While Christians continue to fight for the equal government benefits of people from backward classes, right-wing Hindu groups submitted a memorandum to the federal government earlier this month asking it to bar tribal Christians from benefits that are intended to indigenous people.
According to the constitution of India, government benefits are intended for the social and economical growth of the deprived communities in the country. These benefits promise Dalits and tribals reserved seats in government jobs and educational institutions with financial supports.
However, the right-wing groups, who often accuse Christians of indulging in forced religious conversions, believe that once the government benefits are denied to the tribal Christians, it will be an effective way to stop them from changing their religion, that is, converting to Christianity.
Many Christian leaders condemned this idea of the right-wing groups.
Father Nicholas Barla, secretary of the Indian bishops' Commission for Tribal Affairs, told UCA News that “Caste and religion are two different things which can’t be mixed. By birth we belong to a particular caste but religion is one’s choice. People who are campaigning against tribal Christians are ignorant of the Indian constitution.”
“Article 25 of the constitution grants us the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health. The federal government’s scheme for tribal people is only to help them socially and economically.”
“Those groups don’t want tribal people to come up in their lives and indirectly try to target Christian missionaries whom they always accuse of religious conversion. Their campaign is only to disturb the peace-loving tribal people. They work to keep tribal people divided for political gain and to weaken their efforts to assert their rights.”
Ratan Tirkey, a Catholic member of the Tribes Advisory Committee of Jharkhand, told UCA News that “Being tribal is by birth but religion is choice. It is quite surprising that right-wing groups are not ready to follow what has been written in the constitution and bills passed in parliament on the scheme to help tribal people.”
“Stopping benefits meant for tribal Christians is challenging the constitution and Supreme Court, which clearly state that the scheme is meant for poor people and it was not given in the name of any religion.”
“If it is a case of religion, then what about the tribal people who have become Hindus, Muslim or follow the Sarna tribal religion? Why are only Christians targeted? It is just to harass tribal Christian people who are considered outsiders and anti-government.”
In states like Chhattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh, Hindu groups have initiated active campaigns against tribal Christians who claim benefits that are meant for tribal people.