Why are Jains protesting against Centre and Jharkhand govt?  

For last fortnight, India is witnessing strong protests by the second smallest microminority in the country – Jains. It started with Jains sitting on a fast on to death in Delhi. This was followed by protest marches and rallies across all the small and big cities across India. Many leading Jain munis (monks) and acharyas […]

For last fortnight, India is witnessing strong protests by the second smallest microminority in the country – Jains. It started with Jains sitting on a fast on to death in Delhi. This was followed by protest marches and rallies across all the small and big cities across India. Many leading Jain munis (monks) and acharyas (spiritual gurus and leaders) led these rallies. One of the most significant rally was organized in Delhi from India Gate to Rashtrapati Bhawan on 1 January 2023. The intent of Jain community was to submit a request to the President of India, Draupadi Murmu to step in and resolve the crisis created due to a notification issued by the Jharkhand Government that converts the Sammet Sikhar area from a place of religious pilgrimage into an ecotourism zone. The notification was issued in 2019 and despite all requests and representations to the Union and State Government, there was no resolution. Hence the Jain community was forced to come out on the streets to protest against this notification. To understand the rationale why Jains are protesting against this notification, it is important to know the history and significance of Sammet Shikhar. Sammet Shikhar is situated in Giridih District in Jharkhand State. Sammet Shikhar is the abode of Jains for last few thousands of years. 20 out of 24 Tirthankars of Jains attained nirvana (salvation) in these hills. As per Jain texts Sammed Shikhar along with Ashtapad, Girnar, Dilwara, and Shantrunjay Hills are the five principal pilgrimage shrines of Jains. If an equivalent has to be drawn, Sammet Shikhar is for Jains, what Kashi, Mathura, and Ayodhya is for Hindus, Amritsar and Kartarpur is for Sikhs, Bodh Gaya is for Buddhists, Mecca is for Muslims, Vatican is for Christians, and Jerusalem is for Jews. This is the spiritual and religious significance of the shrine for Jains. 

In 2019, Jharkhand Government issued a notification converting the area of Sammet Shikhar into an ecotourism zone. Government’s intent, which largely comes within its tourism policy, is to create resorts and avenues for adventure sports and other activities. Government argued that this would bring about a development in the region and create employment in the region. However, Jain community is shocked with the development on two counts. Firstly, being a place of worship, the community was not taken into confidence on whether the community is agreeable with the development plan. This holds more significance because the area covered within the Sammed Shikhar Shrine is governed under Article 30 of the Constitution that gives minority communities (here in this case, Jains) the right to manage their institutions. Government interfering without taking the community into confidence is in violation of the fundamental rights. 

Secondly, the issue has become grave because of the basic tenets of Jainism that calls for nonviolence and practicing of certain fundamental principles of Jainism in the precinct of the shrine. Jains are concerned about the sale of non vegetarian food and alcohol, with tourists flocking in the area. This will defile the religious and spiritual sanctity of the shrine. This concern is also aired by many Hindus who are hurt with the leisure tourists flocking holy shrines like Kedarnath etc. and hurting the religious sanctity of the area. Many Hindus have complained of roads leading to Kedarnath and the area nearby littered with beer cans and people coming for joyrides and entertainment, instead of visiting the shrine with devotion for Lord Shiva. 

It is not that non-vegetarian food is not sold in the vicinity of Sammed Shikhar shrine. Many small dhabas and food stalls owned and managed by locals have illegally come up, that sell non-veg food. This is definitely hurting the sanctity of the shrine. Despite various complains, the issue stands unresolved and repeated requests to the government authorities have fallen on deaf ears. If this is not enough, local biker groups have started entering the shrine area for joyrides. Their rash driving and untowardly behavior towards pilgrims is causing lot of inconvenience to the pilgrims. The law and order machinery has broken down and is a cause of serious concern for the community that has maintained the shrine for thousands of years. Very recently, last week, there was an incident of firing by the vandals associated with the vested interests groups, who are involved in subverting the sanctity of the shrine. CRPF has to be called to control the vandals and ensure safety of pilgrims. 

This issue of vandalism has become more serious, after the other holiest of the holy Jain Shrine of Palitana saw vandalism in the temple of the first Tirthankar – Lord Adinath. The feet of the Lord were broken by the vandals. Vandalism and goondaism by vested interests groups in Palitana has been going on for a long time. It is understood that pilgrims are not allowed to even chant the holy Namakara Mantra is a stretch of area leading to the main shrine in Palitana. There have been cases of attacks on pilgrims who were chanting the holy Namakara Mantra. Hence, Jain pilgrims have now started remaining silent when they cross that stretch. This is the kind of terror that prevails in the stretch leading to the shrine. 

This has created a flutter in the Jain community, who is worried that similar or more serious instances of harassment and terrorizing of pilgrims can start at Sammed Shikhar in the future. The community is further dejected with the failure of the government authorities and law and order enforcement agencies in ensuring that the community can exercise its fundamental right to profess and practice its faith under Article 25 in the holiest of holy shrine in the country and manage the shrine under Article 30 of the Constitution. 

This is the reason the Jain community is forced to start protests and peaceful agitations to seek justice and support from the government in the Centre and the State. 

Sumeet Mehta is a Chartered Accountant by qualification and a Corporate Finance Professional. He is author of “Diagnosing GST for Doctors”.