05/17/2012, 00.00
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Jesuits mission among tribal Kaktari: combatting exploitation, teaching dignity

by Nirmala Carvalho
The Janhit Vikas Trust center (JVT, "Welfare of people") seeks to improve the lives of tribal people of Maharashtra, in respect of culture and traditions. Among the initiatives: Minimum education for children and teens; experiences of microcredit groups, self-help for alcoholism, legal education for women against domestic violence and abuse, use of herbs and natural remedies for treatments.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Breaking the cycle of poverty and exploitation of which the tribals (adivasis) in India are victims, teaching them to use the resources available to them and preserving their dignity and integrity. This is the mission of Janhit Vikas Trust (JVT, "being of people"), a Jesuit center of social activity working since 1992 in 20 villages of Raigad district (Maharashtra) with Katkari, nomadic tribal people, very poor and not recognized by State Government. To survive, they work as laborers in the monsoon season, and then migrate to work in coal mines and brick factories. Among the Katkari sexual the exploitation of women is widespread.

"Our goal - explains Fr. Diago D'Souza, director of the JVT to AsiaNews - is help them to know and claim their rights, without abandoning their culture." Therefore, the JVT activities is formulated many ways: to generate and develop funding programs, health projects, work training courses, lessons on human rights, micro-credit and self-help groups, basic and legal education.

Being a nomadic people, the Katkari are dedicated only to seasonal work, which lead to exploitation and low and irregular wages. When both husband and wife (often the most committed) work the family can count on about 350-400 rupees. But their status as migrants causes an even more serious problem: illiteracy. Moving along with the family in fact, children can not go to school, feeding a growing illiterate and defenseless population. To change this situation, JVT activists collect the children from the slums and bring them to school, where teachers paid by the Jesuit Centre teach them English and mathematics.

Education is also given to the woman in the Kaktari villages, often the victim of abuse and domestic violence: over time, courses and seminars that teach women their rights, and laws have increased.

Another problem that plagues these Adivasis is alcoholism. While living in extreme poverty, there are periods of the year in which work is more available. However, the extra money is not spent to fix the their huts or buy food, but alcohol. Through JVT seminars, some tribal households have responded to this issue. In some cases, volunteers have helped the population to form self-help groups, to fit into their cultural context, without alienating them from their identity.

Finally, a worthwhile initiative is linked to health care. Hospitals and sanatoriums in fact are few and far between, and a call to a doctor costs more than 50 rupees. Thus, the Jesuit center teaches the tribal to harness the capabilities of healing herbs and plants found in nature, to create salves, teas, infusions and preparations to solve less serious illnesses, like colds, diarrhea, scabies, and fever.


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