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Tribal religious leaders in India opt for promoting prohibition

A liquor ban is a must to protect tribal families, say leaders from the traditional Sarna religion

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Tribal religious leaders in India opt for promoting prohibition

Indigenous people participate in a cultural event held in New Delhi in this file photo. More than 60 percent of tribal families are suffering because tribal men are addicted to alcohol, says an indigenous religious leader. (ucanews.com photo by Bijay Kumar Minj)

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Tribal religious leaders in India's eastern Jharkhand state are campaigning against consumption of alcohol among tribal people even though alcohol is very much part of the local indigenous culture.

"The Catholic Church is not against the age-old tribal culture of using homemade alcohol during special occasions," but getting addicted to alcohol is doing harm, Bishop Paul Alois Lakra of Gumla told ucanews.com.

The bishop who belongs to the Oraon tribe and heads a diocese in Jharkhand state has welcomed the move by leaders of the tribal people's traditional Sarna religion coming together to fight alcohol addiction in the community.

Bandhan Tigga, the Sarna dharmguru or top religious leader of the Sarna religion, told media people in late May that various tribal gurus are now holding camps in different pockets of the state to highlight the problems of alcohol addiction and urging their followers to quit drinking alcohol altogether.

Jharkhand state has one of the highest concentrations of indigenous people in the country with tribal people numbering 8.64 million or 27 percent of its 32 million people. The majority of the tribal people in the state follow the Sarna religion and about 15 percent are Christians.

More than 60 percent of tribal families are suffering because their men are addicted to alcohol, Tigga said.

"Alcoholism has always been a major drawback for tribal families here. Usually, the men who are addicted to alcohol remain inebriated even in the day and their wives have to toil hard to run the family," he said.

Bishop Lakra said local tribal people believe brewing hadia (rice beer) is an integral part of their culture. They drink it after offering it to gods during festivals and to welcome guests visiting their homes.

The church in this tribal-dominated state has been openly campaigning against alcohol consumption for decades and stresses that the use of alcohol be symbolic, the bishop said. "When we visit homes or meet them we stress on giving up alcohol," he said.

Bishop Lakra said he is confident that tribal religious leaders coming together will have greater impact. "It is a welcome step," he said. For the past few months the Sarna religious leaders were insisting on prohibition at gatherings of their followers, he said.

Gladson Dungdung, a tribal activist, told ucanews.com that alcohol addiction is spreading in the state because "hadia is sold on roadsides of towns and villages without any restriction."

Sarna leader Neeraj Munda wants the state government also to ban the sale and consumption of liquor. "A liquor ban is a must to protect tribal families. The state accounts for 40 percent of the country's mineral reserves. I am sure there are alternatives to generating revenue other than from liquor taxes," he said.

Tej Kumar Ekka, president of the Gumla parish council, said that this is the first time that the Sarna gurus have come forward to address this "serious issue." It will have a great impact in the state's Gumla district, where Sarna tribal people form 44 percent of its 1 million people and Christians some 30 percent.

However, Father Cyprian Kullu, vicar general of the Gumla Diocese said although "alcoholism is one of the biggest problem" the community faces, "it is a sensible that we tackle it very carefully without hurting the sentiments of the people."

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