Ranchi, June 28: The Governor of Jharkhand Draupadi Murmu returned the two amendments proposed by the state government to the land act with some queries. The Christian leaders of the state hailed the decision of the Governor as “historic victory” of the tribal people.
The state of Jharkhand was created 17 years ago out of Bihar’s mostly tribal populated areas. Out of its total population of 33 million, 9 million are tribals comprising 26 per cent. Of the 9 million tribals 1.5 million are Christians and half of them are Catholics.
The tribals are mostly land tillers and the proposed amendments moved by the government gave the authority to the administration to acquire the land for development schemes and projects to which they had opposed with the support of the Catholic Church.
According to the Christian news service ucanews.com, Father Stanislaus Tirkey, Secretary of the Indian Catholic Bishop’s Office for Indigenous People hailed the Governor’s move as “historic win for all the tribal people in India, especially those in Jharkhand who had tremendous faith in the Indian constitution to safeguard human rights”.
The Governor wanted to know from the government how the amendments would benefit the tribal people and returned them without signing on June 25.
Father Tirkey, an Oraon tribal priest, said the amendments challenged tribal people'’ identity and connection to the land. “When land is taken away, their basic resource is taken away,” he said.
The present law does not permit tribal people to sell their land to non-tribal people. The ban aimed at protecting the land of uneducated and poverty-stricken tribal people, who might sell off their land — the only source of their income — at throw-away prices and become destitute. The BJP government maintained that this law only kept tribal people poor and industries and development away from their areas.
The Jesuit priest said local Catholics and bishops from the region had been vocal against the legislature and even sought the intervention of the Indian president in May. "When our people are suffering we can't keep quiet," he said.
That there has been a strong network between the tribals and Christian missionaries is an open secret. The Missionaries work among the tribals through a number of social service organisations and projects. The Church leadership has aligned itself with mobilising the tribals against the proposed amendments. The Church runs the parallel power centre in the state that could be a headache for the BJP government.
The interference of Cardinal Telesphor Toppo in the amendments to Chhota Nagpur Farming Rules 1908 and Santhal Pargana Farming Rules 1949 has stirred the hornet’s nest. State BJP President Lakshman Gilua has accused Cardinal Toppo of playing politics on this issue but the Church enjoyed the support of opposition parties, a major group of Sarna Samiti and tribal organisations. This has worried the BJP about its prospects in 2019 elections.
In this tribal dominated state the tribal people have engaged them for the last over three centuries in protecting their land, forest, water and mineral resources and the Church has taken up leadership in their struggle. The first land law was drafted by Father Haffman in 1908 which the British converted into the law that protected the land ownership of the tribals.
Even at present the Christian missionaries and Church organisations have taken the lead in organising tribals against these amendments and various other agitations related to tribal identity, language, culture etc. This has disturbed the BJP to a great extent. The Church can create problems for the BJP, observers feel.
After the ‘Global Investors’ Summit held on Feb 16-17, 2017, the issue of amendment to land laws was relegated to the cold storage. But when the issue was pending with the Governor, Cardinal Toppo approached her and requested her to reject or postpone the amendments. This was considered as a masterstroke of the Cardinal against the BJP in Jharkhand.