Christians of Jharkhand And India's Other Tribal States Face Persecution On Two Fronts As Government Changes Land And Religious Freedom Laws
by Jordan Hilger, Worthy News Correspondent
(Worthy News) - Government restrictions on religious conversion in India's Jharkhand State are the most recent attempt by the historically Hindu nation to retain political sway over its tribal peoples.
In 2017, Jharkhand became the seventh Indian State, after Madya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Himachal, Arunachal, and Odisha, to enact a "Religious Independence Bill." The other six, including Jharkhand, together comprise 90 percent of India's "Adivasi" or indigenous population.
"The Christians employ various tricks to evangelize the poor, illiterate tribals,” claimed Inspector Manoj Kumar of the Shikaripa police after fifteen tribal Christians were arrested in May for preaching the gospel to villagers.
His concern reflects the government's attempts to clamp down on the spread of Christianity in indigenous areas, which are a particular focus of missionaries. The predominantly tribal Jharkhand State, for example, contains a Christian population almost twice that of the national average.
Section 3 of Jharkhand's 2017 Bill States that "no person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion/ religious faith to another by the use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means." Critics note, however, that government officials are free to interpret a conversion as "forced" if they have not been notified by the convert 15 days prior to his decision.
"The changes in the narrative [are] a way to frame the Christians under the anti-conversion act," said field missionary Ramesh Velraj of the villagers who were arrested.
2016 also saw changes to Jharkhand's land tenancy laws that allowed tribal lands to be appropriated for uses other than traditional agriculture. Sanjay Basu Mullick, an environmental activist, claimed the changes were "not an amendment but a plan [by the government] to grab the tribal land and sell it to corporates."
"In Jharkhand, it is a tribal state and there are a lot of tribal Christians who have access to land," explained Prahabar Tirkey, a local Catholic leader who organized a protest against the amendments in July.
The Christians of Jharkhand and India's other tribal states face persecution on two fronts as Narendra Modi's government attempts to crack down on loyalties viewed as threatening to the program of Hindu Nationalism. The Evangelical Fellowship of India notes that a year after his Bharatiya Janata Party was elected in 2014, the rate of Christian persecution had more than doubled.
India ranked 11th on Open Doors U.S.A.'s 2018 "World Watch List" of places where it is most dangerous to be a Christian.