Indigenous people are in crisis. They are facing threat of extinction. This fear, long expressed by experts around the world, has at last been proved true when United Nations confirmed this in its latest report 'The state of the world's indigenous people.
These people are on the verge of losing their resources and land. They are being displaced from their own land. Report mentions explicitly about India. It says that due to various projects being run in the name of development, the tribal are losing their habitat. Poverty, ailments, unemployment and illiteracy have moved them away from their own culture. They are at crossroads from where they are neither able to save their own culture nor accept the popular culture.
Agony of being dislocated from the roots is evident on the faces of representative of tribal society. These representatives have come to the national capital to participate in a public hearing and workshop to study the impact of evangelism on the social, religious and economic life of tribes. A jury comprising 14 members which includes former justice in the Gujarat High Court Suresh Soni, Justice D S Tevatia, Justice V. K Gupta, former Police Chief KPS Gill and former ambassador Prabhat Shukla,
The interference in the life of tribes started during British regime. They took undue advantage of poverty and converted large number of tribes. They got massive success in their agenda. This has alienated converted tribes from those non-converted and rift has widened. Non-converted tribes accuse missionaries of using money power to create division among tribals. They are hammering on the original symbols, traditions, culture and language. This has disrupted harmony in the society.
A large number of tribal people from Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and North-Eastern states have been converted in to Christianity. Missionaries are facing stiff resistance at various places and it has taken violent form at many places. The rivalry between Protestants and Catholics have taken violent form in North-East. Local Catholic Bishop 'Jose Mukala' says that Protestants are forcibly trying to convert Catholics into their faith. Their homes and properties are being destroyed. They have demanded safety and security from United Nations. Indian constitution allows freedom of faith and even allows to propagate any faith. However, there is a thin line between propagating virtues of one's religion and conversion. A state should not allow those institutions whose main motive is conversion. Wherever people in large number has been converted; social tension has increased. Due to conversion peaceful atmosphere of villages have been polluted. This has attracted many Hindu leaders to make inroads in the tribal society to stop the interference of missionaries.
Church is trying to expand its empire in tribal region. The only cardinal from tribal society of India Arch Bishop Telesphore P. Toppo believes that Catholic Church is in infancy stage among tribal people. The indication is vivid and clear; Church sees large potential of growth among tribals. Church should not be engaged in number game. Ten percent of entire Catholic population in the country directly come from tribals of Chotanagpur. They live in deplorable condition even after conversion. This is clear from the large influx of female domestic workers in metro cities like Delhi. Church, in its own study, confirmed that 92 percent of these tribal ladies are converted Christians. Conversion has led to social polarization in the society. This has aggravated the problem. Hinduism does not believe in conversion. However, when programmes are organised to denounce various aspects of Hindus; it obviously hurts the sentiments of community Missionaries and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have taken good measures to restore harmony in the society. However, they have been overshadowed due to political reasons.
There is hardly any development in tribal dominated areas of Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. There is huge scope of development in the agricultural and industrial sector in these regions. The population of tribals in the country may be hardly eight percent but they decide future of Indian society. They are rich in natural resources. In order to preserve their resources and knowledge; planned development programmes should be started. Several national and multinational companies are trying to exploit their resources. Tribal people are still fighting for the basic education, health and home. We need to preserve their culture and tradition. They should not be Christianised or Hinduised. Conversion will only disrupt the social harmony impacting badly tribal population and it will further alienate them from the mainstream.
The writer is president, Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM)