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Mind Your Records!

Mind Your Records!

Christian missionaries have been tirelessly serving the tribal, dalits and backward classes across India for centuries. Jharkhand, inhabited mostly by tribals, is one of the states where Christian missionaries since long have slogged in developmental work. They reached Ranchi the main city of Chotanagpur on 2 November 1845 and camped on, what is now known as, the 'Bethesda Ground' in Ranchi. The presence and selfless service of Christian missionaries in South Bihar, the Ranchi belt and its surroundings have been very significant. They provided every village and town with schools and hospitals. Even after India became independent, they stayed on working for the socio-economic development of the tribals, working for the overall improvement of their standard of living.  Scores of tribals who emerged as successful sportsmen especially in games like hockey and football are the beneficiaries of long missionary service rendered to the state of Jharkhand. No government can ignore the yeomen contributions of Christian missionaries in making of the modern Jharkhand.

However, the current state government is misusing its powers to target minority Christians in order to gain the political support of Hindu nationalists. Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das while speaking to the IANS accused Christian missioners of working to sabotage development work in the state. The Christians in Jharkhand are being taken for a ride on the wings of rhetoric while clandestine measures are being taken to clip their wings: land and sources of income. In the clash of rhetoric and reality, the state is now eyeing on the land of the minorities, in that with a selective discrimination on Christians.

The Christians claim the government’s latest plan to probe church landholdings is revenge for leading the tribal protests. A year ago, church groups led tribal protests that forced the withdrawal of proposed legislative amendments that critics said would have made it easier for the state government and commercial interests to deprive tribal people of ancestral land. Kuldeep Tirkey, leader of the ecumenical Christian Youth Association, told ucanews.com: "This is surely a vindictive action. It is the latest in a series of such probes and actions taken deliberately to target minority Christians."

In July last year, the state ordered a probe into whether 88 Christian non-government organizations were involved in illegal proselytization through the offering of inducements to would-be converts. In April this year, the government recommended a federal probe into 31 of these 88 organizations to see if they used overseas funds for conversion activities.

Most of the state's 1.5 million Christians are tribal people and many Christian institutions and parish churches stand on land said to have been donated by them.

The reports from Jharkhand on the state government’s anti-Christian agenda and schemes to grab their lands send out a wakeup call for all Christian institutions to get their assets secured, backed by necessary legal documents. It is not   uncommon to hear religious and Church personnel across India rue over the fact that despite long years of their leaseholds, their land is not yet converted into freeholds. Who is responsible for such a predicament? Taking a reality check on the maintenance of the necessary land documents in minority institutions reveals that many of them lack proper documentation on their assets. Over the years the procedure of converting leasehold properties into freeholds has grown cumbersome entailing huge expense.

Land is a unique asset because it is immovable.  In India, land ownership is determined through various records such as registered sale deeds, property tax documents, and government survey records. Having a clear land title protects the rights of the title-holder against other claims made by anyone else to the property.   Every religious congregation has a Mission Statement based on a futuristic Vision. No religious congregation that loves its future generation can take their security for granted sans ensuring that their assets are backed with all the necessary legal documents.

Documentation is one of the most vital parts in the establishment, administration and progress of an organization, be it religious or secular. It’s a way institutions store and tracks all their documents in one central location. Document Management has many benefits: It helps in the smooth and effective functioning of an organization. In the first place it reduces operational ambiguity. A properly documented and well updated archive at hand would help locate a specific document sans wasting time in long frantic search.

Land records consist of various types of information (such as property details, spatial details, past transactions, mortgage details). Poor land records with discrepancies adversely affect future property transactions. Left with no updating done for long years one has to go back several years of documents, including manual records to find any ownership claims on a piece of property causing delays.

Land ownership in India as determined by various documents is presumptive in nature and subject to change. Besides, since no single document guarantees ownership in India, land ownership is established through various documents.  Currently, the Transfer of Property Act, 1882 provides that the right (or title) to an immovable property (or land) can be transferred or sold only by a registered document. Such documents are registered under the Registration Act, 1908. Therefore, in India, the registration of land or property refers to the registration of the transaction (or sale deed), and not the land title (Ministry of Rural Development, 2008).

In today’s India land-grabbing has become worrisome issue particularly for minorities.  Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Know your rights guaranteed by Indian Constitution. Claim them and fight against any arbitrary measures of the powers that be. But foremost, get your land records right. It is an imperative necessity to firmly secure the land one lives on with all the legal documents regarding the land deal. Lack of documentation (records) regarding ownership of land will get you in trouble. As Australian writer Damian Conway succinctly puts it, “Documentation is a love letter that you write to your future self.”

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