Jains protest plan to con­vert sa­cred hill into tourist cen­tre

Ral­lies In City, Pune And Other Places

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - TIMES CITY -

Mum­bai: Mem­bers of the Jain com­mu­nity have planned a se­ries of protests against the Jhark­hand gov­ern­ment’s al­leged bid to de­velop the Shikharji hill, one of the com­mu­nity’s most revered spots, into a tourist cen­tre. One protest was held in Pune on Satur­day, some in Mum­bai and Pune ear­lier in the week and more are likely soon, com­mu­nity lead­ers said.

A ‘Save Shikharji’ cam­paign too has been launched, with many Jain tem­ples in the city hand­ing out pe­ti­tions to be signed by the de­vout. The pe­ti­tions will be sent to PM Modi. As Jains form a large vote base for the BJP, the protests are sig­nif­i­cant in view of the ap­proach­ing Lok Sabha elec­tions.

The Jains have de­manded that the en­tire Shikharji hill should be de­clared a place of wor­ship for the com­mu­nity. Shikharji is re­garded as the ‘Ma­hatirtha’ by Jains for over three mil­len­nia as 20 Tirthankars out of 24 are said to have at­tained Ma­hanir­van from this sa­cred hill. Pil­grims climb the hill bare­foot and avoid food and wa­ter till they have per­formed its 27km ‘parikrama.’

Com­mu­nity mem­bers said the BJP gov­ern­ment in Jhark­hand led by Ragubar Das has, de­spite its ver­bal as­sur­ances, started a project to de­velop a tourism com­plex on the hill. It has, in ad­di­tion, built mil­i­tary bar­racks and will re­port­edly be con­struct­ing a Marang Buru tem­ple for Adi­vasi trib­als from that area as part of its plan, they said. When a del­e­ga­tion of the All In­dia Jain Mi­nor­ity Fed­er­a­tion met the Jhark­hand CM last week, he said no ac­tiv­ity which af­fects Jain­ism and its be­liefs would be car­ried out and no work that hurts Jain sen­ti­ments would be un­der­taken.

But Jains are mo­bil­is­ing sup­port through so­cial me­dia and meet­ings in var­i­ous states among its acharyas, gu­rus and com­mu­nity groups. All sects, among them the main Digam­bar, She­watam­ber, Ter­a­pan­thi and Sthanakvasi ones, have come to­gether for this cause, not­with­stand­ing dif­fer­ences. The groups say doc­u­ments show three Mughal em­per­ors, in­clud­ing Ak­bar, had is­sued far­mans giv­ing own­er­ship of Shikharji to the Jains and had pro­hib­ited an­i­mal killings in the vicin­ity.

Acharya of She­watam­bar Mur­tipu­jak Jain Sangh Yugb­hushansur­ish­warji, who is spear­head­ing the ag­i­ta­tion, told TOI, “In in­de­pen­dent In­dia, no such in­jus­tice has been done to the most im­por­tant place of any faith. We don’t want any favours from the gov­ern­ment. We ex­pect only de­serv­ing and fair treat­ment.” Him­mat Gandhi, a so­cial worker, asked, “How can we Jains tol­er­ate in­va­sion of our para­mount place of wor­ship?”

Chair­man of Bharat­varshiya Digam­bar Tirth Shke­tra Samiti, Sarita Jain, said the hill is con­sid­ered so sa­cred that one who vis­its it is de­scribed as a “mok­shgami” (one on the path to mok­sha). Com­mu­nity mem­bers fear mak­ing it a tourism spot would open it to meat con­sumers, thus as­sault­ing Jain sen­si­bil­i­ties.

The All In­dia Jain Mi­nor­ity Fed­er­a­tion’s pres­i­dent Lalit Gandhi said in Mum­bai last week that Das had promised the Fed­er­a­tion’s del­e­ga­tion the Sam­met Shikhar area would re­main a place of pil­grim­age and the gov­ern­ment would not de­file its sanc­tity. But ac­cord­ing to He­mant Shah, di­rec­tor, pub­lic re­la­tions, of the ‘Save Shikharji’ cam­paign, the com­mu­nity is wary of oral prom­ises as the CM had in 2015 com­mit­ted to de­vel­op­ing Shikharji as “an in­ter­na­tional seat of spir­i­tu­al­ism and en­light­en­ment.” Das had also showed in­ter­est in pro­vid­ing in­fra­struc­ture with­out dis­turb­ing the hill’s sanc­tity. Yet Jhark­hand is­sued a no­ti­fi­ca­tion to de­velop the tourism cen­tre, build a he­li­pad and hinted at plans to build a Marang Buru tem­ple, he said.

Jhark­hand gov­ern­ment has said sanc­tity of the spot will not be de­filed

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