JHARK­HAND: TRIBAL WAR­FARE, AGAIN

A new anti-con­ver­sion bill in­vites charges of fan­ning re­li­gious po­lar­i­sa­tion

India Today - - INSIDE - By Amitabh Sri­vas­tava

Af­ter gover­nor Droupadi Murmu re­turned two con­tentious land ten­ancy law amend­ments in June, Jhark­hand chief min­is­ter Raghubar Das is push­ing an­other po­ten­tially po­lar­is­ing pro­posal—the new Jhark­hand Re­li­gious In­de­pen­dence Bill.

The bill for­bids re­li­gious con­ver­sion ‘through al­lure­ment or co­er­cion’ and vi­o­la­tors face a three-year jail term and Rs 50,000 fine. Stricter pun­ish­ment—up to four years in jail and Rs 1 lakh fine—is pre­scribed if the ‘vic­tim’ is a mi­nor sched­uled caste or sched­uled tribe girl. Ap­proved by the cabi­net on Au­gust 1, the bill will be tabled in the on­go­ing ses­sion of the state assem­bly.

While the gov­ern­ment claims the bill will de­ter those who fid­dle with tribal cul­ture by car­ry­ing out re­li­gious con­ver­sions through in­duce­ment, black­mail or co­er­cion, many

AN­A­LYSTS SAY THE BILL COULD DEEPEN THE MIS­TRUST OF THE CM AMONG JHARK­HAND’S TRIBAL COM­MU­NI­TIES

be­lieve the pro­vi­sions at­tack free­dom of re­li­gion. The onus to ver­ify whether a con­ver­sion was vol­un­tary, forced or through al­lure­ment would be on deputy com­mis­sion­ers. Says a se­nior IAS of­fi­cer in Ranchi: “Prac­ti­cally speaking, an al­ready over­bur­dened deputy com­mis­sioner will find it eas­ier to re­ject or keep con­ver­sion re­quests pend­ing rather than take the trou­ble of vet­ting cases.”

An­a­lysts say the bill could deepen the mis­trust Jhark­hand’s tribal com­mu­ni­ties have of Das, the state’s first non-tribal chief min­is­ter, as it looks like an at­tempt to di­vide the tribal peo­ple along re­li­gious lines. Around 1.4 mil­lion, or 4.3 per cent of Jhark­hand’s pop­u­la­tion of 32 mil­lion, is Chris­tian— a com­mu­nity with con­sid­er­able sway among trib­als. About 26.3 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion is tribal and 21 of the 81 seats in the state assem­bly are re­served for sched­uled tribes.

“Since the BJP can­not de­feat the tribal pop­u­la­tion, they are mak­ing an at­tempt to di­vide the pop­u­la­tion along re­li­gious lines. It will come a crop­per. This new law aims at tar­get­ing Chris­tian mis­sion­ar­ies and serv­ing the BJP,” claims Sukhdev Bha­gat, state Congress pres­i­dent. Jhark­hand Vikas Mor­cha chief Bab­u­lal Marandi also ques­tions the bill. “The Raghubar Das gov­ern­ment has mis­placed pri­or­i­ties. Its fo­cus is on is­sues that po­larise so­ci­ety on re­li­gious lines,” he says.

The tribal com­mu­ni­ties had stoutly op­posed the chief min­is­ter’s bid to amend the Land Ten­ancy Act, prompt­ing gover­nor Murmu to turn down the amend­ments. The rul­ing BJP had then ac­cused the church and Chris­tian or­gan­i­sa­tions of fan­ning anti-gov­ern­ment protests.

SOM­NATH SEN

PRAY­ING FOR LUCK? CM Raghubar Das (left)

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