Several religious bodies claiming to represent 50% of the tribal population in Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh have decided to socially boycott women who marry outside their community.
Religious heads who attended a meeting where the decision was taken said the move was aimed at stopping “exploitation” of tribal women by men from other communities in their attempt to get privileges meant for the scheduled tribes, like land inheritance.
Scheduled tribes get 7.5% reservation in government jobs across India. Many states also bar non-tribals from acquiring land in tribal belts.
The 2001 census had put the strength of Jharkhand’s tribals at 26.2% of the state’s 3.29 crore population. In Chhattisgarh, the tribal population is 31.8% while in Odisha it is 22.1%.
The meeting held in Ranchi on Sunday was attended by representatives of several bodies including Adiwasi Sar na Mahasabha, Adiwasi Chatra Sangh and Adiwasi Jan Parishad.
The meeting also decided that a tribal converted to any other religion should not be allowed to be a part of the nature-worshiping Sarna followers.
“Several such meetings are held across the eastern region every month and the message is always made clear that such marriages would lead to gradual decline of the tribal community and hence should be condemned,” said Bandhan Tigga, a Sarna ‘dharmguru’ from Ranchi.
“We (ST) have in government reservations. I have come across cases wherein working tribal women have married non-tribal men and are taking care of their family. We boycott such women just to bring an end to the disturbing practice,” said Kerketta.
The gurus claim that in many cases a tribal woman married to a non-tribal man gives her surname to their child and expects reservation in jobs and other privileges for the child.
Working tribal women, especially those employed with government organisations, are often lured by non-tribal men for monetary benefits, they say.
“We are often told how nontribal men were using our sisters for money. The measures are for our good, so that we grow as a community,” said Neha Khalkho, an 18-year-old tribal girl from Ranchi.
Sarna followers are nature worshippers who do not consider themselves Hindus and have been fighting for a separate religious identity in India for decades.
Lakhs of tribesmen who were born in Sarna-following families have converted to Christianity over the past century after the advent of missionaries, claim tribal gurus.
These tribesmen have also been at loggerheads with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) over being tagged as Hindus by the saffron outfit.
Tribal guru Tigga claimed that initiatives taken by the Sarna committees in the tribal states have curtailed conversion by at least 60% in the past couple of years.