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First Jains and Now Santhals Protest Over Sammed Shikhar; What's the Dispute?

Sammed Sikhar is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for the Jain community.

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The dispute surrounding the Parasnath Hills in Jharkhand's Giridih district seemed to have died down after both the state and union governments assuaged the fears of the Jain community about their pilgrimage site, the Santhals in the area are now protesting to declare the hill as Marang Buru, or the hill of the deity.

What is the significance of Parasnath Hills for the Jains? Sammed Sikhar, which is located on the Parasnath Hills, is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for the Jain community. They believe that out of their 24 tirthankaras, 20 tirthankaras attained nirvana here. Even though the local Jain population is not significant, many Jains from India and abroad pay a visit to the temples every year.

Why were they protesting?

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This notification was issued after the then chief minister of Jharkhand, Raghubar Das, had sent a proposal to the union government expressing his intent to encourage "eco-tourism" in the area.

In July 2022, the current chief minister, Hemant Soren, launched a new tourism policy for Jharkhand, in which it was stated that the Parasnath Hills would be developed into a tourist spot.

The word 'tourism' didn't go down well with the Jain community as they feared it will compromise the holy nature of the site. The disgruntlement against the state government's policy eventually led to nationwide protests.

How did the government respond? Both the state and union governments came forward to assuage the fears of the Jains. A statement by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on 5 January stayed the clause in the 2019 notification pertaining to the eco-tourism activities.

"Consequent to the meeting it has been decided that State Govt of Jharkhand be directed to strictly enforce the relevant provisions Management Plan of the Parasnath Wildlife Sanctuary that specifically prohibit damage to flora or fauna; coming with pet animals; playing loud music or use loudspeakers; defiling sites or religious and cultural significance such as, sacred monuments, lakes, rocks, caves, and shrines; and sale of liquor, drugs, and other intoxicants etc; unauthorised camping and trekking etc on the Parasnath Hill."
– Statement by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change

Earlier in the day on 5 January, CM Soren had shared a letter on Twitter written to environment minister Bhupendra Yadav.

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"Following the applications received from the Jain community members, I have written a letter to Bhupendra Yadav, urging him to take appropriate action regarding the notification of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, to maintain the sanctity of Sammed Shikhar located in Parasnath," he said in the tweet.

What are the Adivasis saying? The Santhals refer to the site as Marang Buru, or the hill of the deity. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MLA Lobin Hembrom is leading the protests in this regard. In a meeting attending by 10,000 Adivasis on 10 January, he said,

"We have been forced to beg in front of our own government for our rights. If the Adivasis do not get the right to Marang Buru by 25 January, we will show our power. Hemant (Soren) can kick me out of the party but not from the soil."

Jains are a vegetarian community. In response to this, Yadav had tweeted that not just liquor but even meat will be prohibited in the Parasnath Hills area.

On the other hand, Santhals celebrate a three-day hunting festival on the full moon day in Baisakh (mid April) on Marang Buru.

(With inputs from Anand Dutta and Quint Hindi)

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