Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren to reconsider the decision to turn Sammed Shikharji – the biggest pilgrimage of the Jain community – into an eco-tourism spot, in view of sustained protests by the community.
Nath, a former union minister, wrote separately to the PM and Jharkhand CM, urging them to reconsider the decision in keeping with the sentiments of the Jain community. In his letter to the PM, Nath said that if the decision is changed, it will be a big step towards establishing religious harmony in the country. Congress is in coalition with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in the state government.
Sammed Shikharji is located on the Parasnath Hills in Giridih district and is considered one of the most revered pilgrimages by all sects of the Jain community as they consider that 20 out of the 24 Tirthankars (saviors and spiritual teachers) attained salvation here. Also, the members of the Santhal tribe consider the hills as 'Marang Buru' and hold an annual festival here in mid-April.
As part of the Tourism Policy launched in July this year, the Jharkhand government has decided to promote religious tourism at Parasnath Hills. Before this, on August 2, 2019, following the recommendation of the Jharkhand government, the union ministry of forest and environment issued a notification to declare the Parasnath Hills (and Wildlife Sanctuary) as an eco-sensitive zone and approved eco-tourism and non-religious activities.
The Jain community has been constantly protesting the decision, saying that turning the Sammed Shikharji into a tourist site will tarnish the religious sanctity of the place. They want the decision by the union and state governments overturned.
Recently, protests were organised all across the country, including Madhya Pradesh. The Jain community has also called for a day-long shutdown of business establishments and mass leave by Jain employees on December 21 in the state.
The matter has also been raised in the parliament by various members and on Tuesday, the union tourism minister G. Kishan Reddy made a statement in the parliament saying that his ministry was not a part of any such decision, but was in talks with the Jharkhand government over the issue. The Jain community has pointed out that perhaps the union minister was unaware of the August 2019 notification of the forest ministry.
In this backdrop, Kamal Nath has taken the step to support the demands of the Jain community.
In his letter to Soren, he said that strong religious sentiments of the Jain community from across the world are linked to Sammed Shikharji and the decision of the government to develop it as a tourism site might lead to the breach of its independent and religious identity and sanctity of the pilgrimage.
Mentioning the protests across the country and in MP, Nath said that it is the sentiment of the entire Jain community that the Sammed Shikharji be protected as a non-violent, addiction-free, vegetarian holy area. He urged Soren to overturn the decision of developing the hills as a tourist spot and to maintain the religious sanctity in keeping with the sentiment of the community.