08/10/2017, 20.52
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The Indian Church reiterates its mission on behalf of indigenous rights and development

by Purushottam Nayak

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India organised a conference to promote tribal groups on International Day of Indigenous Peoples. The latter represent 8.6 per cent of India’s population but live on the margins of society, victims of violence and backwardness. Bishop Mascarenhas calls for action to “protect and preserve the identity of tribal communities."

Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) and the CBCI Office for Tribal Affairs organised a conference to mark the 10th Vishwa Adivasi Diwas, International Day of Indigenous Peoples.

The event focused on Sustainable Development Goals and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Indian context. Adivasi (Tribals) represent 8.6 per cent of the Indian population, and are divided into some 705 distinct groups.

In a final statement, the conference highlighted some guidelines that should be followed such as ensuring effective enforcement of laws that protect indigenous peoples, preservation of their language, culture and traditions, as well as protection from identity loss. Special attention should also be paid to the most vulnerable tribal groups and decisive action should be undertaken against traffickers of women and girls who are often taken from their villages to be sold in large cities.

Tribals have long been subjected to forced seizures, eviction, expropriation, social exclusion, discrimination and economic and social backwardness. For this reason, the Catholic Church of India is committed to improve Adivasi living conditions and achieve full equality of treatment.

For the bishops, this requires the “full application" of health, socio-economic and educational development programmes, as well as the creation of appropriate facilities – schools, hospitals, etc. – in tribal areas. This task belongs to "the government and all men and women of good will".

The conference presented a picture of the Adivasi’s critical situation in India. About 75 per cent of tribal families live below the poverty line. Only 19.7 per cent have access to drinking water, and 77.4 per cent lack access to health facilities. School dropout is over 70 per cent and infant mortality rate is 62.1 per cent.

In 2015 alone, the number of acts of violence recorded against members of tribal groups exceeded 11,000. And tribal women are among the poorest and marginalised in Indian society.

Lastly, public spending shows how little attention governments pay to the Adivasi. Only 2.39 per cent of public resources are allocated to improve the condition of tribal populations who are 8.6 per cent of the population.

For Fr Nicholas Barla, an ethnic tribal Oraon from Odisha and secretary of the CBCI Office for Tribal Affairs, the measures included in various development plans fail to meet established goals. In his view, governments and stakeholders should not leave anyone out from development.

"The Catholic Church strongly believes in development for the poor and marginalised, without any distinction, because Jesus himself taught us to be in their service," said CBCI secretary general Mgr Theodore Mascarenhas.

The prelate noted that all Catholic institutions and organisations want to "work in partnership with the authorities, the United Nations, and other local and international organisations to protect and preserve the identity of tribal communities."

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