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Taking Church land on the pretext of returning it to Tribals

ICC Note: Government officials visit a church on Wednesday to measure the property in preparation for returning it to its “original” owners in an ongoing campaign against Christians in Chhattisgarh.

by Nirmala Carvalho

3/1/07 India (AsiaNews) – Chhattisgarh’s state government, in central India, is gradually confiscating Church land on the pretext of returning it to its presumed original owners, this according to local Christians who have protested against the state’s decision to take a piece of land where, for the past 30 years, a chapel has stood.

Residents of the village of Jamjunwani carried out a small “revolt” against state revenue officials who arrived yesterday to measure the property belonging to the diocese of Jashpur in order to return to its original owners

Local Christians surrounded the chapel to stop the officials from performing their work. They later sat inside the chapel until late into the night.

Bishop Viktor Bindo told AsiaNews that the state’s action is just legalised theft.

“The chapel was built on land donated to the Church by a Tribal priest’s father, now deceased,” he said. “The chapel is used not only as a place of worship but also as a community hall for the tribal population where it can meet and carry out social activities.”

For the prelate, the state government “is abusing the law” and conducting fraudulent acts.

Section 170 (b) of the Madhya Pradesh (and Chhattisgarh) Land Revenue Code states that “If a non-tribal or tribal purchases the tribal land through fraudulent and treacherous means it has to be returned to the original owner of the land.”

For some time, the authorities have targeted the diocese of Jashpur. Currently, there are 271 cases pending against tribal Christians, 250 of which involving land purchases from non Christian Tribals.

Invoking a decision by India ’s Supreme Court, Mgr Bindo said that “tribal identity is not lost when one changes religions”.