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Asia’s indigenous people underline fight for justice, dignity

In 1982, the United Nations declared August 9 as the day to celebrate the indigenous peoples globally, but across Asia they are constantly battling to defend their cultures, territories and, above all, their rights.

Published: August 12, 2022 11:27 AM GMT

Updated: August 12, 2022 11:27 AM GMT

Tribal people marched on the streets of India and Bangladesh to mark the International Day for the World’s Indigenous Peoples, on Tuesday. They turned up in traditional attire, sang, danced and beat the drums while also raising banners against the everyday discrimination they face.

Indian tribal leaders said several laws and constitutional provisions were made to protect their lands and rights over them, but they were not being properly implemented.

About 8.6 percent of India’s more than 1.2 billion people belong to different tribal groups. Bangladeshi tribal leaders alleged denial of their fundamental rights in absence of any law or commission to protect their identity, land rights and end the abuses by majority Bengali people.

The government came under criticism for leaving out a large number of people during the recent national census. The data showed Bangladesh has little more than 1.6 million ethnic minorities in a population of about 165 million. Tribal groups say their actual number should be around three million.

Bangladeshi indigenous people hold rally to mark International Day for World's Indigenous Peoples in Dhaka on Aug. 9

Bangladeshi indigenous people hold rally to mark International Day for World's Indigenous Peoples in Dhaka on Aug. 9. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

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Dozens of Christians in India joined the first ‘National March for Life’ in national capital New Delhi on Wednesday. Catholic bishops, priests, nuns and laypeople held protest marches and public meetings, singing Christian hymns and reciting prayers to end abortion.

They also observed a ‘Day of Mourning’ in memory of the millions of aborted fetuses across the world. The pro-life activists observe the day every year to mark the 51st anniversary of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act which legalized abortion in India in 1971.

Christians and pro-life activists gather to observe the first National March for Life in New Delhi on Aug. 10. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj/ UCA News)

Studies show that India records 15.6 million abortions each year. The scourge has intensified since the government amended the abortion law in 2003 to enable women to have better access to safe and legal abortion services.

In 2021, the law was further amended to allow women to have abortion up to 24 weeks in special cases. Church strongly opposes abortion based on Catholic teachings on sacredness of human life.

Pakistan’s troubled Balochistan province bordering Afghanistan saw an elderly Catholic shot dead by unknown bike driving assailants.

65-year-old Wilson Masih was hit with three bullets in the attack on Monday evening and succumbed to his injuries next day morning at a civil hospital in the provincial capital Quetta. His funeral was held at the Blessed Joseph Gerard Church on Wednesday. Masih was the elder brother of Late Hendry Masih, a parliamentarian, who was killed by his bodyguard in Quetta in 2014.

Security personnel patrol a street during the Islamic month of Muharram in Quetta on Aug. 9. (Photo: AFP)

Muslim-majority Mastung town is home to 115 Christians. Following the attack, two policemen have been deployed at the gates of the Christian colony to protect the 16 Christian houses.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province that suffers from endemic poverty and long-running violence by Islamic militants and separatists. The deadly attacks have targeted security forces as well as minority Christians and Shia Hazara communities. In 2018, six Christians were killed in a similar attack in Quetta.

The followers of the Unification Church in Japan and their families have alleged harassment and death threats since the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe last month. The Japan branch of the shadowy church made the claim at a press conference on Wednesday.

The man accused of shooting Abe reportedly had a grudge against a group linked to the church and suspected the former prime minister of having links with it. Local media reported the suspect’s mother had donated about one million US dollars to the group before declaring bankruptcy.

Tomihiro Tanaka, president of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), gestures during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Aug. 10. (Photo: AFP)

Tomihiro Tanaka, the head of the church in Japan, alleged that excessive media coverage over unverified information about the suspect’s motive due to the donations made by his mother have caused harm to its followers and their families.

He said that some followers faced pressure to resign from jobs, and their children are unable to attend school because of bullying, while others have been subject to death threats. Abe's killing has stoked intense public scrutiny of the church's ties to Japanese politicians. 

Church leaders and Catholic groups in the Philippines have condemned two gay Catholics for marrying publicly in a country that bans same-sex unions.

Former seminarian John Rey Lasap married his longtime partner Kirt Lester Ebrada in Albay province in the Bicol region last Saturday. The marriage was officiated in the LGBT Christian Church, an independent Protestant Church. The couple said they decided to get married to profess their love for one another, saying that Jesus never discriminated against anyone.

Same sex couple, John Rey Lasap and Kirt Lester Ebrada pose for a photo after their wedding on Aug. 6. (Photo:The Office of the Governor in Albay Province)

Catholic groups including the Marriage Encounter Couple in Christ and the Holy Family Catechist Group have issued statements criticizing the marriage, saying the gay union was “a scandal” for the Catholic nation.

The Catholic Bishops’ Commission on Family and Life said the same-sex union is unacceptable as the Church stands firm on its position that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and a major purpose of the marriage is procreation. In 2019, the Supreme Court of the country had dismissed a petition from a gay rights group to allow same-sex marriage.

A United Nations report has accused Myanmar’s military junta of committing systematic crimes against humanity since the military coup last year.

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The UN’s Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar released its annual report on Tuesday accusing its security forces and armed groups of committing sexual violence and gender-based crimes including rape against women and children.

Protesters show the three-finger salute and a crossed-out image of Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing during a demonstration against the Myanmar military junta's execution of four prisoners, outside the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok, Thailand on July 26, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

The group said it has collected more than three million pieces of information from about 200 sources including interview statements, documentation, videos, photographs, geospatial imagery and social media material.

The report came about two weeks before the fifth anniversary of a deadly military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims that drove more than 740,000 people into neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017. Since the military coup last February, the junta has unleashed a brutal crackdown on civilians that left more than 2,100 dead and over 15,000 arrested.

A pro-life Catholic group in South Korea has called on the government and civil society organizations to reach out to family members of suicide victims as the nation continues to grapple with rising number of cases.

Father Cha Bauna, director of the One Body One Spirit Suicide Prevention Center, said that it is essential to pay particular attention to those left behind so that there are no further tragedies. The priest’s appeal follows a report from the Ministry of Health and Welfare that said South Korea recorded 25.7 suicides per 100,000 of the population in 2020, up from 24.6 in 2019.

In this file photo, a statue of a man comforting a person is placed to dissuade suicides on Mapo Bridge, a common site for suicides, over the Han river in Seoul on July 14, 2014. 

This figure is the highest amongst the 37 developed nations listed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The study identified the breakdown in family relationships, economic downturns, loss of jobs, poverty, and social isolation as the main driving factors behind the rising sucides. About 9 in 10 victims had psychological disorders, the study said.

A prominent Christian athlete in Malaysia has won praise from netizens for defending her decision to wear tudung, a traditional hijab-like headscarf worn by Malay Muslim women.

Twenty-one-year-old Merrywati Manuil, aChristian from Keningau in Sabah state, clinched a gold medal during the 2022 World Pencak Silat Championship held in Malaysia in July. Silat is a collective term for a class of indigenous martial arts.

Merrywati Manuil during 2022 World Pencak Silat Championship in Malaysia. (Photo: Facebook)

Manuil had faced questions about her choice of wearing tudung though she is a Christian from the ethnic Murut community. In a Facebook post last Sunday Manuil said that she wears tudung as a form of her respect for Malay culture and heritage.

She added that she wears the headscarf “to look more polite, neat and civilized” during the competition and there is no issue of coercion. The post with her photos went viral on Facebook, gaining thousands of likes, comments and shares who praised her for promoting harmony in the Muslim-majority country.

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