September 18, 2017
Mr. Ram Nath Kovind
President of India
Sub: Urgent Appeal not to give assent to the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Amendment Bill 2017 and the Jharkhand Religious Freedom Bill 2017 of Jharkhand Government.
Your Excellency President Kovind,
The National Council of Churches in India, which represents around 14 million members of the Protestant and Orthodox Church Traditions in India, and which includes significant numbers of dalits and tribals/adivasis present the following urgent appeal to you. This is regarding Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Amendment Bill 2017 and the Jharkhand Religious Freedom Bill 2017 of Jharkhand Government.
As you are already aware, the State of Jharkhand was created for the Adivasis and has Fifth Schedule Areas of which the President is the direct Constitutional custodian.
Along with the adivasis of Jharkhand the NCCI is very much concerned by the situation in the State in the recent days. We have total trust and confidence in your Excellency’s disposition towards the concerns of the State. With full respect to the elected Head of the State, we wish to bring to your Excellency’s kind notice, the objectionable and unconstitutional statements made by him against the Christian community in different government and social programs held in Ranchi, Gumla, Khunti and Dumka prior to the framing of the Religious Freedom Bill 2017.
The most obnoxious act is the Advertisement found in the front pages of the News Papers in the State published on 11.08.2017 misusing Mahatma Gandhi and Public Funds to fuel anti-Christian hate. Indeed, the Advertisement is erroneous, misleading and inflammatory.
The government has used tax payers’ money against tax payers which is a gross violation of democratic ethics and values fundamental to our Constitution. The democratically elected government is expected to safeguard and protect the rights of all citizens irrespective of their affiliations. On the other hand, this government has shown by publishing this Advertisement that it cannot be trusted and stands exposed of its criminal intentions. It is not there to bring about harmony and peace but put one tribal against another. The matter of great concern is the audacity displayed by the government by putting distorted words into the mouth of Mahatma Gandhi to mislead people. The Father of the Nation is used to attack a community and fuel communal disharmony.
This Ad is also a blatant attack on the Adivasis and Dalits. No proof can be brought to the defence that Mahatma Gandhi called the Adivasis ‘Vanvasis’ and presenting it as a quote of Mahatma Gandhi is dishonest and even criminal; the government should apologise to the Adivasi communities. As per the quote, the Adivasis along with the Dalits are, ‘…. mute and simple, like cows” implying that they have no mind of their own to make a decision and are seen as eternal juveniles. It is a direct attack on their very identity, on their great Adivasi leaders like Birsa Munda and Kartik Oraon whose photos adorn the Advertisement and on their valuable contribution to nation building! It is a humiliation to the great Adivasi heroes who spearheaded the freedom movement in this part of the country like Tilka Manjhi, Sido Kanhu, Birsa Munda and many others. It also shames Late Lance Naik Albert Ekka, the war hero and the posthumous recipient of India’s highest gallantry decoration, the Param Vir Chakra for his valour; Jaipal Singh Munda, one of the stalwarts who spearheaded the movement for a separate Jharkhand State and a tall parliamentarian; Mr. Michael Kindo, Sylvanus Dungdung, and Jaipal Singh, some of the best names in Indian hockey, and the list can be very long. It also belittles the constitutional heads of our nation who hail from Dalit and Adivasi Communities. It is also very disrespectful to the legislators who come from Adivasi and Dalit communities. The government has indeed humiliated all the Adivasis in the country, especially the Adivasis of Jharkhand who have been shamelessly disgraced by this government through this Advertisement and therewith the Adivasis deserve an apology from the government.
The real intention of the government is to put tribal people against one another thereby grabbing tribal land. The Advertisement is a clear indicator that the Jharkhand Government will stoop to any level to achieve its sole purpose of grabbing Adivasi land. The government is propagating ‘divide and rule’ strategy to take away tribal land and to give it to the corporate sector and leave the poor Adivasis in misery, fear and helplessness.
It is a matter for consideration here that the two bills passed in the Assembly on 12.08.2017, one of land acquisition and the other of anti-conversion, too have the same purpose. The government seems to believe that the Christians led the movement against the amendments proposed in the CNT/SPT Acts which is a baseless allegation. All the Adivasis whole heartedly opposed the amendments irrespective of their religious affiliations. The anti-conversion bill is passed with the view of avenging the Christians for no fault of theirs. The government is using this as a weapon to deal with the Christians if they make any move against the land acquisition bill passed in the Assembly.
The retrospective nature of the bill is very dangerous as the government can grab acres and acres of Adivasi land already deposited in the ‘Land Bank’ without their knowledge. The abolition of ‘Social Impact Analysis’ will give sweeping powers to the government to take away tribal land. They will be rendered landless. The evils of migration and trafficking will increase.
The sole purpose of the provisions of social impact assessment of the project in “The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resentment Act 2013” was to study the impact of the project on the project affected communities so that affected and displaced families are properly rehabilitated and resettled. The history of development-induced displacement is very dismal. In India 60 million people were displaced, which also includes 10 million Adivasis. In Jharkhand, 1.5 million people, mostly the Adivasis, were displaced but merely 25 percent have been somehow rehabilitated. The displaced Adivasis have lost their identity, culture, tradition, values and ethos precisely because, there was no such provision of the social impact assessment in the Land Acquisition Act 1894. However, Jharkhand Government has amended the provisions made in the Land Acquisition Act 2013, which will have immense negative impact on the Adivasi community.
The government is misleadingly using the photos of Birsa Munda and KartikOraon to destabilize tribal unity. It is worth noting here that Kartik Oraon whose photo is used in the Advertisement wrote in his book Adivasi Hindu Nahi Hai (‘The Adivasis Are Not Hindu’): “Let it be known, there is no space for Hindu gods and goddesses in the Adivasi community. Hindus believe in God whereas the Adivasis worship nature and follow the Naga culture”. Therefore, the so called ‘Ghar Wapsi’ campaign is completely against the dream of Kartik Oraon and of course Birsa Munda. The government is spreading lies using Adivasi leaders to score a point. It has hurt Adivasi sentiments very deeply.
The government is busy making a non-issue into an issue in Jharkhand. The data available with the government is the proof. In India, as per the government census the percentage of Christian population in the country was 2.33 in 1951; 2.44 in 1961; 2.60 in 1971; 2.44 in 1981; 2.32 in 1991; 2.34 in 2001 and 2.30 in 2011. The growth rate is almost static. Jharkhand has a similar Christian demographic scenario. Though the State was formed in 2000, yet for a larger picture the percentage of Christian population was 4.12 in 1951; 4.17 in 1961; 4.35 in 1971; 3.99 in 1981; 3.72 in 1991; 4.10 in 2001 and 4.30 in 2011. Here too the growth rate is almost stagnant.
A close examination of the tribal population reveals that 14.5% are Christians and 39.7% are Hindus as per the 2011 census. The very sad thing is that a large percentage of Adivasis who have accepted Hindu Religion, or its sanskritized version, have changed, or were forced to change their title to ‘Kumar’ ‘Kumari’ ‘Devi’ and thus have lost their ethnic, social and cultural identity. It is almost a planned murder of the Adivasi community. The government should come out with a law to protect the identity of Adivasi communities if they have genuine concern for them.
Jharkhand has many issues to address, beginning with that of law and order. Cow vigilantes are moving around freely, lynching innocent people in the name of cow protection. The recent incident in Ramgarh shocked the consciousness of the nation. Jharkhand has the highest number of children dying of malnourishment and most of them belong to poor tribal communities living in the rural areas. The number of stunted children too is growing rapidly making children who are considered a ‘National Asset’ into a future liability. The Adivasis have been demanding ‘Sarna Code’ for the last many years and nothing has happened so far. The government has passed the law on conversion and land acquisition even after sufficient opposition from the Opposition Parties, to cover up all the ills of the State and keep people
engaged in divisive activities while it can grab tribal land to pass onto the corporate sector. The government is scared of Adivasi unity and this law is a weapon which will be used to break the unity of the people and give licence to the fringe elements to attack anyone in the name of conversion especially those who dare to oppose the irresponsible policies of the government. Moreover, there is no provision built into the bill to deal with cases of false accusation and misuse of the bill. The intention of the bills is anti-people, anti-constitutional, and anti-peace.
The Constitution of India guarantees fundamental right to the freedom of religion under articles 25-28. Therefore, all persons in India are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion of one’s choice without converting anyone from one religion to another by force, allurement, or threat. The State of Jharkhand should release a white paper presenting the data of such cases of conversion by force, allurement, or threat in Jharkhand in the last 17 years. It is unfair even to think of such anti-conversion law when there are no issues on the ground. Besides, the Indian Penal Code 295 (a) is already very strong to deal with cases of conversion by force, or coercion, or allurement.
It has been categorically stated in the Indian Constitution, Article 13(2) that ‘any law made by any legislature or other authority after commencement of the Constitution, which contravenes any of the fundamental rights included in Part III of the Constitution shall, to the extent of the contravention, be declared void. Indeed, the bill is unconstitutional and is a super imposition on the existing law. The bill has no purpose except political and ideological. The timing of the bill clearly reveals that it is politically motivated to break the unity of the Adivasis. The bill proposes to seek permission as well as inform the district collector on matters concerning one’s freedom of conscience which is a fundamental right guaranteed in the Constitution (Art. 25). The choice, or decision to embrace any religion is based on the freedom of conscience of a person and it cannot be dappled with as it is a direct violation of the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right of freedom of conscience. The question of conversion does not arise here as it is the matter of the freedom of conscience of a person. Therefore, the anti-conversion bill is ultravirus.
Therefore, we humbly pray to your Excellency,
That these bills are not given assent as their purpose is anti-people and anti-Adivasis.
That the fundamental right to freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion, and freedom to manage religious affairs guaranteed under the Article 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution is protected.
That the land of the Adivasis is safeguarded not only for the present but also for the future generations to come.
You, as the Constitutional Custodian of the Fifth Schedule Areas of Jharkhand comprising the adivasis of the land, are our hope for upholding justice and secularism in the country.
Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad,
General Secretary, NCCI