November 06, 2015 | JUSTICE AND PEACE| Hundreds of tribal leaders in India have resolved to resist attempts by the government and big businesses to take over ancestral lands and forests — part of a move by Catholic groups to organize the often marginalized community in the face of rampant development.
More than 500 delegates from across India gathered in Jharkhand state, eastern India, to discuss the loss of vital land, forest and water resources.
Organizers of the Oct. 24-26 summit — the Jesuit Conference of South Asia’s indigenous peoples’ ministry — say India’s tribal people have for centuries been exploited for their natural resources. Increasing industrialization has worsened the problem in recent years.
“The life, livelihood and culture of the indigenous people have been under serious threat on account of industrialization in the country,” said Father Joseph Marianus Kujur, head of the Jesuits’ Ranchi province.
Father Kujur, who is an indigenous person, said industrialization has forced many indigenous people from their traditional homes and pushed them toward lives in migrant labor, mining and construction.
India is home to an estimated 104 million indigenous people, belonging to hundreds of separate tribes spread across the country. The majority of Indian Christians in northern and eastern India, particularly in Jharkhand, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh states, come from tribal communities.
Father Kujur said industrialization has displaced more than 60 million people throughout the country in the past six decades. He estimated that people from indigenous communities make up 40 percent of these displaced people.
“Since independence, the plight of the tribal people has been going from bad to worse, with successive governments enforcing laws that are meant to harass and take over their resources, rather than making laws for their protection,” he said.
The situation prompted Jesuits in India to create a special ministry for indigenous people in 1984.
Tribal leaders during the Jesuit-led summit recalled that the Indian Constitution has provisions to give indigenous communities administrative control of specific areas, but this has not been fully implemented.
On the contrary, various governments have instead enforced colonial-era laws that allow authorities to seize land at will.
“The very existence of the indigenous people depends on forests and land,” said Sanjay Bosu Mallick of the Jharkhand-based Save the Forest Movement.
Jesuit Father Alex Ekka said the summit is meant to create a “new awakening” among indigenous people to protect livelihoods and culture.
Displacement, said the priest from an indigenous community, will harm education, culture, language and other traditions. With such pressures, indigenous communities risk “losing everything, including their identity.”
Source: UCA News, October 28, 2015