Politician says Indian missioners keep tribal region poor

Jharkhand's chief minister accused of 'political hyperbole' to cover up failures of BJP government
Politician says Indian missioners keep tribal region poor

Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das speaks to IANS media agency in Ranchi on Sept. 16. He accused Christian missioners of working to sabotage development work in the state. (Photo by IANS)

ucanews.com reporter, Ranchi
September 21, 2018
The chief minister of India's Jharkhand state has accused Christian missioners of working to keep the tribal stronghold poor, but Christians claim he is trying to cover up the government's lapses ahead of state elections.

Raghubar Das, who heads the state government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), told the media in Ranchi that missioners have been working against his government's moves to develop the state.

"There is a motivated campaign to keep Jharkhand backward. This is directly linked to creating the ground for easier conversions of locals into Christianity," Das said, repeating a regular accusation of his party that the church's social services are a ploy to attract the poor to Christianity.

"It is my experience of the last three years ... There is a vested interest who always wanted to keep Jharkhand backward. There are some anti-national forces too. If the state remained poor, then conversion [to Christianity] is easy."

The state government that came to power in 2014 had to retreat from an attempt to amend some laws after massive tribal protests. Tribal leaders accused the government of trying to remove protective legal measures to help the government take over their land for industrialists and miners.

The government maintained the land acquisition was meant to build roads, schools and other infrastructure, which would bring development to tribal areas.

Das claimed the protests were instigated and supported by Christian missioners. "Yes, 100 percent sponsored and properly planned," he said.

Prabhakar Tirkey, national president of Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh, an ecumenical federation of Christians, said Das' comments were "political hyperbole" to cover up the failures of the government and the state's poverty.

Jharkhand is due to have provincial elections at the end of next year but talks are underway to hold them in April along with national parliamentary elections.

Opposition parties are accusing Das and the BJP of failing to fulfil promises of development and employment.

"His party has done nothing for the poor and tribal people in the state. Instead, it has always tried to create discord among people on the grounds of caste, creed and religion," Tirkey said.

Bishop Vincent Barwa of Simedga said Christian churches, whose membership includes thousands of tribal people, opposed the government move "to snatch away land from tribal people."

Church groups have opposed several anti-people policies of the government, saying that they stood with "exploited and displaced people to ensure their rights," Bishop Barwa said. "How can you term such activities as against development?" the bishop asked.

Father Cyprian Kullu, vicar-general of Gumla Diocese, told ucanews.com that the Christian mission is a century old in the region.

"Missionaries started schools, hospitals, dispensaries and work centers and worked for the social and economic progress of the people," said the priest, himself a tribal.

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"The once-illiterate tribal people are now capable of asserting their rights. They have a voice now, which the chief minister and his party do not like."

Father Kullu said the BJP, which wants to make India a nation of Hindu hegemony, does not want tribal and other minority groups to develop and assert their rights in case they challenge the party's idea of India.

The BJP aims to discredit and stall the work of Christians among tribal and poor people, he added.

The state government even enacted a law that made conversion a crime punishable with jail terms if done without informing government officials, the priest said.

Jharkhand has 1.5 million Christians in a population of 33 million. The 4.5 percent Christian population, which is almost entirely from tribal and socially poor Dalit communities, is almost double the national average.

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