File photo: Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren.(Diwakar Prasad/ Hindustan Times)
File photo: Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren.(Diwakar Prasad/ Hindustan Times)

Tribal people are not Hindus, says Soren; BJP launches attack

Soren was speaking on Saturday at the India Conference at Harvard 2021, organised by students of Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School.
By HT Correspondent, Ranchi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 22, 2021 06:16 AM IST

Advocating a separate religious code for tribal people in the country, Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren has underlined that they were never Hindus by faith and the Centre needs to provide a separate column for indigenous people in the upcoming Census. The remarks drew a sharp response from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which accused Soren of “speaking the language of the Vatican”.

Soren was speaking on Saturday at the India Conference at Harvard 2021, organised by students of Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School. Replying to a specific question by the moderator whether tribals were not Hindus, Soren said, “There is no confusion on it. Tribal was never a Hindu, nor are they Hindus now. Tribals are worshippers of nature and have a separate set of customs and practices. And that is the reason why they are classified as tribals and indigenous people.” Prior to this, the chief minister, who is also the JMM working president, underlined that the Centre should provide the tribals a distinct column to mark their religion in the upcoming national Census. The Jharkhand assembly in November last year had unanimously adopted a resolution demanding a Sarna Tribal Religious Code for tribal people in the Census.

It was for the second time during the day that the CM raised the issue of a separate religious code. Earlier in the day, speaking at the NITI Aayog council meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Soren took up the issue and urged the Centre to consider the proposal sent by the Jharkhand assembly over the issue sympathetically.

Reacting to the CM’s view, Jharkhand BJP spokesperson Pratul Shahdeo said, “By saying such things on an international platform, the CM is playing in the hands of the Vatican. We have constitutional bodies like legislature and judiciary to decide on such issues like the Sarna code. But by saying such things at an international platform, he is even allowing foreign hands to meddle into our affairs.”

Jharkhand Congress spokesperson Kishore Shadeo said, “It won’t be proper to comment on the CM’s specific statement as I don’t know what exactly he said. However, Congress had promised Sarna code in election. In the government we decided and got a resolution passed in assembly. Now the Centre must honour it and provide a separate column for the tribals in census.”

As per the 2011 Census, tribals make up nearly 26% of the 32.4 million population of Jharkhand. According to tribal rights activists, a majority of the tribal people in the state who are not Christians opted for the “Others” column while marking their religious identity in the 2011 Census.

At the India Conference event, Soren also spoke about a host of other issues related to tribal people, migrant workers and other key sectors of development in the state. On the overall condition of tribals, Soren said despite the constitutional provisions, a dedicated ministry and laws in place for the betterment of tribals, they are still at the receiving end of exploitation and discrimination and it has “not been easy” even for him to reach the position he currently holds.

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