Jains protest plan to convert sacred hill into tourist centre
Rallies In City, Pune And Other Places
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