04/23/2007, 00.00
INDIA
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Christians and Hindus clash over land

by Nirmala Carvalho
Hindu extremists organise demo today calling for land purchased by Christians be returned to Tribals. Missionaries use revenue raised from the land to provide education and improve living conditions of the local population, something extremists do not want, says bishop of Raipur.

Raipur (AsiaNews) – Hindu extremists today organised a demonstration in Raipur, capital of the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, to demand that Christian organisations return land acquired from Tribal communities.

“The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) claimed that [. . .] 50,000 participants took part in this rally,” B. Arun Pannalal, general secretary of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, told AsiaNews. “They are demanding that leases on lands belonging to Christian organisations be cancelled immediately and that all the lands they own be returned to Tribals [. . .] in accordance with the Land Revenue Act.”

Fr Anand Muttungal, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh, told AsiaNews that “Catholics have registered all land transactions as required by the law. Tribals who sold the land are satisfied with the payment they received. And Christian non-profit organisations that received land in donation do not come under the purview of the Land Act.” He explained that it “is a fundamental right for every Tribal Christian to dispose of his land as he pleases.”

Mgr J. Augustine Charanakunnel, archbishop of Raipur, told AsiaNews, that “all land held by the archdiocese has been registered. All of our transactions are legal. Tribal missionaries have used the revenue generated by the land to improve the living conditions of Chhattisgarh’s Tribal population. The RSS and its affiliated groups simply want missionaries out of the way. They are strongly opposed to our educational missions whose work is to improve Tribals’ conditions.”

In his view, “this organisation of Hindu extremists want Tribals to remain illiterate and poor so as to continue exploiting them. We shall closely monitor this afternoon’s demonstration. India is a secular and democratic country and anyone can demonstrate, but the local population is on the side of the Catholic Church. There are about 280 false land claims against the Church and we shall go before the High Court to have them dismissed as misuse of Section 170 (b) of the 1980 law.

John Dayal, chairman of the All India Catholic Union, wrote to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to ensure protection for Chhattisgarh’s Christians. In his letter he informed the PM that all the land purchased by Christians was legally acquired. No law, be it local or national, was violated. It is all a manoeuvre against the Church and its operations in order to take away the land on which hospitals and schools were built for the poor.

Chhattisgarh’s Catholics are concentrated in Jashpur district. Of the 740,000 people who call the district home, Catholics number 185,500. However, at the state level, Christians make up only 1.9 per cent of the total population of 19.7 million.

Out of 280 odd cases filed against Christians 250 concern land purchases by Tribal Christians from other, non-Christian, Tribals.

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