Mumbai (AsiaNews) – "It is really sad that whilst the Church is committed to the development of society, Catholic educational institutions are being targeted to sully our image," said Fr Thomas Philip, head of the Manav Vikas Seva Sangh, the human development body of the Diocese of Sagar (Madhya Pradesh).
The clergyman, also known as Father Biju, spoke to AsiaNews, about the case of St Mary's Post Graduate College in Vidisha, which is located in his diocese. For days, the school has been the target of an intimidation campaign by Hindu extremists, who want to conduct a Hindu ritual inside its premises and are threatening serious consequences if they are prevented.
"In any case,” the clergyman said, “we are not discouraged. The Catholic Church will certainly continue to work for the development of the marginalised and oppressed." Already, trough its apostolate, the diocese “serves schools and development, without discrimination,” and “Hindus are the main beneficiaries of our services.” In fact, “Most students at the college in Vidisha are Hindus."
To illustrate what the diocese does, Fr Biju turned to the Manav Vikas Seva Sangh (MCSS)), which was founded 27 years ago. The organisation is the official arm of the diocese and deals in particular with improving the conditions of society.
The MVSS “deals with community welfare without distinction of caste, creed, religion or race. It wants society to be based on the teachings of the Gospel like peace, justice, equality, love, cooperation and fraternity. Since inception, it has fought relentlessly and vigorously to give voice to those who have no voice, power to the powerless, and resources to the poor."
It "is present in 286 villages and is behind various projects, like subsistence production, support for women, health and hygiene, informal education, good governance, sustainable agriculture, children's rights, and natural resources management."
The area is hilly and "is inhabited mostly by a poor and illiterate tribal people,” the clergyman explained. And locals “are deprived of the simplest comforts such as home, clothes, food.”
“These highly exploited groups live in the forests and their survival depends on harvesting food [from the forest], subsistence farming, and day labour.” However, "Climate change and job losses due to mechanisation have severely afflicted their economic life”.
“Our approach is to strengthen the community, by helping families, meeting the essential needs of the group, and ensuring inclusion and participation in their own development. Our strategy boosts tribal people and gives them access to and benefit from education and employment, as well as health and social services.”
In essence, "we are working to eradicate poverty and hunger among tribal people and improve their living conditions”.
To this end, the work includes providing “universal access to primary education, promoting gender equality and helping women and girls, reducing infant and child mortality, improving access to health care, ensuring environmental sustainability through clean water, proper sanitation and waste collection, taking steps against the caste system and other discriminatory social practices, and encouraging tribal people in their own, individual development."