 

About Sarna religion

The followers of the Sarna faith are nature worshippers and regard themselves as belonging to a distinct religious group.

The word “Sarna” comes from the Mundari word for sacred groves, which are an integral part of Sarna religious ceremonies. 

  • Sacred groves are sacred forest places, where it is forbidden to harm the trees or wildlife due to their religious value. 

The holy grail of the faith is “Jal (water), Jungle (forest), Zameen (land)” and its followers pray to the trees and hills and also believe in protecting the forest areas.

Believers of the Sarna faith do not practice idol worship, nor do they adhere to the concept of the Varna system, heaven-hell, etc. 

The Sarna festivals are gender-neutral and promote sustainable and peaceful coexistence with nature. 

It is a faith based on an oral tradition where knowledge and beliefs are transmitted through myths, stories, and rituals due to the lack of any written scripture.

Although it was not a code, it is estimated that 50 lakh indigenous people nationwide identified their religion as “Sarna” in the 2011 census.

  • They are concentrated mainly in the tribal belt states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, and Assam. 

The Demand for Separate Code 

While many follow the Hindu religion, some have converted to Christianity — this has become one of the major factors for demanding a separate code “to safeguard their distinctive culture, traditions, and religious identity”. 

Their continuous protests for constitutional recognition to protect their unspoiled culture, customs, and identity are fueled by the lack of a distinct religious code for them in the Indian constitution.

  • Between 1871 and 1951, the tribals had a different code. However, it was changed around 1961-62.

Progress in this regard

  • In recent times, the states of Jharkhand (2020) and West Bengal (2023) have passed resolutions in their respective legislative assemblies for the provision of a separate ‘Sarna’ code for tribals. 
  • The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has also recommended that the Sarna religion be accorded an independent category in the religion code under the Census of India. 

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