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Strangers In Our Own Land

Strangers In Our Own Land

The BJP-led Jharkhand government seems to be in a hurry. The hurry is to get even with church related matters in the state and to pulverise the church.  

Reports have it that the government has instructed its bureaucracy to take stock of church’s land possession pattern. As many see it, the implication is that the government is keen to radicalize its confrontation with the church as if the church is an uncomfortable hunchback the government is forced to accommodate.

Ever since the BJP-led government took over the reins of Jharkhand governance, it has an increasingly uneasy co-existence with Christianity. It is an undeniable fact that the church’s service to tribal and other disadvantaged communities for their development from grassroots has been an eyesore to the Sangh Parivar. This is in spite of the fact that Hindu temples are ever on the increase in the state and are built on tribal agricultural lands.   

The present move of the government to take stock of the church’s land possession pattern appears to have a communal colouring. Otherwise, why pick the church only? What about hundreds and thousands of acres of tribal land occupied or possessed by nontribal business communities, quarry and mine owners, educational institutions, commercial complexes, etc.?  If the government is honest enough to go into a serious study of all tribal lands occupied or possessed by such agents, it will be stirring up a hornet’s nest. 

The most recent land grab by Jharkhand government itself is the instance of gifting industrialist Adani with 1363 acres of agricultural land for a power plant that will produce and supply 100% of electricity to neighbouring Bangladesh. This was done by the compulsory acquisition of land in Godda under section 93 of the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

When the landowners protested the forcible taking away of their land, they were told, reportedly by Adani’s henchmen, that they would be buried in their own land. The whole incident taped on video has gone viral on social media as proof. 

A writ petition was filed in Jharkhand High Court by Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) a legal rights group, New Delhi, for the quashing of acquisition of 1363 acres of agricultural land for setting up Adani Power Plant. The sixteen petitioners on whose behalf the Writ is filed contend that the government did not even consult them before the acquisition of their only livelihood source.

In a related incident, BSF Jawan, Saral Kr. Jha, posted in Kashmir, in a civil writ has challenged Jharkhand government’s snatching away of his 2.02 acres of land allotted by the Central government.

Moreover, the government itself will have to answer many an uncomfortable question about itself having buildings, administrative blocks and public institutions on non-transferable and agricultural tribal land in areas where land is non-transferable under tenancy laws.  

The Jharkhand government appears to render a hammer blow on the church’s functioning in Jharkhand. Many see it as part of its saffron agenda in line with the national wave it is creating. As far as the church authorities vouch, the church is not a land grabber. Any service rendered to the tribal or local communities is done only in so far as the village community of a particular area welcomes the church and apportions some appropriate land to church institutions for community service. Even an individual’s offer of a piece of land for service needs is concluded with the seal of approval by the village community.

A humanitarian service cannot be rendered in the air. Land is required. Rendering literacy and education to an illiterate population by an NGO should be a welcome thing because the government itself is incapable of financing and establishing service institutions in far-flung rural areas. So, if an NGO, be it  church or  non-church,  offers charitable service to tribal or village communities on tribal land, as long as it is approved by the village community, now the Gram Sabha, where is the contradiction? A genuine government will only welcome such community services. But, if one looks at such services with coloured glasses, there can be unnecessary harassment and consequent loss of humanitarian service to the poor or the deserving. 

No government can render to the citizens hundred percent service for human development unless it has recourse to services of NGOs. Now, it is an undeniable fact that the church in Jharkhand has been doing yeomen service to disadvantaged communities for about three centuries. The tribal Christian community grown over this time also needs adequate space for its religious needs. Hence, it is not snatching away of tribal a land for building places of prayer but it is pitching the tent where the community demarcates a place for prayers and rituals.  Such exercises are perfectly in conformity with the fundamental right of freedom of religion under the Indian constitution.  

Now, communalising such activities as anti-constitutional has communal overtones and politically motivated agenda. The Christian community has been a peace-loving community and has been abiding by the obligations laid out by the constitution.  If lakhs of Hindu families benefit from education or other training facilities, it is because they appreciate not only quality formation, but also they are happy with the Christian presence in their locality. Institutions like St. Xavier’s or Loyola colleges and schools dotting across the state, training centres like  Xavier Institute of Social Sciences (XISS), Ranchi, and so many other quality educational institutions spread throughout the state cater also to large numbers of non-Christian students. It is because we believe that in secular India service to all without bias towards caste or creed is a humanitarian service as taught by our Guru Jesus Christ.  These beneficiaries have no quarrel with our being Christians or with our conducting Christian institutions. But, it is rather, politically motivated factions and anti-constitutional forces which want to create confusion and terror among the people.

Such activities can ultimately harm those who stand really in need of genuine development. It is no secret that there are not a few who, for instant needs, take advantage of our quality educational institutions  but become politically activated to cry foul against the very services of which they also are beneficiaries. It is a political game.

In this political game, would the government want to throttle all Christian services, raze to the ground all churches and Christian institutions with the magic wand of harassment and instant order? Will the beneficiary communities of tribals, non-tribals and disadvantaged sections approve such a sinister move? It will be of interest to see how those bureaucrats and civil servants who have been beneficiaries of Christian institutions will respond to threats to the very institutions they have benefitted from.

Those who are aware of the great contributions of Christianity in the past towards development   in the fields of education, literature, social services, legal outreach and other humanitarian services will be appalled by the government’s attempt to ply its steamroller over the church. Belgian Jesuit priest Constant Lievens (1856-1893) stands tall in the history of Jharkhand because of his great and path breaking work for tribal development. He was a socially involved pastor whose Good News message was integral liberation of human beings. So, no wonder, as he was acutely aware of the evil of forced labour, slavish indebtedness of poor tribals, systematic alienation of people’s land into the hands of extortionists, he made them aware of their legal rights and even represented their cause successfully in the British colonial courts. It was no mean achievement. John Baptist Hoffmann (1857-1928) was another tall figure whose contribution, among other things, to Mundari literature and culture is well appreciated by literary scholars of all religions. His Encyclopaedia Mundarica is a monumental work and a remarkable contribution to Mundari tribal literature and culture. The modern day Church baiters should know that it was Hoffmann’s blueprint that became the 1908 Chotanagpur Tenancy Act.

Coming down to the recent past, there was this Fr. Camille Bulke (1909-1982), whom I knew during my college days. This Christian priest had his D. Phil on Sri Ram (Ram Katha), a Hindu God, because he wanted to highlight that the great values of Ram as expounded by Tulsidas had similarities in the values preached and lived by Jesus. This Belgian Jesuit was honoured by the government of India with Padma Bhushan, one of India’s primer civilian awards in recognition of his great work in the field of education and literature. These are but a few of the great many figures who committed their lives to the integral development of the people of Jharkhand. The upstart politicians of today and their promoters who are oblivious of the historic past of Christianity in Chotanagpur are neither tribal friendly nor people friendly. They function behind smoke screens to cause instant confusion and terror. 

The Jharkhand government will be well advised to take its steps away from such a slippery ground and redirect them towards promoting peaceful co-existence among all citizens and to appreciate the good that is done by Christian communities through humane and humanitarian service.  

The Jharkhand government’s controversial move is part and parcel of the Sangh Parivar-BJP national agenda in the context of their skewed Rashtravadi scheme to colourwash India with saffron tinge.  Their brush spares no roads, no lanes, no minority institutions, no national educational centres, no humanitarian services of service-minded NGOs, not even Gandhi, Nehru or centuries of India’s recorded history. Their troll army, their hatchet men, their freemason foot soldiers, their lynch brigade are all at work perfectly in consonance with their political masters. Not just the nation, but the whole world stands still and frozen with confusion and consternation at the clarion call of the saffron brigade to declare the murderer of the Father of the nation a national martyr! Whither India?

(Published on 05th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 32)