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Church helps tribals resist land grabs

Efforts to stop economic zone are a success so far

Church helps tribals resist land grabs
Part of the land in dispute
F.M. Britto, Raipur

January 25, 2012

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The Church in Chattisgarh’s Jashpur district is helping to mount a last ditch campaign to stop the state government from acquiring tribal land for a special economic zone. As the state pushes ahead with its massive industrial plans, thousands of tribal people in the central Indian state face losing their homes, land and livelihood. But due to the resistance being shown by Jashpur diocese and local inhabitants, the government has yet to succeed in its attempts. The Church is animating the people under the Jameen Bachao Sangarsh Samiti (Save Land Association), says Jesuit Father Oscar Tirkey, a professor at Loyola College, in Kunkuri. The Oraon tribal priest says the district has more than 200,000 tribal Catholics in the state. “We are not against development. But we want to save people and their land. Where will they go?” he asked. According to Fr Tirkey, the government has signed 112 memorandums of understanding with large companies. The deals would involve 765 villages in the district being taken over by these companies and the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, mostly tribal Catholics, he added. “Jashpur is the only district that has held rallies in which more than 50,000 people have participated and forced the government to delay its plans,” says journalist Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta. The coordinator of the Moolnivasi Mukti Morcha (Forum of the Tribal Liberation) says: “Gullu, a forest village comprising people from the Pahari Korba, Birhur and Oraon tribes, has successfully resisted attempts at land acquisition for the special economic zone and set an example to others.” Serjius Minj, the state’s chief information commissioner said the level of resistance has halted big business in its tracks. “Because of the scale of local resistance they [government and companies] are not able to act,” he says Church officials say the level of opposition in part has been inspired by the fact that villagers are fighting with their backs against a wall. “Hindus have been dissuaded from joining Christians so it feels like we are directing the battle alone,” said Nestore Kujur, president of the diocesan Catholic Sabha (assembly). According to the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill, a company has to buy at least 70 percent of the land before the state can use emergency provisions to acquire the rest. “We may be able to stop this from happening by holding bigger rallies and raising the stakes at the [state] assembly,” says Bishop Emmanuel Kerketta of Jashpur. Related links: Tribal Christians fear land seizure
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