Indian bishops support attempt to stop land grabs

Two legal amendments will make it easier to mine land originally allocated to tribal people
Indian bishops support attempt to stop land grabs

Tribal people protest in New Delhi on March 6 against a controversial land bill amendment passed by the Jharkhand state that empowers the government to appropriate tribal land. ( photo) 

Tribal people from the eastern Indian Jharkhand state have been campaigning for the governor to reject amendments to laws that they say adversely affect their culture and existence.

They are angry about land law amendments made in November that allow Jharkhand state to take their lands for welfare and industrial projects. The amendments are now awaiting state governor Droupadi Murmu's assent to become law.

Some 3,000 tribal people marched through the streets of New Delhi and converged near parliament on March 6. "It is high time tribal people came together and fought because the changes challenge our identity and culture," Nabore Ekka, president of Jharkhand Adivasi Sangharsh Morcha Delhi region, told

Ekka's organizations, along with Jharkhand's opposition political parties, organised the rally and demonstration to attract national attention to what they call their state government's anti-tribal policies. Delhi Archdiocese supported the rally and requested Catholics to attend.

Father Savarimuthu Sankar, spokesperson of Delhi archdiocese told they the archdiocese encouraged people to join in the protest "because the church is always in support of the rights of Dalit, tribal and other such disadvantaged people. This case is no exception," he said

"The Church will always stand by such people in their fight for their rights," Father Sankar said.

Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi also met Murmu in the Jharkhand state capital Ranchi on March 4 to talk about the amendments.

The amendments were a major point of discussion during the first national consultation of India's tribal Catholic bishops in Ranchi on Feb. 23-24. The bishops decided to support the struggle for land and suggested systems to monitor any policy decisions that might affect tribal people.

"Our people are very innocent and honest and the sectarian forces know the tricks to exploit it," said Cardinal Ranchi, India's first tribal cardinal, during that consultation that was attended by 11 tribal bishops.

Jharkhand has some 9 million tribal people who form 26 percent of the state's 33 million population. About 1.5 million people in the state are Christians, at least half of them Catholics.

The change in laws will help government take over vast lands for mining and other industries in the mineral rich state, leading to a dwindling of tribal habitation. This will lead to migration and the destruction of tribal culture and existence, said Father Vincent Ekka, a tribal researcher at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Although tribal people are considerably high in population and dominate certain pockets, they have failed to become politically significant, Father Ekka said. This leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.

He said that politically-motivated groups are dividing the tribal people along religious lines: the Christians from the non-Christians, in order to stop them from uniting. "They make false promises of development but their hidden agenda is to loot from tribal people and gain more political and financial power," he said.

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