“National Consultation on Legal Rights, Acts and UN Declarations for the Tribals & Adivasis in India: A Theological Perspective”, a Programme of the NCCI, Commission on Tribals and Adivasis in partnership with the Durgapur Diocese, Church of North India on July 11-13, 2013.

“If the Tribal People cut the trees, they did it for their personal use,
but when the Non-Tribal people cut it, they did it for their business purpose;
If the Tribal People kill the animals, they did it for their food, to satisfy their hunger,
but when the Non-Tribal people kill the animals, they did it for their business purpose.”

laments The Rt. Rev. Dr. Bishop Nelson Lakhra, Bishop and Moderator of the Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church, Jharkhand and Chairperson of the Commission on Tribals and Adivasis, National Council of Churches in India while delivering his Inaugural Address.

A three day national consultation on “Legal Rights, Acts and UN Declarations for the Tribals & Adivasis in India: A Theological Perspective” was organized by the NCCI, Commission on Tribals and Adivasis in partnership with the Durgapur Diocese, Church of North India at St. Michael’s Compound, Durgapur Diocesan Headquarters, Durgapur, Church of North India during July 11-13, 2013.

29 delegates of Theologians and Church leaders mostly from the Tribal community gathered together to study the present scenario of the tribal and adivasi communities in India in the light of the consultation theme mentioned above. This three days consultation was intensive with sharing of traumatizing stories of personal and collective experiences across India. In his Welcoming Address, The Rt. Rev. Dr. Probal Kanto Dutta, Bishop of Durgapur Diocese, CNI and Chairperson of the Commission on Justice, Peace and Creation, NCCI, who is also the host of this consultation, had shared the seriousness of the crises, which the Tribal & Adivasi communities in India are struggling with today. As a church leader, he expressed his whole hearted commitment to take the church’s community to the forefront in addressing the issues of the Tribal and Adivasi communities and requested the theologians and the church leaders to come out from our comfort zone and take our position for the just cause for the Tribal and Adivasi communities in India.

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Nelson Lakhra, the Chairperson of the COT had delivered a very thought provoking Inaugural Speech with a strong call of challenges to the Indian Church to grappling with. The Bishop’s speech was a great encouragement and strength for the Commission to give an endless effort in our struggle to rise as community who are sidelined and are always victims of political change and economic policies of the Government.

Rev. Dr. Vanlalchhuanawma, the Principal of the Aizawl Theological College, Aizawl, Mizoram while delivering his Keynote Address led us to a deeper level of tribal and adivasi issues, wherein an important question of ‘tribal/adivasi-christian identity’ becomes a catch word in our struggles to contextualise our issues within the realm of Christian Theological debate. The question of the ‘image of God’ and our responsibilities in our calling posed a great challenge in front of us to take seriously the ‘rights and dignity’ of the tribal/adivasi in our agenda.

Dr. Hrangthan Chhungi, Executive Secretary, Commission on Tribals and Adivasi, NCCI had led the session into a discussion on the legal matters while taking a case study of the 14 years old girl Ms. Shanti Kumari of Santali girl from Katai Dari Tola village that comes under Arki police station of Ranchi district in Jharkhand. Who is a victim of atrocities of state police and armies by violating various Rights and Acts that are provided for the tribals and child protection Acts in India. The session was an eye-opener for the delegates in identifying issues and connecting those issues with the legal implications.

The scholarly biblical studies on the Deuteronomic Laws of human and animal rights done by Rev. Dr. Ch. Vasantha Rao, the Principal of the Andhra Christian Theological College was a great challenge that helped us to understand how much care our creator God had given to animals and all creations. In return, it’s an apodictic law for us as human beings that any barbaric behaviour and attitude against our fellow human beings, animals and all creations is a crime against the creator God. It is a non-negotiable law. Therefore any inhumane activities and atrocities meted out to the tribals, Adivasis and dalits communities such as bonded labour, displacement, casteism, ethnicism, racism, classism, etc. are an absolute crime and sin.

Rev. Dr. PBM Basaiawmoit, the Senior Advisor for the IBSWO and Consultant NEDF and former Vice-President of the NCCI had made a powerful presentation on the issues of the North East Indian community with special reference to the increasing and alarming danger of the Dam projects in NEI. Dr. Basaiawmoit posed an important question to the political and economic power of the powerful Indian, of their greediness to extract power from the powerless community of the North East community. It was a call to the affluent and powerful people to stop expecting the tribal and adivasi community to continue their Sacrifices of their lives, land, waters, identity, etc. for their own benefit and comfort. The presentation was a slogan with ‘Damn the Dams’ and act humanely.

It was such privileged to have the panellists of the NCCI Executive Committee members such as Mr. K. Abraham, the General Secretary of the Good Samaritan Evangelical Lutheran Church, Mr. Ajoy Saha, Secretary of the Council of Baptist Church of North India and Bishop Nelson Lakhra, Bishop and Moderator of the Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church and hear their encouraging voices. The panellists shared the ministry of their churches with the experiences of pain, and trials that their local congregations are going through as being the tribal/adivasi church. At the same time the panellists also have shared their stories of joy and success making the church’s community a vibrant witness of the Gospel of Christ. The Church being an instrument of what kind of neighbour we ought to be for others by imparting knowledge through education, service and our day to day life.

To hear reflections from four theological students were indeed an interesting session. Ms. Sophia Makasare and Mr. Titty Y from Bishop’s College, and Ms. Likha Yallar and Mr. Paulson from Serampore College have shared biblical and theological queries each of them have when it comes to the question of Justice and Rights. Issues of the silence of God, the misused and abused of patriarchal powers and the issue of identity in the experience of alienation from land were highlighted within the context of the legal rights and acts for the tribal and adivasi people in India. Their sharing had provoked an interesting discussion with much thought to grapple with for widening our theological horizon.

The three days learning through facts and figures, debate and discussion was concluded with the presentation of Statement moderated by Mr. Kasta Dip, Director of India Peace Centre, Nagpur, which is one of the autonomous body of the NCCI. Statement was well taken by the participants after a careful deliberation on each sentence and paragraph, which is found here below.

Apart from the recommendations in the Statement, there are few suggestions for further action to be carried out by the Commission as well as the participants, which was moderated by the Chairperson of the Commission on Tribals and Adivasis. Such as:-
1. To organize a day seminar of the same theme in our respective institutions and church.
2. Mapping and listing of the Tribals/Adivasis’s districts in every Indian state.
3. Essay writing competition on the issues of Tribals and Adivasis be conducted by the Commission.
4. Publications of the outcome of this consultation.
5. Every August issue of the NCCI Review be set aside for the Tribal and Adivasi issues.

I express my heartfelt thanks to our partner church, Durgapur Diocese, Church of North India. My special thanks goes to The Rt. Rev. Dr. Probal Kanto Dutta, Bishop of Durgapur and all the administrative staff for their kind hospitality, with lovely food and a comfortable stay day and night that made our stay in St. Michael’s Campus a memorable and cherishing one. I thank all the theological colleges such as Serampore College, Bishop’s College, NIIPGTS, Andhra Christian Theological College and Aizawl Theological College and different churches for your active and enthusiastic participation. My special thanks goes to all our resource persons for your valuable contributions that enlightens our theological perspective. A big appreciation goes to St. Michael’s Children for their beautiful music during the Inaugural worship, and to Mr. Vanlalruata for his insightful Bible study. My sincere thanks also goes to Bishop Nelson Lakhra, the Chairperson of COT, Mr. K, Abraham, Committee member of COT and Mr. Ajoy Saha, Executive Committee of the NCCI for their leadership, support and encouragement to the works of the Commission. Needless to say, I thank all our friends who have moderated various sessions that helped us be on time all the days.

Dr. Hrangthan Chhungi
Executive Secretary
Commission on Tribals and Adivasis
National Council of Churches in India