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More than 80,000 people take to the streets to defend missionaries accused of stealing

ICC Note:
In an ongoing attempt by the government to take over church property, a massive group of natives in Chattisgarh gathered to demonstrate in support of the church last Monday.

AsiaNews/Agencies (1/24/07) – More than 80,000 Tribals have taken to the streets in the eastern state of Chattisgarh in defence of the Church accused by the local government of stealing lands from locals in order to convert them.

The land on which Catholic missionaries have built mission institutions “was not stolen from us, but was regularly sold to the Church by our ancestors, which now uses it to help,” said one demonstrator. “We are happy for the schools and hospitals,” which now stand on the contested land, because they “educate us and provide us with medical care”,.

The demonstration, which took place last Monday, is a response to a local court decision requiring the Sisters of the Holy Cross return to Tribals 12 acres of land on which they built a monastery and a school.

The judge motivated his decision based on local legislation 170 (b) which bans land sales in Tribal areas to non Tribals.

The state government, which is controlled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatya Janata Party, filed 262 cases alleging unlawful occupation of tribal land by Catholic missions.

“We have never asked that the land be returned,” said Tarcitius Toppo, one of the demonstrators. “It was never stolen and is not used to convert us but only to help us. The government should stop manipulating the law for its own purposes.”