Updated: April 04, 2016 04:54 AM GMT
In this Aug. 3 photograph, Indian tribal villagers stand near a traditional home in Jharkhand state. Indigenous communities in India are often marginalized. (Photo by Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP)
Tribal Christians in northern India are observing the death anniversary of Jesuit Father Constant Lievens, a great missionary and liberator of the tribals of Chotanagpur, a region that now spreads across Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh states.The tribal communities for which Servant of God Lievens worked has changed much since the death of the Belgian missionary 122 years ago on Nov. 7. Today, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, with a combined population of 46 million, has some 1.8 million Christians, mostly indigenous people.The first key to Father Constant Lievens’ success, besides his deep faith and confidence in God, was his experience and knowledge of the social, economic, political and religious conditions of the tribal people.
A church of the poor
Today, the Bharatiya Janata Party, a political party that follows an ideology to make India a Hindu country, runs both Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh states. So when we speak of the tribal situation in the present sociopolitical context, we need to think of a collective tribal society as the focus: not just tribal Christians, but all indigenous people.The problems affecting tribal people are more from within than from outside. I say this because often our own weaknesses become the means of attack for others. Tribal people are aware of losing their rights over land, water and forests. They are aware of losing their tribal identity. They are aware of this hazardous situation. The question here is this: Who will play the role of a liberator today — society as a whole, the church alone or the government?In itself, tribal society is weak economically and politically in comparison to others. It will remain weak in knowledge and power unless it becomes a united front. In such a situation, people feel helpless in the absence of strong support and help. They are also discouraged by government policies because good ones never reach the needy, and the benefit goes to others.
Bishop Binay Kandulna of Khunti, 51, is himself a tribal person. Bishop Kandulna, a priest of Khunti Diocese and collaborator with the Apostolic Nunciature in New Delhi, was auxiliary bishop of the Ranchi Archdiocese before heading Khunti in 2012.