Friday, August 29, 2014

Madhya Pradesh toys with "Wakf" for Christians again

Bhopal, Aug. 28:  

Shivraj Singh Chouhan thinks it’s a “better deal”. The Church says it’s just a ruse to meddle in its affairs.

A battle is on in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, where the Church and the Chouhan government have locked horns over a suggestion to set up a wakf-type body for Christians.

The suggestion had come from the Madhya Pradesh minorities commission, which said the Christian community should set up such a body to regulate and manage its properties like schools, churches and cemeteries in the state.

Anand Bernard, a member of the commission, is backing the recommendation that Chouhan is keen on implementing.

“The properties of Muslims are being managed by the Wakf Board under which a tribunal resolves disputes. Sikh community affairs are being managed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee Act. A handful of Parsi community properties are being managed by the Parsi Anjuman and Hindu properties are being governed by the Hindu Temple Act,” Bernard says. “Why can’t an Isai board be in place to look after the properties of Christains?”

But many Christians, including Catholics and Protestants, are opposing Bernard.

One community leader, the Rashtriya Isai Maha Sangh coordinator Anand Muttungal, said Bernard was just trying to please “Hindu hardliners” to bag a third term as member of the minorities commission. Bernard has taken up the issue when his tenure is ending, Muttungal pointed out.

Antar Singh Arya, the state minister for minority affairs, said the government was “committed” to protecting the properties of Christians. “We have no vested interest. Our chief minister has accepted the minorities commission recommendation to set up a board to manage Christian community properties,” he told The Telegraph.

Bernard, a Protestant, spoke of a pressing need to manage the community’s properties worth over Rs 200 crore, saying rampant corruption had resulted in graveyards being sold. 
“A time will come when the Protestants won’t have any property in the state. Land mafia, hand in glove with some clerics, have already sold Christian prime properties across the state,” he added, claiming many Catholics too wanted such a board to bring in transparency.

But Bhopal Catholic Diocese Archbishop Leo Carnellio said there was no need to set up a wakf-like board for Christians. “Most of our properties in Madhya Pradesh are purchased. We have not inherited land. Our properties are well managed and administered…. If someone wants to infringe on our rights, we will seek legal recourse,” Carnellio said.
Jabalpur Diocese bishop P.C. Singh, too, opposed the proposal.

Bernard was unfazed. “In a sense, regulating Church property is a revolutionary step. I am ready to face the consequences,” he claimed.

Babu Solomon, a vocal community leader, said fraudulent sale of property or encroachment on graveyards must be checked but a wakf-like body was not required for that. “The Wakf Board was created in 1954 in a very different situation. India had undergone Partition and safeguarding Muslim property was the onus of the government. Now we have enough laws to do it and, if required, a committee comprising prominent and responsible persons from the Christian society could be formed to look into the issue.” 

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