09/25/2017, 10.00
INDIA
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Ranchi: 5,000 protest against the anti-conversion law and the lands

by Nirmala Carvalho

Catholics, Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims demonstrated against the Jharkhand Freedom Religious Bill 2017 and the Land Acquisition Act 2013 amendments, the rule that protected tribal lands. Now these lands will be sold out to the best bidder. The anti-conversion law "used to divert attention" from economic interests.

Ranchi (AsiaNews) - About 5,000 faithful of various confessions gathered in Ranchi to protest the anti-conversion law approved by the Jharkhand State Assembly and the land law amendments that the local government wants to dispose of tribal property to the best bidder. At the event participated p

Fr. Michael Kerketta, a Jesuit theologian was at the protest and told AsiaNews: "Members of various religious communities expressed their dissent in a peaceful manner. Catholics, Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims marched together against the Jharkhand Freedom Religious Bill 2017, which directly affects religious minorities. We are united against the divisive forces of this country. In fact, anti-conversion laws are tools to curb religious freedom. "

The event took place on 23 September. 22 social and civil organizations participated. Among those who spoke on stage, several opposition members and a Protestant bishop. No Catholic prelate intervened at the event, most likely to avoid exacerbating an already tense climate.

Fr. Amrit Tirkey, among the organizers, argues that the population "must be aware of what is happening in society and that it divides us all." The Jesuit reiterates that the demonstrators wanted to march together to see themselves "united against the forces they want to divide."

Participants oppose the anti-conversion law passed in August by the state authorities. It provides for up to three years of imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 rupees [600 euros] for anyone who is caught in committing a crime, that is, an attempt to convert by force or by material coercion. Card Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, also opposes the law and told AsiaNews: "Forced conversions do not exist. We are free people, with a free will and a free consciousness and intelligence. "

But because of the fact that he had publicly spoken against the law, the cardinal was harassed by the radical Hindu nationalists of Jharkhand who circulated photos of an effigy of the cardinal being set on fire. While denouncing the incident with a letter-appeal addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Msgr. Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Indian Bishops' Conference (Cbci), highlighted a worrying aspect: the fact that the anti-conversion law was approved to divert attention from another law issued in August, the amendments to the Land Acquisition Act 2013, the law protecting the tribal lands.

The opinion of Msgr. Mascarenhas is shared by Fr. Kerketta, who explains: "Changes to the law were voted on August 12. The State Assembly has consented to the sale to the state of land plots for use in projects such as schools, universities and hospitals. The original version of 2013 provided that before a land could be acquired, a 'social impact assessment' would have to be carried out and the village council had to leave. The amendments, on the other hand, have canceled these forecasts. " According to the Jesuit theologian, "the new law on lands wants to divide the tribal population along religious lines, on the example of 'divide et impera'. In this way, the properties would be expropriated from tribals and sold to large business groups. All this, of course, goes against the best interests of tribals. "

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