01/17/2007, 00.00
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Indian Church in Nairobi to defend tribal communities

by Nirmala Carvalho
In an interview with AsiaNews the executive secretary of the Commission for Justice, Peace and Development, explains what contribution Indian Catholics will make to the forthcoming World Social Forum in Kenya. They are working against every form of discrimination, but they especially want to focus attention on the plight of people living in tribal areas whose lands are being seized. Every year some two million farmers become landless.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The National Commission for Justice, Peace and Development (NCJPD) of the Indian Bishops’ Conference will attend the forthcoming (January 20-25) World Social Forum (WSF) in order to bring to the attention of the international community the problems of social marginalization in the country of the caste system

In an interview with AsiaNews before his departure for Africa, Fr Nithiya Sagayam, NCJPD executive secretary, spoke about the contribution of the India Church to the meeting in Kenya. He will stress how the Church wants to highlight the urgent need to do something about land seizures affecting tribal communities in India, a problem which is endemic to the country.

After Nairobi, Father Sagayam will travel to Sampran, near Bangkok, where Asia’s Catholic Churches will meet on January 25-27 to discuss the Church’s social doctrine as a tool to address the challenges that Asian nations currently face.  

Father, what are the issues the NCJPD will address in Nairobi? Highlighting the vulnerability of our tribal communities is what has pushed us to come to Africa this year.  Tribals have a natural right to their resources which are essential for their survival. The most important resource is the land, but the issue is vast and highly complex.  

Can you explain to us what it is? Large-scale sales of land with vast quantities of natural resources affect especially areas inhabited by Tribals. Unfortunately, different local governments are behind these transactions and sell the land at much below value. Tribals find themselves poor amid plenty.

To big is the problem in the country? As scheduled classes, Tribals have reserved rights in the areas they inhabit in order to promote their social and economic development. And yet, land is still being alienated and in some areas the process has become endemic. Data shows that every year the number of landless peasants grow by two million. In Madhya Pradesh, a state with a high proportion of Tribals, ten per cent of all farmers are without land, whilst a third owns lest than a hectare (2.44 acres). The same is happening in Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh.  

What do you plan to do? Since the Indian government does not protect the rights of Tribals we want to raise the issue at the international level. Multinational corporations are buying up land rich in resources, mining them and pushing out Tribals. The situation is tragic.

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