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From churches to missionary schools and cemeteries: Ground report on how Christian missionaries have encroached land in Chhattisgarh with Govt help

This 'terror' among Hindus acts as 'fuel' for Christian missionaries to thrive and flourish in these areas.

We discussed in one of our previous reports in this series how the Congress administration in Chhattisgarh has been lending unwavering support to Christian missionaries aiming to convert the entire hilly homeland of Pahadi Korba, a tribal group committed to Sanatan Dharma.

Madku island, a quaint little island town on the Shivanatha river in Chhattisgarh’s Bilaspur district, is one example of where Christianity has proliferated. On the ground, things are far worse. Missionaries have encroached on every piece of land, whether it belongs to the government or the Scheduled Tribes. These areas have seen an explosion of a variety of constructions, such as Christian churches, missionary schools, and cemeteries. Mountains that are difficult to climb have also been encroached upon by these missionaries. These sites have been marked with crosses during encroachment. This pervasive fear of land jihad is also causing problems for tribal Hindus, who have converted to Christianity in this village.

This dreadful condition prevails despite the fact that Chhattisgarh has a specific statute in effect. Section 170 (b) of the state’s Land Revenue Act provides that if any land belonged to a Scheduled Tribe (ST) person on 2 October 1959 and was thereafter occupied by any ST or non-ST, it should be given to him. The details behind his acquisition of the land must be revealed within a year. Otherwise, his possession will be deemed illegal, and he will be required to vacate the property.

According to lawyer Ram Prakash Pandey, as per the statute, if a tribal person does not petition for ownership of the land, the government is responsible for obtaining a report from the Patwari on who was the owner of that land on 2 October 1959 and who is currently in possession of it. The court could potentially rule based on Patwari’s report.

A few years ago, over 250 such cases were documented in the state’s Jashpur district alone, in which churches were built on ST class land in violation of 170 (b). “These cases were lingering in the Revenue Court for a long period due to political influence,” said advocate Ram Prakash Pandey to OpIndia.

“In 2007, the High Court was made aware of these issues. The High Court ordered that all such cases be resolved within six months. In most cases, the church was then given orders to vacate the land. However, despite the passage of many years, the lands are still not vacated,” Pandey added.

The principal of Loyola School, R Gittes, is accused of purchasing land with the aid of an administrative nexus

Loyola Higher Secondary School in Kunkuri is just another example of the political and administrative nexus of land grabbing that is pervasive throughout Chhattisgarh. RH Geats was a Belgian national who served as the school’s principal for a few years in the 1950s. He took over the property of a man named Ignesh Lakra, claiming to be a resident of Kunkuri, with the help of the then-collector. Even now, the missionary organisation occupies and operates on that piece of land, despite the fact that foreigners are not permitted to possess the land in India. “Ignesh Lakra filed a complaint in this regard,” Pandey told OpIndia. He died while fighting in court. His children have since then been fighting for justice.”

Clement Lakra, whose 10 acres of land is in the possession of the missionaries

A similar case is with another resident of the village named Clement Lakra. Clement Lakda’s situation is similar. Clement’s father, Bhade alias Vasil Oraon, was converted around 1957-58 while living in Duldula, Kunkuri. The missionaries then took over around 10 acres of his land. Vasil is no longer alive. “The court has passed its verdict in our favour,” Clement told OpIndia, adding, “the missionaries, however, are not vacating the land, instead threatening us of destroying the future of our daughters if we persist with the case.”

The fact that the family is being hounded despite the fact that Clement’s wife, Sushma Lakra, is the village sarpanch underlines the missionaries’ clout and influence in the area. “Now I want to go back to my old religion,” a frustrated and depressed Clement told OpIndia. (we will cover Clement’s issue in a separate report in detail). Notably, OpIndia is in possession of all relevant documents pertaining to Clement’s case.

The disputed cemetery in Kunkuri town in Chhattisgarh

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Kunkuri, Chhattisgarh is India’s largest church in terms of seating capacity and is ranked second in Asia. The gate installed on the road leading to this church from Kunkuri’s main road is also disputed. Locals believe that, notwithstanding the High Court’s injunction, this gate was built on government land.

The area behind the church is called Kraus Tongri. The majority of the people here have been converted. Locals allege that here too graveyards and roads have been built on mostly encroached land. According to these locals, Hindus used to regularly practise yoga in the hilly area behind a missionary school in Kunkuri, but that changed one fine day when evangelists installed a cross there overnight. Similarly, crosses have been found buried atop the Bhandari mountain, which is difficult to reach on foot, according to some locals.

Crosses have been discovered buried atop the Bhandari mountain where it is not easy to reach

According to David Reeves, CEO of ‘Unfolding World,’ an organisation that seeks to translate the Bible into every language, the number of new churches that have sprouted in India during the Covid pandemic equals the number of churches erected in the country in the previous 25 years. One such location for a new church is in the Girang district of Jashpur in Chhattisgarh. This church was being built in an almost impossible-to-reach location. Due to protests, its construction was suspended, and it was forced to close down.

“This is how Christian missionaries wage land jihad,” BJYM’s Abhishek Gupta told OpIndia, “They bury a cross wherever there is an empty space. Then they build a church there. After some time, the approach to the church is also constructed with administrative support, and the prayers begin. Later, no matter how much you object or protest, the administration will pay no heed. The land is permanently encroached by the Christian missionary.”

The Girang church, which was under construction during the pandemic but was forced to halt owing to objections

These cases from one area of Chhattisgarh can provide insight into the state’s overall predicament. Worryingly, these Christian Missionaries have instilled fear in the minds of innocent locals in the state’s small and isolated regions. During our reporting, we observed that the majority of people were reluctant to speak on camera. Locals were referring to multiple people being implicated in various cases, but they were worried that speaking out about it might land them in hot waters as well. This ‘terror’ among Hindus acts as ‘fuel’ for Christian missionaries to thrive and flourish in these areas.

Note: The above report was originally published in Hindi. You can read it here.

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