05/22/2015, 00.00
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For Catholic Church, “mining threatens India’s tribal peoples”

by Shafique Khokhar
In Odisha, the Office for Justice, Peace and Development of the Catholic Bishops' Conference looked at the effects of heavy mining on indigenous communities. For an Adivasi leader, “tribal cultures die when their peoples are forced to leave their lands."

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Mining activities in India pose a threat to the country’s Adivasi (tribal) communities, this according to the ‘Mining and migration’ seminar organised at the pastoral centre in Utkal Jyoti Jharsuguda (Odisha) by the Office for Justice, Peace and Development of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) in collaboration with the Odisha Forum. About 60 people from various dioceses in the state took part in the event, which was held on 19 and 20 May.

Mgr Sual Niranjan Singh, bishop of Sambalpur, opened the meeting by reiterating the main points of the issue. "Heavy mining has a huge impact on humans, animals and plants, and has long been the leading cause of environmental degradation and pollution,” he said.

Tribal groups, who depend on the land for their survival, are now at risk, often forced to emigrate. “For this reason, the Church must be an agent of change,” the prelate added.

Dayamamani Barla, a tribal leader in the state of Jharkhand, explained the importance of protecting India’s Adivasi communities. "Indigenous people,” she said, “are the original settlers and the first inhabitants of the Earth. Adivasi culture, life, behaviour, language and ethics have a direct connection to water, land and the jungle. For this reason, they are closely tied to the environment."

Against this background, "tribal cultures die when their people are forced to abandon their land for other places,” she said. “When an indigenous people is displaced in the name of development, its culture, history and identity are exploited, destroyed and wiped out."

Fr Savari Raj, director of Chetanalaya, an NGO with the Archdiocese of New Delhi associated with Caritas, spoke of the problem of trafficking in tribal women, many of whom end up in the capital.

Forced to emigrate, without a job and often with the responsibility of maintaining their family, these women "are not paid enough, sexually abused and do not receive proper health care."

Fr Charles P. Irudayam, secretary of the Office for Justice, Peace and Development of the CBCI, mentioned the social doctrine of the Church.

"God has endowed each person with an inherent and inalienable dignity that involves basic rights,” he said. In view of this, “The Church has the duty to protect human rights and educate its members about the dignity, freedom and equality of all people. Respect for human rights is a prerequisite for peace."

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