Catholic bishops of tribal origin have resolved to unite against politically-motivated moves to divide indigenous people in India on the basis of religion.
"Our people are very innocent and honest and
the sectarian forces know the trick to exploit it," said Cardinal
Telesphore P. Toppo of Ranchi, India's first tribal cardinal, during a
consultation in the capital of the tribal-dominated Jharkhand state in
central India on Feb. 23-24.
The meeting brought together 11 tribal
Father Stanislaus Tirkey, secretary of the Indian
Catholic bishops' office for tribal people, said that 26 of India's 171
Catholic dioceses are tribal-dominated and are situated in central and
The big issues
issue for tribal people in central India is the growth of Hindu
nationalist groups who divide tribes into Hindu and non-Hindu for
political gain, Cardinal Toppo said. He warned bishops that if action is
not taken, "things may get out of hand."
Cardinal Toppo said
that the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that rules central
Indian states, blames tribal Christians for creating trouble. For
example, Jharkhand state amended two laws in November 2016 that were
meant to protect tribal lands.
The changes empowered the government to
use tribal land for industrial and welfare projects, a move that
triggered widespread protests. Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das,
who heads the BJP government there, blamed Christians for instigating
Unfortunately, the BJP is supported by the
majority of non-Christian tribal people. Cardinal Toppo said "it is sad"
that they are trapped by false promises and "the situation is very
Bishop Vincent Barwa of Simdega, chairman of the Indian
Catholic bishops' office for tribal people also pointed out that "Our
people are facing migration and displacement in all [tribal] states."
bishops have decided to appoint a priest and layperson in each diocese
to work full-time as part of an awareness group. They will collect
statistics and data on tribal issues and work to interact and network
with local people.
The bishops also resolved to politically
empower parishioners in areas where Christian numbers are large enough
to affect the outcome of elections.
Benjamin Lakra, a tribal and
former civil servant, told the bishops that they ought to prepare
suitable political candidates in their respective areas.
Binay Kandulna of Khuti said tribal people could help win elections or
impact issues if Christian and non-Christian tribal people were to
"If we can build a bridge between all the Christian
denominations the [election] results could be different. We should unite
for the betterment of our people or else our situation will not
change," Bishop Kandulna said.
India has some 28 million
Christians and published studies show some 30 percent of them or 8
million are tribal people. At least half of them are Catholics, forming
little more than 20 percent of the total 19 million Catholics in the