Faith vs tourism: Jains fear that a sacred hill will be defiled by tourism initiatives

The Jain community is holding protests against a Jharkhand government’s recent decision to declare a hill sacred to their faith a tourist destination

Updated - January 03, 2023 06:54 pm IST

Published - January 03, 2023 01:26 am IST

Members of the Jain community blocked the road of Inner Circle of India Gate in New Delhi on January 1, 2023, during a protest against the decision of the Jharkhand govt to declare sacred Shri Sammed Shikharji a tourist place.

Members of the Jain community blocked the road of Inner Circle of India Gate in New Delhi on January 1, 2023, during a protest against the decision of the Jharkhand govt to declare sacred Shri Sammed Shikharji a tourist place. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Leaders of many faiths have joined hands to save a hill that the Jain community considers sacred. For over a week now, Jains across Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Delhi, have been organising peaceful protests. The outcry is against a Jharkhand government decision that could change the demographic of visitors to Sammed Sikharji at Parasnath Parvat (hill), Giridih district, taking it from a “place of pilgrimage” to a “religious tourist destination”. The protestors demand that the Jharkhand government revoke its decision to promote Parasnath Parvat “as a part of eco-tourism or any kind of tourism”. They feel this will disrupt the sanctity of the hill dotted with temples.

Sammed Sikharji, or just Sikharji, as it is reverentially known locally, stands 1,350 metres tall, and is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for the Jains. It is believed that 20 of the 24 Tirthankaras (enlightened beings) attained moksha (salvation) here. The hill itself is named after Parasnath, the 23rd Tirthankara. Every year thousands of Jain pilgrims from across the world undertake a 27-km-long trek to reach the summit.

Jains have petitioned the Prime Minister, urging him to press the State to withdraw its decision. Additionally, the National Commission for Minorities wrote to the Jharkhand Chief Secretary in December 2022 taking cognisance of the representation from the Jain community to give the hill a “holy status”. The Commission is slated to hold a hearing on January 17 to discuss the matter.

View from both sides

The protest by the Jain community members erupted with the news that the Jharkhand government is considering a proposal to amend a 2019 notification. The then BJP government had earmarked Parasnath Hill as a religious tourism spot. They had sent the proposal to the Centre, which also notified the hill as an eco-sensitive zone.

In July 2022, as part of its tourism policy, the Hemant Soren-led Jharkhand government decided to “promote religious tourism” at Parasnath Hills, a government tourism department official told The Hindu. They added, “However, nothing has been done yet on the ground and nothing much can be done in terms of infrastructure development, as the area has already been notified as a sanctuary and eco-sensitive zone.”

Manoj Kumar, State Tourism Secretary, spoke to a section of the media in Ranchi, and acknowledged the concern raised by the Jains. “We have received a few representations from the community members who have raised some apprehensions,” he said. “We’re looking into the technical details of the notification and will come up with a workable proposal which takes care of the community concerns without compromising on enforcement issues.” He has further said that he has issued fresh directions to the Giridih district administration “to implement a 2018 order which is to keep the place sacrosanct in letter and spirit as per the tenets of Jainism”.

Mr. Sudivya Kumar, the local Giridih MLA from the ruling party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, told The Hindu, “An amicable solution to the issue raised by the Jain community will be found in a week by inviting members of the community, saints, officials and other stake-holders in view of our Chief Minister Hemant Soren’s initiative in this direction.” He asserted: “This is a local issue and it should be resolved locally.”

However, Muni Pranam Sagar ji, revered by the Jain community, has said that the Centre and State governments should denotify the Parshwanath Hill circuit as an eco-sensitive zone. “Why eco-tourism zone; why not eco-thirthsthan or eco-pilgrimage centre?” asked the Jain Muni while speaking to the media.

Some members of the Jain community in Ranchi who protested the government’s move, said that they would keep protesting until the government withdraws the proposal. “The place Parasnath Parvat is an issue of our inner faith and the government should immediately withdraw its proposal to notify the place to promote religious tourism. We’ll not tolerate any such move and keep protesting until it gets withdraws,” said Ajay Jain, who described himself as a social activist.

Amongst the protesters in Ranchi, Vinod Jain added, “When the place is promoted as a tourist spot, people will start eating meat and drinking liquor. Hotels will come up with several other activities which are not accepted by Jain community members.” Pushpa Jain, who is also out protesting, said, “Faith and tourism are two different things.”

Besides the Jain community, members of the Santhal tribe too hold their annual festival on the hills in mid-April.

Support from all around

A number of leaders have come out in support of the Jain community. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), while extending support to the community, asked the government to desist from making the religious place a “tourism spot” and respect people’s sentiments. “We are of the clear opinion that no pilgrimage site should be converted into a tourist destination,” said Mr. Alok Kumar, working national president of the VHP. Mr. Kumar said that the VHP would take necessary action in this direction along with the representatives of the Jain community.

He also said that the organisation is pushing for State governments and the Central government to form an independent Ministry of Pilgrimage, which would develop pilgrimage sites according to the faith and belief of the followers.

AIMIM Chief Mr Asaduddien Owaisi tweeted to extend his support and said that the Jharkhand government must rescind the decision. Congress leader Mr. Shashi Tharoor too tweeted that the government should respect the sentiments of the Jain community and declare Sikharji as a religious place.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.