Tribals from Jharkhand, Chhattishgarh and Bihar held a day-long protest at Jantar Mantar here, demanding the addition of a separate column for tribals in the upcoming census. Present in good numbers under the banner of National Adivasi-Indigenous Religion Coordination Committee, they said tribals have a separate identity, not associated with any religion, and therefore require a separate column in the census.

“When it comes to census we have to mention others in the religion column or many of us mention Hindu or Christian. Therefore, I request the government to give us a separate column for tribals as we are the real natives of India,” said Arvind, spokesperson of the organisation.

According to Census-2011, the number of Scheduled Tribes in India constitute 8.6 per cent of the total population of India. Most of them live in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, and Karnataka. These states constitute 83.2 per cent of the total Scheduled Tribe population of the country while  Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Jammu and Kashmir, Tripura, Mizoram, Bihar, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu account for another 15.3 per cent of the total Scheduled Tribe population.

Recently, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat reportedly said at a meeting in Bhopal that tribal people should be counted as Hindus in the 2021 census. However, this statement didn’t go down well with tribal leaders as they consider themselves an indigenous community which worships nature.

“In the census, there is a column for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and others. Now I learnt that they are going to omit ‘others’ section this time. It means you have to tick either of the religions mentioned there. In other words, we are on the verge of losing our identity,” said the spokesperson.

“They find many ways to harass us. Sometimes, they bring a court order to evacuate us from our forests and now they are coming up with this,” he added.

Similar protests were held in Ranchi and Raipur.