Why Tribals Don’t Want To Be Hindus? – Free PDF Download


Identity Crisis: Why Tribals don’t want to be “Hindus” or “Other” ?


  • According to the 2011 Census, the Scheduled Tribes account for 104 million representing 8.6% of the country’s population. These Scheduled Tribes are spread throughout the country largely in forest and hilly regions.



  • Jharkhand has 32 tribal groups of which 8 are from Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups.
  • Having such huge Tribal Population,Jharkhand government convened a special session and passed a resolution to send the Centre a letter to recognise Sarna religion and include it as a separate code in the Census of 2021.

  • For the last many years several protests and meetings have been held by various tribal groups in Jharkhand and elsewhere pushing the same demand.
  • The followers of Sarna faith believe in praying to nature. The holy grail of the faith is “Jal, Jungle, Zameen” and its followers pray to the trees and hills while believing in protecting the forest areas.


  • The followers of Sarna faith believe in praying to nature. The holy grail of the faith is “Jal, Jungle, Zameen” and its followers pray to the trees and hills while believing in protecting the forest areas.
  • It is distinct from any currently listed in the census form, including Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism.
  • History, reveals the demand for a Sarna code, in some form or the other, has been around from the pre-Independence era, when the British listed tribals under animist faith (objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence)
  • Multitude of Indian tribes feel the need to have their own religious identity and the demand entails – politically and socially.
  • The word sarna literally means a patch of forest left untouched for spirits to live in. These spirits are believed to have existed for long before humans settled there. If not provided a place to live, Sarna worshippers believe, the spirits will torment those who inhabit the settlement.
  • Experts say that when today the entire world is focusing on reducing pollution and protecting the environment, it is prudent that Sarna becomes a religious code as the soul of this religion is to protect nature and the environment.
  • Not all Sarna Believers

Current Scenario

  • Currently, the Indian census carries codes only for six religion :-

Scenarios in Previous Census

  • In census surveys between 1871 and 1951, a separate category  for tribals existed. This was later dropped. So while tribals have been recognised as a distinct social group – Scheduled Tribes – they are not recognised as an independent religious group.
  • The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes did recommend the addition of Sarna code in the 2011 Census, but this recommendation was ignored.

The Arguments put forward by Tribals

  • According to Ramesh Saharn, vice-chancellor, Vinoba Bhave University, Hazribagh, The Scheduled Tribes communities can be divided into three categories those who have adopted Christianity; those who have converted to Hinduism and those who do not identify as either of these, but are recorded as Hindus in the census.

Quoted by Ramesh Saharn

  • Down To Earth magazine quoted Ambika Aiyadurai, an anthropologist and assistant professor, IIT Gandhinagar, referring to the tensions between the Hindus, the Christians and the tribals who don’t wish to be a part of either.

Fear of Loosing Identity

  • The lifestyle and culture of tribals particularly of those who live near the urban areas or near dominant non-tribal population has changed due to imbibing of large number of cultural traits of Advanced Hindus. Various tribal communities try to protect their distinct culture.

From Cultivators to Labourers

Difficulty with acceptance

  • The tribals believe that the lack of heft in the absence of a religion of their own has hindered their social and economic mobility. While how a new religion would help in resolving this is not clear, there is no doubt that the tribals lag behind in all social and economic indices.

Mass Migration

  • According to a 2018 tribal welfare ministry report, tribals are increasingly moving from being cultivators to agricultural labourers.

  • It is estimated that, in the last decade (2008-2018), about 5mn tribal people left agriculture and agriculture-related activities to enter the informal labour market.
  • Displacement and enforced migration has also led to an increasing number of Scheduled Tribes working as contract labourers in the construction industry and domestic workers in major cities.
  • Currently, one of every two tribal households relies on manual labour for survival.

Political Position on SARNA CODE

  • The election of Droupadi Murmuas India’s 15th President and first person from a tribal background to take the office is a milestone in the journey of tribal empowerment.

  • While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has supported the Sarna code, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) has stolen a march over it with the assembly resolution.

Right wing referring to Christian Conspiracy

  • Since, the right-wing organisations have spent so much energy in preventing tribals from converting to Christanity, even wooing them back, tribals getting to recognise themselves as non-Hindus is a bit of a setback for them.


  • There is some amount of distrust within the tribal community between those who identify themselves as Sarnas and those who have converted to Hinduism or Christianity.
  • Though the interest of STs are majorly protected under Article 29, 46 (promote educational and economic interests of the weaker sections Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation) and 350 (Right to conserve distinct Language, Script or Culture),Section 5 and 6 of constitution, it is imperative to :-
    • Win their trust
    • Make them feel assimilated
    • Provide them with adequate education, employment, health care and resources
    • Work on social inclusion without making them feel threatened.




Latest Burning Issues | Free PDF