Consultation on “Prophetic Role of Church Leaders in the midst of Injustices” held from 4-6 July 2017 at Durgapur.

National Council of Churches in India – Dalit and Tribal/Adivasi Concerns
in partnership with EMW-Germany, Christian Service Agency and Diocese of Durgapur-CNI

Consultation on “Prophetic Role of Church Leaders in the midst of Injustices”
Date:  4th  – 6th  July 2017
Venue: Diocesan Bhavan, Aldrin Path, Bidhan Nagar, Durgapur (W/B)

The Church has been in solidarity with the oppressed and the marginalized, but the time has come when solidarity in spirit alone is insufficient to resurrect failing courage, and hopelessness, in the wake of injustice and atrocities perpetrated on vulnerable sections of society, particularly on Dalits, Tribals and Adivasis, setting their life and livelihood at risk, affecting them physically, mentally and spiritually, and destroying the collective will of survival. The time has come to recognize that the engagement of the Church is the need of the hour, as it stands for values of the Reign of God and ‘just-peace’ for all. The Church has to be sensitive to the struggles of Dalits, Tribals and Adivasis and cannot remain a mute spectator to atrocities inflicted on them in terms of marginalization, loss of identity, dehumanization, trafficking and displacement caused by lop-sided development. It has to redefine the meaning of “Justice” in the context of globalization that seeks to exploit natural resources without considering its impact on the indigenous people, and ensure a life of dignity, peace and security for Dalits. It has to be inclusive, acknowledging Jesus as the dynamic ideal and model for ensuring justice.

In order to make the Church leaders of member churches and regional councils, who are involved in working with Dalits and Tribals/ Adivasis, well acquainted with the new developing forms of oppression and resistance, NCCI-Dalit and Tribal/Adivasi Concerns, in partnership with Evangelisches Missionswerk in Deutschland  (EMW, Germany), Christian Service Agency and Diocese of Durgapur – Church of North India (CNI) organized a three days consultation for Central and Northern region of India on the theme “Prophetic Role of Church Leaders in the midst of Injustices” from 4th – 6th July 2017 at Diocesan Bhavan, Aldrin Path, Bidhan Nagar, Durgapur. A total of 37 Church Leaders from member churches and regional councils of central and northern regions of India participated. The goal of the consultation was to highlight the Prophetic role of Church leadership in the context of oppression. It also endeavored to explore on how, under ever changing discriminative circumstances, the ministers of the church can render service that builds up the oppressed. The consultation started with a creative worship service led by Mr. Pradip Bansrior, Executive Secretary- Dalit and Tribal Concerns-NCCI along with a team, during which a reflection was given by Rev. Vijay Kumar, Vice- President of Diocese of Amritsar and a member of North West Frontier Council of Churches. Following the inaugural worship, Mr. Pradip Bansrior welcomed the delegates and resource persons and shared the purpose of the consultation and also extended his sincere thanks and gratitude to Rt. Rev. Dr. Probal Kanto Dutta, Bishop of Diocese of Durgapur for hosting the consultation in the Diocese of Durgapur, CNI.

Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad, General Secretary – NCCI delivered the inaugural address on the theme. He said that the call to all of us as Church leaders is to respond to the challenge of oppressive systems like caste, as an expression of love for and solidarity with the historical victims of such systems. While highlighting extensively the contextual plight and the atrocities encountered by the Dalit and Tribal/ Adivasi communities, he presented the responses of church leaders and ecumenical bodies to the same: campaigning  for rights to be granted to dalit Christians and Muslims; campaigning for purging caste from within  some  churches; the various programme and activities the NCCI  at national, regional and grassroots levels for tribal/adivasi people ;  the national policy guidelines on indigenous people in India; etc. All leaders were invited to commit their churches likewise to these causes.

Rev. Lucia Tudu, Director of NELC Recording Studio, Dumka presented a paper on “Violence and Atrocities against Dalit and Tribal/Adivasi Children and Women.” She said that despite several laws to protect and safeguard the interests of Dalit and Adivasi women and children, violence not only continues but is on the rise. The presence of dedicated departments in the Government of India like the Ministry of Women and Child development, Ministry of Human Resource development, Ministry of Health and Family welfare, have not been able to tackle the issues effectively. She also mentioned that the literacy rate is still very low with a rise in school dropouts. In order to uplift, empower and bring transformation at the grassroots level, Rev. Lucia Tudu vehemently urged the church leaders to implement and create opportunities to give vocational and skill training ; to counsel, educate and introduce a legal cell or help desk; to advocate their rights and privileges, health training, seminars, etc. Our biggest challenge is to find, facilitate and pursue alternative ways of addressing issues of atrocities. We need not be famous, or in positions of power to do that. We just need to understand that our intervention is influential; we need to be aware of the issues, understand the constitutional and legal framework of confronting them, be empathetic and respond to the discrimination around us.

Rev. Caesar David, Executive Secretary of Communication- NCCI presented a paper on “Prophetic Communication: Mission of the Dalit and Tribal/ Adivasi Churches.” He asserted that a strong communication department is a must for every church and council because the power of social media networking cannot be underestimated today. Rev. David advocated four basic functions of a prophetic communicator viz.: 1) Agent of truth: A prophetic communicator should have a passion for truth and dare to confront propaganda; 2) Visionary: To be well abreast of current socio-political happenings, and look ahead with foreknowledge; 3) Champion of Justice: Should fight for justice like prophets Amos and Micah who confronted injustices; 4) Bridge: A prophetic communicator creates and builds bridges between various stakeholders, to enabled dialogue for wider public domain that leads to inclusion, participation and enablement, and other  creative solutions.

The second day began with morning worship led by Rev. Ashish Khristi, member of Gujrat Council of Churches, along with the participants of Diocese of Chotanagpur. It was followed by Bible Study led by Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad. On the basis of Biblical passages (1 Peter 2:13-15; 1 Pet.5:13; Rev. 4:18-19; Luke 4:18-19 and Lev.25), he made the participants to rethink the traditional perception of many Christians that they must be subject to political rulers, even when the latter are unjust. He went on to challenge the church leaders to play a prophetic role in society in the midst of injustices.  He asserted that the purpose and rationale of the Church’s mission is to be light, leaven and salt of the earth towards making the earth a place where the God of love, justice and peace will be at home with humans and all creation.

Mr. Bineet Mundu (Coordinator – Bindrai Institute for Research Study and Action, Ranchi) in his presentation spoke on “Impact of Globalization and Development Policies on Dalits and Tribals/Adivasis.” He opined that globalization impacts not only national and regional economies, causing ever-greater social and economic injustice, it also destroys relationships among individuals, groups, communities, and nations causing conflicts, war and violence. It affects the environment of our whole inhabited earth. The neo-liberal model has intensified poverty, migration, labor export and trafficking, adversely affecting the survival of the labor class i.e. Dalits, Adivasis and Tribals. Today, we need economic systems which are just and inclusive, which stand in solidarity with all marginalized people and bring in holistic development of all.

A panel discussion on the topic “Dalits and Tribals/Adivasis: Struggle for reclaiming their Human Rights.” was presented by three delegates; Rev. Amos Massey from Punjab, Mr. Ramesh Hembrom from Patna, and Mr. Tonol Murmu from Kolkata. They asserted that there is a need for rethinking and reorienting ourselves particularly following the line of defiance against exploitative systems, and the need for reviving that spirit of resilience in today’s context. We have a strong Dalit Theology which is very encouraging, but if we look at many of the environmental and Adivasi movements, particularly of those in the central India, we need a rethinking on tribal/adivasi theologies and ideologies in the context of the impact of the neo-liberal political economic situation today. In the context of the upcoming environmental and Adivasi movements, how can the Church play an instrumental role was a point of discussion. Churches would have to address issues concerning local governance, development, livelihood and so on in the background of the international legal instruments vis-à-vis the state and the institutions we represent.

Rev. Dr. Fr. Monodeep Daniel (Chairman – Delhi Brotherhood Society, New Delhi) presented a paper on the theme: “Prophetic Role of Church Leaders in the midst of Injustices.” In his presentation he said that the sole cause of injustice is rooted in religion and ideologies; the so called caste system enforced by Hindu religion and the ideologies of Hindutva. Dr. Monodeep presented four models of leadership to encounter injustices by citing an example of exceptional Indian leaders in the times past: Ministerial model of leadership set forth by Emperor Asoka; Magisterial model of leadership exemplified by Emperor Akbar; Managerial model of leadership as seen in the life of  Pandita Ramabai; and Transformational model of leadership, as exhibited  by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. Nonetheless, Jesus Christ represents to us an ideal articulation of all the four models of Ecclesial Leadership.

 The morning worship on the third and final day was led by Rev. Ashish Kristi and the participants. It was followed by a Bible Study led by Rev. Dr. Fr. Monodeep Daniel. The passage was taken from the Gospel according to Matthew 9:18-26. He deliberated on the passage from a Dalit perspective, focusing on issues of “Sacred and Profane.” He asserted that the good news today is: There is nothing as such that is profane and which should be excluded; all are accepted and equal in Christ.

In the final session, the Statement of the consultation prepared by the Statement Drafting Committee was presented on the basis of outcomes of the sessions and group discussions. It was reviewed and finalised by the delegates.

The three days consultation provided a unique opportunity for the participants:

  • to discuss and address various issues based on the struggles of the Tribals/Adivasis and Dalits in the context of contemporary challenges of globalization and casteism, digital divide, unemployment, identity crisis, elitist education system, sex crimes,  socio-economic, political and cultural oppression,  and the present ‘evangelical’ trends,
  • to highlight the urgency of publicizing  the  struggles of the Dalits and Tribals/Adivasis in the churches and society, and
  • to rediscover a relevant Biblical and theological vision in today’s context which would inspire and facilitate the formation of Just and Inclusive communities.

The consultation concluded with vote of thanks offered by Mr. Mathingmi Hongchui (Intern) and the closing prayer and benediction were pronounced by Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad.

Statement of the Consultation

We, 37 leaders from the Member Churches, Regional Councils and Church-based organisations of National Council Churches in India met from 4th – 6th July 2017 at Diocesan Bhavan, Aldrin Path, Durgapur for a Consultation of Church Leaders of Northern and Central Regions of India in partnership with Evangelisches Missionswerk in Deutschland (EMW Germany), Christian Service Agency and Diocese of Durgapur-Church of North India. We reflected on the theme: “Prophetic Role of Church leaders in the midst of Injustices.” We studied, and deliberated at length on, issues such as, “Violence and Atrocities against Dalit and Tribal/Adivasi children and women”, “Prophetic Communication: Mission of the Dalit and Tribal/Adivasi Churches”, “Impact of Globalization and Development Policies on Dalits and Tribals / Adivasis”, “Struggle for reclaiming Human Rights of Dalits and Tribals / Adivasis” and other related problems and concerns of Dalit, Tribal and Adivasi communities.

On the situation of Dalits, Tribals and Adivasis in the present context, we made the following observations:

  1. There is no equality in law, wages and opportunities in society; therefore dalits, tribals and adivasis are the worst sufferers.
  2. They do not have protection from different kinds of violence and from human trafficking
  3. Causes of injustice are structural and deep-rooted in religion, philosophy and ideology.
  4. Development policies for Dalits, Tribals and Adivasis are an extension of the corporate globalization programme. Many aspects of development are not people-friendly and just, such as displacement and migration, land alienation, loss of livelihood, lack of proper rehabilitation etc.
  5. Legislations are being changed in the interest of the market-economy.
  6. Land ownership percentage of these focus groups is getting reduced day by day and this is a serious concern.
  7. There is a struggle for reclaiming human rights. Rights are there only on paper, in documents like the UN Declarations and the Indian Constitution, but their application / implementation is found lacking.
  8. Christian Dalits experience identity crisis vis-à-vis their entitlement to the constitutional legal rights or privileges as Scheduled Castes (SC) or Other Backward Classes (OBC).
  9. Constitutional categories of SCs and STs are dependent on the religion they profess and the place (State / U.T.) they choose to reside in. This is very unjust.
  10. Youth from these people groups face psycho-social insecurities. Often they are forced to denounce their Christian identities and pressurized to participate in activities of their peers from other communities. They are rejected by the community that they belong to, and they are not accepted by the community that they embrace.
  11. School dropout rates of students of these communities are alarmingly high.
  12. There are observed failures of state roles e.g. Non-access of minimum support price for farm produce; dysfunctional procurement system; legal safeguards like the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, land tenancy laws like the CNT Act, SPT Act etc. are deliberately being changed to accelerate land alienation.
  13. People belonging to these focus groups are harassed by the state on the pretext of addressing Maoist threats.
  14. Awareness is lacking concerning Dalit, Tribal and Adivasi rights, laws, government schemes, etc.
  15. People in these communities, especially women and children of these groups, need to be empowered by the Church. They need security to their person.
  16. The message of the Gospel does not approve of caste ideology and practices. Some of the Churches have to get rid of casteism from among them.
  17. Some Churches, or more specifically, their governance / policy / decision-making bodies, are not yet prepared, or in a position, to address the issues of Dalits, Tribals and Adivasis.

Therefore, we call upon Churches to:

  1. Re-read the scriptures and interpret the same relevantly in the present day socio-cultural context, using contemporary linguistic expressions.
  2. Continue to give expression to the Gospel wherever there is need. The ideology of discrimination needs to be opposed by egalitarian ideology.
  3. Equip all church leaders with information and knowledge about policies for the disadvantaged people groups, legal procedures and other basic technical requirements. Churches can actively seek opportunities for relevant training workshops / seminars of their personnel. Government Officials and Experts from related fields could be invited in such seminars and training workshops organized by the Churches.
  4. Conduct programmes/projects regarding gender-justice awareness, as well as information about, and action against human trafficking.
  5. Develop Codes of Conduct and Policies relating to Dalits, Tribals and Adivasis implement the same in their bodies.
  6. Ensure that no Dalit or Tribal/ Adivasi Child is deprived of education at any cost. The Churches can develop programmes for vocational and skill trainings that will educate, and also provide means for livelihood.
  7. Play a more proactive and innovative role to generate employment opportunities for Dalits, Tribals and Adivasis.
  8. Make church policies for employment opportunities more accountable and transparent.
  9. Make efforts towards clarification by the Government of India of the Status of Indigenous People (IP) in India
  10. Engage in policy advocacy towards ratification and implementation by the Government of India of International Conventions and Covenants like the ILO Convention No. 169 and the UNDRIP.
  1. Engage in lobby-advocacy for suitable changes in governmental policies.
  2. Develop strong communication departments in every church.
  3. Promote greater Christian unity and execute a prophetic role in society by facilitating evangelical-transformational leadership.

We believe that it is by divine grace that we have been able to arrive at this point of understanding, and submit to God with the hope that in His strength, the Churches, in unity with one other, may be able to accomplish all these for the benefit of all God’s creatures.

Pradip Bansrior
Executive Secretary
Dalit and Tribal/ Adivasi Concerns
National Council of Churches in India.

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