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Separate Religious Code for Sarna Religion

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  • Context (DTE): The demand for a separate religious code for the Sarna religion has led to stir in West Bengal.
  • The term ‘Sarna’ is derived from the Mundari language, specifically the word ‘Sar‘ which means a grove of Sal trees.
  • Sarna, also known as “Sarnaism” or “Adi Dharam”, is a tribal-religious practice largely followed by the indigenous (Adivasi) communities of India such as the Munda, Oraon, Kharia, and Santhal tribes.
  • The worship of a deity known as ‘Dharti Aayo’ or ‘Mother Earth’, is common among followers of Sarna.
  • They worship in sacred groves often having designated trees or groves that they consider holy. These sacred groves are known as Sarna Sthal or Jaher.
  • The core tenet of the ‘Sarna’ faith revolves around “Jal (water), Jungle (forest), Zameen (land), with followers venerating trees and hills while emphasizing forest preservation.
  • Their festivals are inclusive and gender-neutral and promote peaceful coexistence with nature.
  • Their festivals and rituals revolve around the agricultural calendar and the cycles of nature.
  • There’s an extensive oral tradition but no centralized religious book or scripture like the Bible/Quran.
  • Though the community has a significant presence in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and West Bengal, the religion is still not officially recognized by the Indian government.
  • This has led to protests by the Sarna community pushing for official recognition.

Need for a separate code

  • While many follow the Hindu religion, some have converted to Christianity. Thus, need for a separate code “to save religious identity”.
  • The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes also recommended that the Sarna religion be accorded an independent category in the religion code under the Census of India.

Granting a new religious code: The process

  • Art 25 of the IC guarantees Freedom of Religion to all citizens.
  • Currently, 6 religious codes are recognized in India: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
  • Establishing a separate religious code requires the enactment of legislation passed by both the Houses of Parliament.

Preserving Sarna Religion: The Way Ahead

  • Constitutional recognition of the unique cultural identity of Sarna followers.
  • Documentation of traditions, establishment of cultural centers, and integration of Sarna heritage into educational curricula.
  • Leveraging the environmental significance of Sarna practices to integrate them into broader conservation strategies.
  • Advocating for legal frameworks designed for the protection of indigenous cultural practices.
  • Seeking international recognition, along with implementing community empowerment programmes.
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