The Supreme Court, in 2009, had banned fresh construction of places of worship at public places. The apex court had stated that the restriction would apply to temples, mosques, churches, gurudwaras and places of worship of all other communities. In 2016, the court had reproached State governments for not furnishing reports on action taken in this regard. The court had not discriminated against any religion or its place of worship; rather it had asserted that the order was applicable to all religions and its violation would be an “insult to gods”.
Paradoxically, Jharkhand government seems to think differently. A recent circular by the government addressed to district Deputy Commissioners has directed them to examine unlawful occupations of land belonging to Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes communities by Christian missionaries and take appropriate legal action. The government seems to be worried about the land of STs, SCs, and BCs only if it is occupied by Christians, and not by others. It is nothing but discrimination against the community.
Christians have rightly claimed that the government’s plan to probe into Church land holdings is nothing but singling them out as a ‘revenge’ for leading tribal protests. The Church has always been a staunch exponent and champion of tribals and other downtrodden people. It has led many a tribal protest against authorities. Two years back, Church groups were in the forefront of protest against the amendment to Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and the government had to withdraw it. Last year, they had actively participated in the protests against Jharkhand land amendment Bill, passed by the Assembly. The protesters had claimed that it was part of the BJP agenda to hand over huge tracts of land to corporate houses. Hence Christian missionaries are eyesore for the present regime. They are in the ‘bad book’ of Sangh Parivar also over concocted stories of conversion. The latest missive of the government could be a move to get even with them.
A government which is anxious to find out the ‘illegal possession of land by missionaries’ need to answer as to how thousands of acres of tribal land have gone into the hands of non-tribal business men. Or else, its move against Christians will remain suspicious. Moreover, the latest order is not the only instance of the State trying to needle Christian missionaries. Last year, a probe was ordered against several Christian non-government organizations alleging involvement in illegal proselytization. Another inquiry was set up against 31 organizations to see if they used overseas funds for conversion activities. Specially after the saffron government came to power in the tribal State, Christian groups and institutions are at the receiving end.
It is equally important to point out that many Christian institutions and churches stand on land said to have been donated by tribals. Hence, the Church authorities have the responsibility to keep the records straight to counter the arm-twisting tactics by ‘unfavorable’ authorities. Clear land titles protect the rights of the title-holder against claims made by anyone else to the property. To counter the skewed agenda of Sangh Parivar, there is no better weapon than eternal vigilance.(Published on 05th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 32)