India’s Catholic Church observed the International Day of Indigenous Peoples on Wednesday with a call to protect indigenous people and their cultural heritage and prevent their exploitation. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) and the CBCI Office for Tribal Affairs organized a conference in New Delhi to mark the 10th International Day of Indigenous Peoples.
The conference focused on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Indian context. In a final statement, the conference highlighted some guidelines that should be followed such as ensuring effective enforcement of laws that protect indigenous peoples, preservation of their language, culture and traditions, as well as protection from identity loss. It urged special attention to the most vulnerable indigenous groups and decisive action should be undertaken against traffickers of women and girls who are often taken from their villages to be sold in large cities. Indigenous people, known in India as Adivasis or tribals, represent 8.6 per cent of the Indian population, and are divided into some 705 distinct groups.
It was on 13 September 2007, that the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UN estimates there are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world, living across 90 countries. They make up less than 5 per cent of the world's population, but account for 15 per cent of the poorest. They speak an overwhelming majority of the world's estimated 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures.
Ordeal of Indian adivasis
In India, the indigenous people have long been subjected to forced seizures, eviction, expropriation, social exclusion, discrimination and economic and social backwardness. For this reason, the Catholic Church of India is committed to improving their living conditions and achieve full equality of treatment. For the bishops, this requires the “full application" of health, socio-economic and educational development programmes, as well as the creation of appropriate facilities – schools, hospitals, etc. – in tribal areas. This task belongs to "the government and all men and women of good will".
The conference presented a picture of the Adivasi’s critical situation in India. About 75 per cent of tribal families live below the poverty line. Only 19.7 per cent have access to drinking water, and 77.4 per cent lack access to health facilities. School dropout is over 70 per cent and infant mortality rate is 62.1 per cent. In 2015 alone, the number of acts of violence recorded against members of tribal groups exceeded 11,000. And tribal women are among the poorest and marginalized in Indian society.
The conference also pointed out that public spending showed how little attention governments pay to the Adivasi cause. Only 2.39 per cent of public resources are allocated to improve the condition of tribal populations who are 8.6 per cent of the population.
According to Fr Nicholas Barla, a tribal Oraon from Odisha and secretary of the CBCI Office for Tribal Affairs, the measures included in various development plans fail to meet established goals. In his view, governments and stakeholders should not leave anyone out from development.
"The Catholic Church strongly believes in development for the poor and marginalized, without any distinction, because Jesus himself taught us to be in their service," said CBCI secretary general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas. The prelate noted that all Catholic institutions and organizations want to "work in partnership with the authorities, the United Nations, and other local and international organizations to protect and preserve the identity of tribal communities." (Source: AsiaNews)