Indigenous people in Jharkhand state hold a protest in August 2017 against a move to empower the state government to take over their land for development. (ucanews.com photo)
A plan by India's Jharkhand state to weaken job quotas for tribal and low-caste Dalit people has been branded as politically motivated.
A panel appointed by the state government of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has proposed extending the availability of lower-grade government jobs in some districts.
Such jobs would for a period of 10 years be given to people even if they did not have an indigenous or low-caste background.
It was a "tactical" move to block the advancement of indigenous and Dalit communities while winning over other voters, Bishop Anand Jojo told ucanews.com on April 10.
His diocese is based in Hazaribag district, an indigenous stronghold.
Raj Sinha, a member of the government panel, told ucanews.com that many residents of the state lived in similar or worse conditions than indigenous people and Dalits, formerly known as untouchables.
The state of Jharkhand was created 18 years ago, purportedly to advance the lot of its predominantly indigenous inhabitants. Many jobs were reserved for them as well as Dalits.
In 2016, the government reserved all lower-grade jobs for indigenous groups and Dalits in 13 of the state's 24 districts where they constitute a majority.
Reserved jobs include police constables, typists, telephone operators and street sweepers.
While these provisions are to remain under the panel's draft recommendations, in the 11 other districts lower-grade jobs would be reserved entirely for local residents.
People from other districts would not be accepted, Sinha explained.
He said a final set of recommendations would be presented to Chief Minister Raghubar Das on April 17.
Of the state's population of 33 million, 26 percent or 9 million are indigenous. While Dalits make up 11 percent, other lower castes constitute about 40 percent.
Bishop Felix Toppo of Jamshedpur said job reservations were being used more as part of a "political game plan" than a genuine attempt to assist poor non-indigenous and non-Dalit locals.
He added that the BJP had failed in a bid to promote itself as a champion of the Hindu cause by dividing indigenous Christian communities and members of other faiths.
Church and indigenous groups earlier successfully opposed a state government attempt to undermine their land rights.
The state has 1.5 million Christians, at least half of them Catholics.
Almost all Christians come from an indigenous or Dalit background and benefit in competitive exams from education offered by Christian missioners.
Christians are often accused of using inducements or undue pressure to secure conversions among indigenous and Dalit communities in violation of a state law.