07/31/2006, 00.00
INDIA

Church Tribals' only hope, say Hindu leaders

Prakash Dubey
In a rare example of cooperation, Tribal leaders in the eastern state of Jharkhand urge the Church to intervene to bring unity to Tribals, who have been too often neglected by the political parties founded to protect them.

Hazaribag (AsiaNews) – Several Tribal leaders in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, including pro-Hindu chiefs, have urged the Church to play a "greater role" in local affairs and act with greater freedom and authority in managing the crises and problems affecting Tribal communities in the state. For them, it is the last hope.

Repeated several times in local debates and newspapers, the call is "a rare example of cooperation by Hindus", who in doing so "recognise the significant role played by the Catholic Church".

Salkhan Murmu, who chairs the Adivasi Adhikar Morchia [Tribals'Rights Front], told AsiaNews that "this state [Jharkhand] state was carved out in 2000 with the explicit goal of promoting and protecting the welfare of Tribals [. . .], but no political party in Jharkhand state is addressing the real issues—mainly housing, job quotas, language and land—that concern them."

Murmu, a former lawmaker with the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP (a Hindu nationalist political party and India's largest), added that "the time has come for the Church to actively intervene and help us in fostering unity among Tribals so that they can work together as a single community for their own development".

The Church is urged to act especially since "in India Catholics have always played a key role in areas like health care and education in those parts of the state where the latter exists only on paper".

The former lawmaker is certain "that the Church is the last resource left. It is a proven fact that it is the fulcrum of support for Tribals".

Bandhu Tirkey, an Oraon tribal chief and current member of the state legislature, agrees but warns: "The Church can do a lot, but it must be careful about aligning itself with any one group. Our political leaders are good at asking for material aid and political support only to forget who provided it and why they were elected".

"It is necessary," he added, "for Christian leaders to accurately and scrupulously select whom to support beforehand because many candidates are neither honest nor sincere".

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