PHEROZE L. VINCENT—New Delhi, April 20: Armed with survey records of Sarna religious sites and a clock that runs anticlockwise, leaders of Adivasi groups from seven states today asked Union home minister P. Chidambaram to include the animist faith of tribals in the Census.
They also demanded constitutional recognition of Kurukh, Mundari, Ho and Gondi languages.
The delegation of eight—led by Sarna dharmaguru Bandhan Tigga— was accompanied by tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahay.
Outside the home minister’s office in North Block, leaders of more than 20 tribes dressed in traditional attire explained that their rights had been steadily degraded since Independence and were on the verge of eclipse, despite the formation of Jharkhand and Chattisgarh.
“Before Independence, all colonial laws were notified specifically for tribal areas- which are called scheduled areas in the Constitution. Tribals nowadays do not understand the laws and spend years in jail for collecting forest produce, hunting and roaming in the forests. There is the reason we hate men in uniform. If laws are notified according to our traditional principles of justice, we will understand the law and violence will end,” said Bijay Kujur of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Mahasangh.
Ho leader Mukesh Birua brought along a clock that runs anticlockwise. It was also numbered anticlockwise and bore images of roosters and the map of Jharkhand.
“We dance, plough and perform rituals anti-clockwise. Creepers grow, snakes climb, water currents and breeze also swirl anticlockwise. This is a Sarna clock. We want to end the exploitation and fraud committed on us and recognising our religion is the first step,” he said.
In the meeting, leaders presented census and land records to show that animists were enumerated even before Independence and their sites of worship had also been listed across central and eastern India.
“In the 2001 census, 32 lakh said they follow Sarna and 68 lakh said they follow other religions, not mentioned in the list. Most often we are listed as Hindus or Christians. The tribal languages may be different but our rituals are the same. When we told mantriji this, he said this is the first time it has been brought to his attention and he would examine the matter. We estimate there are 10 crore Sarna worshippers in the country,” said Tigga.
While Santhali was included in the eighth schedule of the Constitution in 2003, the four other main adivasi languages weren’t. The leaders explained that all the groups had their own scripts and deserve recognition.
“Unless our children get primary education in our own languages and the laws are written in our languages, we will continue to be considered stupid and illiterate. Being governed in our own tongue is our right,” said Raj Kumar Pahan, a Oraon leader.
Sahay told journalists that getting a distinct recognition of their faith was their right.
“As they are from my home state, it is my duty to highlight the suppression of their religious identity. They had this recognition before independence. I will continue to lobby for the language, faith and rights, even in my party,” he said.