Indian tribals play the traditional drum at a tribal harvest festival in New Delhi in this file photo. A new university for tribal people is supposed to promote tribal language and culture, but authorities are teaching them Hindu traditions and prayers instead. (ucanews.com photo)
A government-funded institute for tribal advancement in the eastern Indian state of Odisha has become the nation's first tribal university, however Christian leaders have expressed doubts as to how much it will achieve. The central criticism is that the focus will continue to be on teaching the Hindu religion and culture rather than on preserving tribal traditions. The Federal Ministry of Human Resource Development on Aug. 25 awarded "deemed university" status to the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, a facility for indigenous children from kindergarten to postgraduate level. The institute, based in Odisha's capital, Bhubaneswar, was established in 1992. It offers residential education to some 25,000 "poorest of the poor" indigenous children and plans to educate some 200,000 children in the next decade, its website states. Among those who believe the new status will not help tribal people is Father Nicholas Barla, Secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India Commission for Tribal Affairs. He says in the past 25 years of existence the institute had "done more harm that good." "They are supposed to promote tribal language and culture, but they are teaching them Hindu traditions and prayers, and make them celebrate Hindu festivals," he said. The Oraon tribal priest said the educational facility should safeguard tribal interests and promote their language, culture and traditions. "That is lacking here," he said. Father Barla said most of the students, after being influenced by an outside culture, became less interested in their own. Father Ajay Kumar Singh, a human right activist based in Bhubaneswar, cited an apprehension among parents that students live in unhygienic conditions and are restrained from practicing age-old traditions. T.K. Oommen, a sociologist and former professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, said there are several institutes in the country that claim to promote tribal people. However, sadly, the social and economic condition of tribal people remained same. Mukti Prakash Tirkey, editor of a weekly on tribal affairs published in the Indian capital New Delhi, said if young tribal people were given proper direction and skills development, they could excel in life.
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