Adivasis demand separate religion category in the Upcoming Census

Adivasi organisations demand a separate religion category for Adivasis in Census. Adivasis do not consider themselves Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis.

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Adivasis are demanding separate religion for their communities in the census 2021. For long people belonging to tribal communities are clubbed as part of Hindu religion. BJP and RSS consider tribals as Hindu.

On 18th January 2020, at Jantar Mantar, in a one-day demonstration, Adivasis organisations from 19 states have gathered demanding a separate religion for them. They say- ” Adivasis are not Hindus.We are not happy that we were counted as Hindus in the last census.”

The Adivasi representatives are demanding that there should be a separate religion column for Adivasis in the census form because they dont consider them as Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Christian or parsi.

Census data collects a lot of information based on which government makes its policies. Adivasis Tribals are scattered all over the country. With the present grouping of Adivasis in Hindu religion does not give the correct estimate of Adivasi population in India. In census if they are counted as separate category, it will help in framing policies suitable for Adivasi population.

From British Raj to Indian Raj: Story of successive governmental apathy

The anger and disappointment towards the successive governments is understandable. Tribals are not only the most marginalised sections of society but also the poorest. Despite Tribal welfare ministry and departments, Tribals in India have been at the receiving end of governmental apathy and even state-sponsored atrocities in many parts of India.

During British rule in India, there was a separate Adivasi religious code. after independence, in 1951 when the first census in independent India was being conducted, ‘tribe’ was available as the ninth option under the column for religion. It was later removed. The representatives allege that its removal has led tribes to be counted under different religions, which they say causes great harm to their communities.

The organisers of the programme, national Adivasi indigenous religious coordination committee Arvind Uraon says – Since 1980 adivasis have been demanding separate religion but the government is not paying attention to their demands.

Also Read: Turning back the clock: How the state is reversing gains made by traditional forest-dwelling communities

Delhi University professor Nitisha Khalkho says- in August 2019, a national convention was also conducted on a separate religious identity for Adivasis in port Blair. Adivasi representatives from all over India were present there. There it was decided to push further the demand for separate religion in the census form. It was decided those who can come to Jantar Mantar in Delhi will come here those who cannot will demonstration at their respective state offices.

Mahendra Dhruva, a tribal activist from Bihar, says the census form has only six options under the religion column – Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh. “If we do not consider ourselves followers of any of these religions, which option should we choose? Before 2011, a seventh option, “Others” was provided and most of us used to opt for it. But now, even that has been removed,” he said.

He adds, “If you look at the statistics of all the censuses of the British era (from 1871 to 1931), there was provision for tribes to choose Aboriginal as an option. After independence, the government removed it, so that tribes are counted as either Hindus or followers of other religions. Left with no choice, many people are being forced to choose other religions.”

He alleges that the removal of the ‘Aboriginal’ option is an attempt by the government to make them “religious slaves”.

As per instructions issued for the census conducted in 2001, the six religions – Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism – were given the code 1-6. If a person follows another religion, the enumerator is asked to write the name. The government has made it clear that the other religions will not be given a code number. A similar method was adopted in the 2011 Census.

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