The state’s home department has written a letter to the chief minister’s office alleging that the NGOs have misused their welfare funds for religious conversions.
Faced with several protests on a range of issues, the BJP-led government in Jharkhand is now planning to clamp down on a number of non-governmental organisations working on welfare programmes across the Adivasi-dominated state.
According to a report published in a Ranchi daily, Prabhat Khabar, the state’s home department has moved forward to get the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) licenses of 96 Jharkhand-based NGOs cancelled. In a letter to the chief minister Raghubar Das, the home department has urged the CM to request the union home ministry to act against these NGOs for allegedly using their funds for religious conversions.
The letter claims that the special branch of state police, which surveyed 106 NGOs in a report compiled in October this year, found 96 of them misusing their funds for religious conversions. The special branch has reportedly found that the organisations that were surveyed received Rs 310 crore from foreign agencies in the last three years.
However, since most of the listed NGOs are either run by Christian missionaries or are funded by Church-supported agencies, civil society activists see the move as a direct attack against minority-run organisations which have been working on a range of welfare issues for decades.
“Many of these NGOs were at the forefront of protests against the government recently. This has caused great anxiety among various government officials. The special branch investigation and the swift official action could be an attempt by the government to tighten its grip on the NGOs,” said Ranchi-based Surjit Singh, the reporter who filed the story in Prabhat Khabar.
Most of the NGO-run schools, colleges, hospitals and dispensaries are in the rural areas of Jharkhand. Their workers also double up as activists in rural areas, who sensitise people on health and education-related issues and equip them to avail of the welfare schemes laid out by the government. Of late, many of them have also supported and participated in the Adivasi resistance against forced land acquisition for private mining and other industrial activities.
Recently, widespread protests broke out when the state government amended the land tenancy laws – the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act and the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act – paving way for commercial use of Adivasi land. The amendment to the laws, which prohibited any non-agricultural use of agricultural land, sparked speculations that the government in future may act to acquire Adivasi lands for private mining activities.
Recently, the police firing on a local protest against forest land being acquired for coal mining in Hazaribagh only fuelled the feeling and got the government much flak from many civil society organisations.
While the government’s move may be an effort towards stemming the protests, it may potentially spark a communal row in the state as most of the NGOs targetted in the exercise are Christian organisations. The Sangh parivar has historically been canvassing in Adivasi-dominated areas against the so-called religious conversions by Christian missionaries. The BJP party units, especially in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh have fomented the issue of conversions to stop missionary welfare activities.
A polarisation of communities on religious lines might be deceptively used by the BJP-led government to push private mining activities – the primary reason for protests across these states.
“We have often noticed that by fuelling anti-minority sentiment on ground, the government tries to burn real issues of people’s livelihoods. The rise of communalism coincides with greater, forced land acquisition for private industrial activities in Jharkhand,” a leading academic in Ranchi University told The Wire on the condition of anonymity.