Raipur (AsiaNews) – The State of Chhattisgarh has been forced to withdraw a law that would have seized tribal lands following stiff protests by indigenous groups.
On 11 January, the government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to withdraw the Land Revenue Code (Amendment) Bill 2017 passed by the legislature less than a month ago.
"The Church is on the side of the people,” said Mgr Victor Henry Thakur, archbishop of Raipur and president of the Council of Bishops of Chhattisgarh. “It fights together with tribal people and the poor to defend their rights."
According to Mgr Thakur, the local government "does not have a positive attitude towards minorities, tribal people and the oppressed.”
“People have widely protested against the law,” but for the prelate, “the issue is not religious. Opposition to the law is led by a people's movement, which sought its repeal."
Fr the local indigenous groups, this piece of legislation is a "black law" designed to allow the seizure of their lands.
The draft bill passed by the state assembly in December includes an amendment that would have allowed the government to buy land directly from tribal people without the consent of the village council.
According to the authorities, such a provision would will speed up development projects started by the state. However, tribal people complain that it is only a stratagem to grab their land, taking advantage of the economic difficulties of landowners.
The archbishop of Raipur notes that the Indian state is home to some "24 million people and tribal groups represent about 27-28 per cent of the total population. In some districts, the latter reach up to 33 per cent. Christians, on the other hand, are a small minority, less than 2 per cent."
About 15 per cent of India’s steel production is manufactured in the state, but half of the population lives below the poverty line.
The state has the largest industrial base for mining, metal and coal sectors, but ownership is in the hands of foreign investors who rarely employ tribal workers.
For Mgr Thakur, "the Church is very concerned about protecting tribal rights. We are happy that the government withdrew the legislation." However, "Our fear is that once re-elected, lawmakers will propose the law again. The danger remains."