Catholics around the world marked the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on Sept. 25, and the Archdiocese of Bombay used the occasion to recommit itself to helping Tribal migrants within greater Mumbai.
Most migrants in India come from other parts of the country, but differences in language, religion, and culture mean they face many of the same issues that hit people who cross international borders. This is especially true for day laborers, who often come from India’s marginalized Tribal and Dalit communities.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay told Crux that in the archdiocesan synodal process – conducted ahead of next year’s Synod of Bishops’ meeting – “we spoke of the necessity of the church being more inclusive, and the Archdiocese of Bombay can give the lead and respond to the signs of the times.”
Earlier this year, the Archdiocesan Migrant Commission (AMC) launched the AMC Crisis Outreach to provide temporary shelter to migrant women and girls faced with physical, sexual or emotional abuse at work, or who have been forced out of their jobs.
Sister Sarita Kerketta, a member of the Tribal community from Odisha, works with the AMC, and also helps with the Redemptorists Migrant Ministry Outreach (PAHUNCH) in the upscale Chembur suburb of Mumbai, where many Tribal migrants work in domestic service.
“This help line is given to render service to the Chotanagpur Tribal Migrants and to provide them immediate shelter in times of distress of any kind. Additionally, two equipped counsellors and two legal experts will offer assistance,” she told Crux.
“We have already helped two Tribal young migrants in distress and in a vulnerable situation. They were working as domestic workers in Mumbai and both were thrown out of their jobs and houses without prior notice. One was dismissed from her job, for demanding a fair and just wage, and the other Tribal was thrown out of the house on baseless allegations of her being unfit for housework,” she said.
“They were both stranded and stayed at the city’s main railway station. Police noticed them and told them to leave the station, and we gave them shelter for two weeks and got them relocated employment in other families,” she said.
Gracias said the situation with Tribal migrants in the archdiocese “has been one of my primary pastoral cares from the beginning, and I have organized many initiatives to make it a welcoming and safe and inclusive place for them.”
The cardinal noted that in 2016, he outlined an “action plan” for Tribal migrants.
This included taking care of their pastoral needs, including more liturgies in the Hindi language, which is spoken by most Tribal migrants (the main language in Mumbai is Marathi), and sacramental formation.
In addition, the archdiocese organizes social events, such as feasts associated with Tribal cultural milestones such as harvest festivals, as well as sporting events.
The archdiocese has also worked to register Tribal migrants, noting their parish and diocese of origin, as well as their current address and occupation, so the church can better communicate with them.
“Currently, there are more than 10 million Tribals from Chota Nagpur [the eastern part of Maharashtra state]: Post-COVID, many more have arrived in the city. they left their homes because of a lack of employment and sources of livelihood also due to poverty. As a large number have only basic levels of literacy, they usually work as domestic labor in cities,” Gracias explained.
It is estimated that Tribal people – from other parts of Maharashtra as well as other states – make up nearly 10 percent of Greater Mumbai’s population of 20 million.
Maria Gomes, a member of the AMC, said the archdiocese will now be able “to attend more effectively to the migrants’ spiritual needs and give them greater visibility and acknowledgment in our churches, small Christian communities and educational institutions.”