The Jain community in Mumbai organised a huge rally on Wednesday, to protest the Jharkhand government’s decision to declare the ‘sacred’ Shri Sammed Shikharji as a tourist attraction.
The organisers alleged that more than one lakh people will attend the rally, starting from Metro and ending at Azad Maidan, where prominent leaders will speak in support of the cause.
“The government’s decision hurt our sentiments. We don’t want tourism revolving around a sacred place,” reported ANI. In Maharashtra, protesters threatened to go on a hunger strike if their demands are not met.
Shri Sammed Shikharji is a sacred Jain pilgrimage site located at Parasnath Hills in Jharkhand, which has recently been declared a tourist attraction. A major reason why the place is so important to the community and why it does not want to see it become an ecotourism destination, is that it is regarded as the biggest pilgrimage site by both Digambaras and Svetambaras. Located in the Giridih district of Jharkhand, according to legend, 20 of the 24 Jain Tirthankaras and many other monks attained ‘moksha’ or salvation here.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Rajasthan’s Jaipur city mourned the death of Muni Sugyeya Sagar, who was on a hunger strike against the government’s decision. According to Acharya Sunil Sagar Maharaj, the Jain monk sacrificed his life in order to protect pilgrimages. He added that neither the government nor the society is communicating effectively.
Jain protesters also received support from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), whose national spokesperson Vinod Bansal said, “No pilgrim site, nor the beliefs and faith of a community, can be hurt in the name of development. Any development should be done by keeping the identity of the site… A separate ministry should be made to deal with the development of holy sites.”
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi criticised the Centre over the issue on Tuesday. “India is a heaven for minorities-BJP: Jain places of worship were targeted, Continuous attacks on Christians since Christmas, Buddhists and Shia on the road for full statehood in Ladakh, Sikh youth attacked in UP, -Thousands of Muslims were made homeless in Assam and now they are going to be homeless in Haldwani,” tweeted Owaisi.
Reports indicate that tensions have been building for a few weeks now, with the Jharkhand state government announcing that the pilgrimage site is a tourist destination. On Sunday, a Jain delegation reached Delhi to deliver a letter to President Droupadi Murmu on behalf of the community, which has been protesting in many parts of the country. A massive protest took place at India Gate in Delhi. Similar rallies were held at Aligarh and Ramlila grounds. The rallies were attended by both men and women in large numbers, who protested with banners and posters. The protesters in Aligarh said that they wanted to express their discontentment regarding the decision, and that “they will continue to protest till the government rolls it back”.