Thousands of tribal people meet in Maharashtra, united to preserve indigenous traditions
by Nirmala Carvalho

The conference took place from 13 to 15 January in Palghar district, sponsored by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. The topics covered included the protection and development of tribal rights, women, arts and language. This is “part of the mission of the Church and it is the message of Jesus and the values ​​of the Gospel,” a priest says.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Thousands of tribal people met for Eighth Tribal Cultural Integration Conference. The goal of the three-day gathering (13-15 January) in Palghar, a district in Maharashtra, was to reiterate tribal unity and desire to preserve indigenous cultures.

Fr Nicholas Baria, executive secretary of the Tribal Affairs Committee of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), spoke to AsiaNews about it.

“I am a Catholic priest, a member of the Church and an [ethnic] Orao,” he said. As a member of an indigenous group, “I am also a tribal leader, who was able to realise himself through education. I believe it is important that tribal people unite to promote their socio-cultural traditions.”

The Adivasi Ekta Parishad and Advasi Samania Bharat, two national tribal groups, organised the conference, attracting at least 200,000 people from all over the country and from abroad, especially Nepal, the United States and New Zealand.

"We talked about tribal unity, identity, self-respect, art, culture, traditions, history, self-sufficiency, coexistence, cooperation and protection of nature,” said Fr Baria. “We are happy,” he added, “because Phoolman Chaudhary, vice president of the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, also attended.”

Participants took part in a number of workshops, that looked, among other things, at the impact of tribal culture and religious organisations.

Other issues examined included the problems of tribal women and possible solutions; balancing tribal self-sufficiency, economy and nature; mainstream development; tribal self-government; constitutional, international and human rights; declaration of tribal unity and the liberation movement; education and health; climate change and solutions for everyday life.

On the side-lines of the conference, organisers put on exhibits on indigenous literature, arts and skills.

Fr Baria, who has been involved with the indigenous cause for seven years, notes that even the Supreme Court of India acknowledged that the survival of the tribal groups is at risk.

To this end, “the presence of the Catholic Church is fundamental to support the marginalised and the excluded as well as uphold their 'ethos', philosophy and lifestyle.”

Conferences like this “serve to keep the linguistic traditions and culture of small communities alive, as well as preserve them, increase the awareness of the rights of these groups, celebrate their sacred days, as well as express their opinions and culture through songs and dances.”

“All this is part of the mission of the Church and is the message of Jesus and the values ​​of the Gospel. It is important for the Church to be present.”