History Of Protest By Jains

 Jains from all over the country demonstrated against the Jharkhand government’s decision to develop Shri Sammed Shikharji and Parasnath Hill as tourist destinations, as well as the vandalism attack on the Jain temples on Palitana Hill in Gujarat. 

Jains protested in large numbers in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bhopal, New Delhi, Surat, and other cities, calling for the Jharkhand government’s decision to promote religious tourism at Parasnath Hills to be reversed because they believe it will defile the sanctity of Shri Sammed Shikharji, one of the most revered Jain pilgrimage sites from which 20 of the total of 24 Tirthankars attained salvation.

What caused Jain Protest

On the streets of Ahmedabad, Surat, Mumbai, Bhopal, and Delhi, to mention a few locations, there has been an unparalleled outpouring of members of the Jain community over the past three days. There are two differences of opinion. 

First, the government of Jharkhand chose to turn Sammed Shikharji, a hill shrine that the Jain community reveres both spiritually and religiously, into an ecotourism destination. Second, in Palitana town in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, there has been vandalism, alleged encroachment, and the sale of illegal alcohol close to Shatrunjaya hill. 

The tiny minority community, which numbers only five million people globally, regards these places as having tremendous religious significance.

The Jharkhand government opted to encourage religious tourism at Parasnath Hills, the area that is home to the famed Jain pilgrimage centre from which 20 of the total of 24 Tirthankars attained salvation, as part of the Tourism Policy introduced this July. 

Thousands of Jains from all over the world go on the 27 km-long trips up the hills each year to reach the peak, which is home to the 20 Tirthankaras’ salvation shrines. The Santhal tribe also regards the hills as holy, referring to them as “Marang Buru,” and hosts an annual festival there in the middle of April. 

Since then, though, Jains have been resisting the state government’s intention to strip the site of its sacred significance and transform it into a cash cow for tourism.

History Of Jain Protest

On January 1, when hundreds of Jains took to the streets to protest the Jharkhand government’s decision, the demonstrations reached a peak. Notably, the Hindu rights group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) supported the Jain community’s protest. 

The VHP claims in a statement that it is responsible for preserving the sacredness of India’s holy sites. To make the entire Parshwanath hill a sacred site (teerth), no tourist activities involving meat or illegal substances should be allowed. 

“In order to ensure that the Siddha Kshetra Parshwanath mountain and all other pilgrimage sites in Jharkhand are developed in a manner that respects the adherents of the Jain faith, the Ministry of Pilgrimage must be immediately established there.

In order to prevent Siddha Parshwanath Mountain and Tirtharaj Sammed Peak from becoming popular tourist attractions, the pertinent notifications should be changed as necessary, according to a VHP statement. 

The “Parasnath Hill Development Plan” was published by the Jharkhand government under Raghubar Das in 2015.

It is worthwhile to consider the origins of the debate as demonstrations calling for the Jharkhand government’s decision to designate Shri Sammed Shikharji as a tourist destination gain traction. The problem began on April 24, 2015, when Raghubar Das, the then-chief minister of Jharkhand, released a “Parasthnath Hill Development Plan” to promote tourism in the Shikharji hills. 

According to Raghubar Das’s government’s development plan, a helipad similar to Vaishnodevi was to be built in the Shikharji hills to make it easier for visitors to reach the peak, given that the trek required them to traverse 25 to 30 kilometers on foot.

In addition, the proposal called for building a theme park, a tourist information centre, a car parking area, and a bus stop in Madhuban, a town at the base of the Parasnath Hills, which are home to the Shri Sammed Shikarji pilgrimage site. 

For the local tribes, the state government also intended to build the Marang Buru Temple. 

But when the government announced, the Jain community protested against the brazen attempt to commercialize one of their holiest pilgrimage sites to increase the state’s tourism profits. 

Jains from across the nation took part in the “Save Shikharji” campaign, which was started to raise awareness about the Jharkhand government’s decision and get support for keeping Shri Sammed Shikharji from becoming an opulent tourist destination.

The Raghubar Das administration finally decided in August 2018 to move on with its plan to turn Shri Sammed Shikharji into a popular tourist destination after stalling for more than three years. On August 10, 2018, Das prohibited the use of cars and motorcycles on the revered Parasnath hills as a show of good faith to allay Jains’ worries. 

But he repeated his intention to complete the Marang Buru Temple for the preservation of tribal culture in the allotted period. Additionally, he had requested that the Forest Department resolve all open issues by September 15, 2018, and grant approval for all tourism-related projects by October 10, 2018. 

The government of Raghubar Das designates Shri Sammed Shikharji as a holy location and pledges its dedication to upholding the site’s holiness.

Once more, this started the process, which resulted in massive objections from the Jain community, which urged the government to reconsider its intention to turn the site where 20 of the current cycle’s 24 Jain Tirthankaras earned salvation into a tourism hotspot. 

In a meeting with Raghubar Das on October 22, 2018, delegations of Jains, including representatives of the “Save Shikharji” movement, voiced their disapproval of his government’s intention to change Shri Sammed Shikharji’s characteristics. 

After numerous meetings and discussions, the “Parasnath Hill Development Plan” was shelved, and the Jharkhand government released an official note acknowledging the hill’s status as a sacred site and reaffirming its commitment to upholding the area’s purity.

However, in August 2019, the Parasnath and Topchanchi Wildlife Sanctuaries Eco-sensitive Zone was declared in the Giridih and Dhanbad districts of the State of Jharkhand, a region that extends from zero kilometers to 25 kilometers (208.82 sq km) around the boundary of the Parasnath Hills and Topchanchi Wildlife Sanctuaries. 

The designation of the lands near Parasnath Hills as an Eco-sensitive Zone does not exclude the area from becoming a major tourist destination. Instead, as a rule, it served to lessen the negative effects of development operations on a geographical area as spiritually significant and ecologically diverse as the Parasnath Hills.

Eco-sensitive Zone designation for Parasnath Hills and its effects on Shri Sammed Shikharji 

The National Wildlife Action Plan (2002-2016) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change states that the Environmental (Protection) Act of 1986 mandates that state governments designate land as eco-fragile zones or eco-sensitive zones (ESZs) within 10 kilometers of the borders of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries (MoEFCC).

Although the 10-km rule is applied as a general rule, its implementation may not always be to the fullest. If areas exceeding 10 km contain bigger ecologically significant “sensitive corridors,” the Union government may additionally declare those areas to be ESZs. In Shri Sammed Shikharji’s case, the state government asked that a 25-kilometer radius be designated as an ESZ for the construction of tourism projects. 

This was done to limit the adverse effects development projects might have on the delicate ecosystem surrounding the protected areas. 

The designation as an ESZ meant that certain activities would be restricted in the area, including commercial mining, sawmills, industries that pollute the air, water, soil, or noise, the construction of large hydropower projects (HEP), and the commercial use of wood. Similar restrictions applied to tourist activities, including hot air ballooning, the discharge of effluents or any solid waste, and the manufacture of hazardous materials.

But it also made it possible to cut down trees, build hotels and resorts, use natural water for commercial purposes, install electricity wires, alter the agricultural system, use pesticides, and enlarge highways, among other things. 

In essence, the establishment of an ESZ did not prevent a location from becoming a popular tourist destination. Instead, it aimed to lessen the effects of urbanization and other forms of development in the regions surrounding protected areas designated as Eco-Sensitive Zones. 

Hemant Soren was sworn in as chief minister of Jharkhand after the Raghubar Das administration was defeated in the state’s assembly elections in December 2019.

The Parasnath development plan, which had been put on hold for more than two and a half years, was given new life earlier this year when the Hemant Soren-led Jharkhand government chose to carry out the previous administration’s plan and turn the Parasnath Hills and Tirtharaj Sammed Shikharji into eco-tourism destinations.

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