Tribalzone Perspective (Identity Threat)

Kalinganagar Firing

We are the indigenous people of Chotanagpur. We evolved from hunting and gathering to farming and herding, created farming plots in our land; we would still depend on jungle while keeping its ecosystem intact. When independence came we welcomed the idea of forming a government, adapted to the rules of land settlement and reforms. Actively participated in elections – electing political leaders of our choice. Several years passed by but we never benefited from choosing our leaders, still, we meekly took part in every election.

In the present modern world, we also evolved from farming & herding to job seeking. Some of us did well in the modern education system and got employed in the government and industries; most of us outside farming, are labourers and earn daily wages through manual work. Unskilled, semiskilled and skilled Adivasis who were risk takers starting migrating from Chotanagpur to distant lands in search of jobs.

Many of us are still in Chotanagpur and depend on farming for livelihood. The land that we owned were either crafted or brought or bartered in exchange for being displaced from original land due to mines, steel plant and dams. Our land being rich in natural mineral resources (NMS) or being in closed proximity to NMS fall prey to big greedy conglomerates and government development projects. We Adivasis being emotionally and economically weak, give way to the demands/lure from the government.

No indigenous populations have ever benefited from displacement. Very few displaced Adivasis have actually benefited. Money did not last long and the promised fertile land was either not suitable for farming or was gradually not used for farming, the new land was mostly sold to settlers from outside. Those who managed to survive in their service and stayed away from the evils of drinking sent their children to schools. These Adivasi educated children later migrated for greener pastures. Little have we heard of these educated adivasi children being groomed in farming and seldom do they return home to farm in their own land – land of their ancestors.

Our Khutkati land possession is diminishing. Shri. Ghanshyam Gagrai, founder of HO Mahasabha says with tears in his eyes, “All our land will be gone”.

On every election we travel several miles, stand in a long queue under the scorching sun to cast our votes, we trust and choose our leader, we trust our government; we play an important role in forming a government, in building the nation. So why does the government cheat us? Why does my government kill our people? If we refuse to sell our land to the government, will they kill us all? How can the government take us for granted?

Dilip Tirkey's Marriage

The missionaries lived among us spoke our language, mingled with us and took part in our socio-cultural events. They were propagating their concept of God. Since we liked their behaviour, most of us converted from sarna. We adopted the new religion and embraced Christianity. We became ardent followers of Christ. We incorporated ‘the shaking of hands, kneeling and kissing’ in our social and cultural environment. Without knowing much of Latin or Hindi, we memorised the rosary and prayers by heart. Spirituality was imbibed. While Christian congregations brought education, healthcare and fought for our land rights, they also defined our social and cultural life.

Today the clergy mostly controls the church and has great influence in the socio-religious life of tribals. There is synergy between Christian values and tribal culture to a great extent. However, there have been incidents of tussle between the clergy and the laity from time to time at various places. With the changing time and exposure to education we are coming out of our “culture of silence”. Though we are obedient and humble, we have started questioning the authorities. We cannot be taken for granted. In the 1st week of February 2006 our national hero Dilip Tirkey got married in Hamirpur Catholic Church. There was lot of opposition to the alliance from the Oraon community. In spite of the objections, the clergy of the local church manoeuvred rules and solemnised the marriage. It was reported that the church wedding proceeded under heavily guarded security of armed platoon of policemen. They stood beside the alter and were positioned inside the cathedral and outside – just in case…..

The local Adivasis community was very unhappy, so much so that they were planning to boycott the ordination of new Bishop solemnised on 19th April 2006. Fortunately, later there was reconciliation between the clergy and the community and the ordination of new Bishop was solemnised grandly.

Reverend Bishop of Rourkela diocese supported the matrimony, said, “The church allows marriage between cousins”. Laurence Lakra, local parish priest told CNN-IBN: “The church does not believe in anything like gotra”.

Marriage within family and gotra is strictly forbidden among the Chotanagpur Adivasis for social and biological reasons. The similar practice prevails among all indigenous people of the world. It might look like primitive and traditional but the church can not undermine the values of the tribal society.

The Adivasi Christian community in Chotanagpur is the largest contributors to the religious congregations in the region.

We, first have to identify ourselves as Adivasis and then Christians. We actively participate in the church activities and trust the church. Our cultural values have to be respected and efforts have to be made to strengthen the synergy between the church and our culture and not undermine it as traditional and primitive.

What can you do?

Speak up—write to us what you feel.

Become a Tribalzone First Citizen. (Help us preserve our cultural identity)

TRIBALZONE is a place for all Chotanagpur tribals , regardless of blood quantum, to "gather" and to heal, and share their unique cultures, artistic talents and rich heritage.