On January 1, 2023, the Jain community staged a protest in the national capital against Hemant Soren-led Jharkhand Government for turning their most pilgrimage site Shri Sammed Shikharji, into a tourist spot. Earlier, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren had declared that Shikharji would be a tourist place.
Notably, the Soren Government, as a part of its tourism policy launched in July 2022, decided to promote religious tourism at Parasnath Hills, the region where 20 of the total 24 Jian Tirthankars attained salvation. Every year, thousands of Jains from across the world visit these Tirthankaras. Besides, these hills are also considered holy by the Santhal tribe, who regard it as ‘Marang Buru’ and hold an annual festival here in April.
The protesters said that the Government’s move to make Shri Sammed Shikharji an eco-tourism destination will affect the religious sanctity of the site as it is one of the few holiest pilgrimage sites that they have closely guarded for years. Protestors also raised “Sammed Shikhar Hamara Hai” slogans. The protestors also submitted a memorandum to President Draupadi Murmu on this matter.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has also extended its support to the Jain community. “VHP is determined and striving to protect the sanctity of all the pilgrimage sites in India. We are of the clear opinion that no pilgrimage site should be converted into a tourist destination”, said Alok Kumar, VHP, International working President.
Urging Union and Jharkhand Government VHP said, “The entire Siddha Kshetra Parasnath should be declared a holy area. There should not be any such activity which would hurt Jain beliefs. Meat and drug addiction cannot be allowed in any way within the limits of this pilgrimage area”.
“The Ministry of Pilgrimage should be set up in Jharkhand soon, so that the development of the holy site as well as all other pilgrimage sites there should be according to the faith of the followers. Necessary amendments should be made in the related notifications so that Siddha Kshetra Parasnath and Tirtharaj Sammed peak can never be developed as tourist areas”, the statement reads.
Why is the Jain community protesting across the country?
- In Gujarat, the Jain community took out a rally seeking action against anti-social elements allegedly for desecrating the sacred Shetrunjaya Hills, Bhavnagar situated on the banks of the Shetrunji river. Shetrunjaya Hills near Palitana city are home to 865 Jain temples and are a holy place for Shwetambara Jains.
- In Madhya Pradesh, the Jain society took to the streets protesting the Jharkhand government’s decision.
- Around 50,000 people from the Jain community in Mumbai demanded a ban on illegal mining and selling illicit liquor in Palitana in Gujarat.
Timeline of the Controversy
- April 24, 2015: The then Jharkhand CM, Raghubar Das, issued a ‘Parasthnath Hill Development Plan’ to develop tourism in Shikharji hills. A project-based Vaishnodevi model to construct a theme Park, car parking and bus stand in Madhuban town. This triggered protests from the Jain community, which demonstrated against the blatant attempt to commercialise one of their holiest pilgrim centres to boost the state’s tourism revenues.
- August 2018: Once again, the then Government decided to pursue its project of transforming Shri Sammed Shikharji into a tourist attraction spot. As a token gesture to placate concerns among Jains, Das, on August 10, 2018, banned the use of vehicles/motorcycles on the holy Parasnath hills.
- September 2018: The Government asked the Forest Department to clear all pending cases and issue clearances to all tourism-related projects by October 10, 2018. This once again prompted widespread protests from the Jain community, which asked the Government to rescind its decision to turn the place into a tourism hub.
- October 22, 2018: Delegations of Jains, ‘Save Shikharji’ campaign met Raghubar Das and expressed their concerns over his Government’s decision of altering the characteristics of Shri Sammed Shikharji.
- August 2019: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change notified an area to an extent varying from 0 kilometres to 25 kilometres (208.82 sq km) around the boundary of Parasnath Hill and Topchanchi Wildlife Sanctuaries, in Giridih and Dhanbad districts, Jharkhand as the Parasnath and Topchanchi Wildlife Sanctuaries Eco-sensitive Zone. Eco-Sensitive Zones meant activities such as commercial mining, sawmills, and industries causing pollution would be prohibited in the area. Similarly, tourism activities like hot-air balloons, discharge of effluents or any solid waste or production of hazardous substances were also banned. But it allowed the cutting of trees, construction of hotels, commercial use of natural water, erection of electrical cables, changes in the agricultural system, adoption of heavy technology, and widening roads, etc.
- December 2019: The Raghubar Das Government lost the Jharkhand assembly elections, and Hemant Soren came into power.
- July 2022: The Soren Government, as a part of its tourism policy, decided to promote religious tourism at Parasnath Hills, the region where 20 of the total 24 Jian Tirthankars attained salvation.
- December 2022: Nationwide protest by the Jain Community against the Jharkhand Government’s decision.
The Jains are a microscopic community, and the smallest among the six notified minorities by the Government of India. They are spread throughout India and are known for their strict adherence to Ahimsa or non-violence. Sharing many common beliefs with Hinduism, this community is facing the brunt of foreign-funded missionary gangs. The Jain School of Philosophy has deeply contributed to the Indian philosophical system along with Vedanta and Buddhism. Jainism has deeply contributed to the enrichment of Hindu art and architecture.
Another aspect to this issue of targeting the Jain community is that Jains have traditionally been managing the commercial and industrial segments of the Indian economy. If the Jain religious beliefs are destroyed and they are successfully converted, the economic interests would automatically come under the Church control and indirectly be controlled by Western agencies. Conversion is a very diabolical strategy, and the Government and all Intelligence agencies should be on high alert at all times.
(Timeline: with inputs from opindia)