Industrialists main troublemakers for indigenous people: Catholic bishop

 (In the picture)

Jharsuguda: Heavy mining has disrupted tribal and dalit communities while rapid mining has led to serious environmental degradation and pollution, bemoans a Catholic bishop in Odisha, a state that accounts for nearly 17 percent of India’s total mineral reserve.

“Heavy mining has the greatest effects on human, animals and plants. Rapid mining has been the foremost contributor to environmental degradation and pollution,” asserted Bishop Niranjan Sual Singh of Sambalpur at a workshop in Jharsuguda, an upcoming industrial hub of mainly metal and cement sectors.

The May 19-20 workshop at Utkal Jyoti Pastoral Centre addressed mining and migration and related social and economic problems. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Office for Justice, Peace and Development, New Delhi, organized the workshop in collaboration with Odisha Forum.

Bishop Singh, who heads a predominantly tribal diocese, justified the workshop saying, “It is extremely important for us to know the present situation in order to bring about peace, justice and dignity in society. Due to development purpose, industrialists come to tribal areas. Industrialists are the main cause of troubling to the development indigenous people.”

According to him, tribal people depend solely on their land for livelihood. “Sadly, heavy mining has brought big challenge for the tribal and Dalit people,” Bishop Singh told some 60 Church workers from Odisha’s five Catholic dioceses.

The prelate urged the Church in India to become convinced, compassionate and inspired to bring about change. “It must be an agent of change,” he added.

According to Bishop Singh development of society without development of an individual makes no sense. “We may have good roads, railways, housing, and so on but if every citizen of country doesn’t develop, it makes no sense. The poor and the downtrodden people need to be given more focus for their all-round development,” the 54-year-old prelate added.

Dayamani Barla, tribal woman activist from Jharkhand state, Odisha’s northern neighbor, noted that the whole country is fighting for peace, justice, development and harmony.

Asserting that indigenous people are the original settlers and original inhabitants of earth, she said tribal culture dies when these people are removed from their own land, water and jungle.

“Adivasi (indigenous) culture, their life, behavior, languages and ethics have direct connection with the water, land and jungle. Thus they have their own importance with regard to jungle, water, land and environment at large,” said Barla, who is known as the “Iron lady of Jharkhand” for campaign for tribal rights.

“We are like soldiers in our own land. It is our great duty and responsibility to fight for our human rights, to fight for our tribal rights and avail justice,” she added.

Prashant Paikray, spokesperson of a movement that opposes a steel plant in Odisha by South Korean conglomerate POSCO, said that in the name of development hundreds of multi-national companies are allowed to start mining in tribal areas. However such mining seriously affect the indigenous people.

The mining brings disaster instead of development to indigenous people, he lamented. “Money and political power can do nothing if our people are united and stand as one,” he asserted.

Fr. Savari Raj, director of Chetanalaya, social service wing of Delhi archdiocese, said displacement has led to trafficking of tribal women. They take up jobs as maids in cities such as Delhi, but are underpaid, sexually abused and deprived of healthcare, the priest noted. He stressed the need for setting up rescue operation and safe migration process to prevent such women trafficking.

Fr. Charles Irudayam, secretary of CBCI Office for Justice, Peace and Development, explained why the Church is involved in social activism. “God has endowed every human person with an inherent and inalienable dignity which entails basic rights. The Church is mandated to protect human rights and to educate its members about the dignity, liberty and equality of all humans. Respect for human rights is the requisite for peace,” he said.

Fr. Ajay Kumar Singh, director Odisha Forum, presented political environment impacting Tribal and Dalit communities in India. According to him, Adivasi, Dalit, Muslim and Christian Dalit form 34 percent of India’s 1.28 billion people. However, none from these communities are found among Supreme Court and High Court Judges.

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