Some adherents of traditional religions in India’s polarized Jharkhand state have threatened to protest against forthcoming Christmas celebrations as offensive to local sensibilities. Christian leaders blame outside political plotting designed to divide tribal people by stirring strife. Sarna Samiti, a forum of indigenous religions, at a Nov. 19 meeting accused foreign Christian missionaries of interfering with their culture by indulging in religious conversions. Sarna is the collective name given to local animist
religions. The forum said it is opposed to local Christians celebrating Christmas. Father Nicholas Barla, the secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops’ Commission for Tribal Affairs, told ucanews.com that the aim was to foster schisms in order to create a "vote bank" for 2019 national elections. There are an estimated 9 million indigenous people in Jharkhand. The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules in Jharkhand, looks set to win all 14 national seats. Father Barla, a Divine Word priest, said the BJP portrayed Christians as enemies because they opposed unjust government policies. Catholic Nabore Ekka, president of the Delhi region of the Bharatiya Adivasi Sangamam (Indian Indigenous People’s Forum), noted that indigenous groups led by Church workers had successfully fought against the government taking over of indigenous land. He added that extremist Hindu groups target missionaries in order to prevent the education and development of indigenous
people. The state in August passed an anti-conversion law targeting Christian missionary work as offering inducements for people to convert from other religions. The state’s Christian component is almost double the national average of 2.3 percent. Jharkhand has some 1.5 million Christians in a population of 33 million, mostly members of the indigenous population, and almost half of them are Catholics. Gladson Dungdung, an activist in Jharkhand, said animist Sarna people are now divided into two groups and that one of the groups is sponsored by the ruling party.
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He described the threat to protest against Christmas as a publicity stunt.