Jesuit education among tribals

Jesuit education among tribals With special reference to Central Zone of South Asian Assistancy

Augustine Kujur, SJ Principal of Loyola High School, Ranchi Province,

India Education is widely recognized as a means of human development. The 86th Constitutional amendment in India recognizes education as a fundamental right to all its citizens. However, a large section of the dalit (37.2%) and the tribal (38.4%) communities1 are still out of school, having no opportunity or no access to education. India with its huge population of 1.21 billion also has a huge tribal population of 104,281,034 (8.2%), spread all over India 2 . Some of the states have a very large tribal population, particularly in the North Eastern States (Mizoram-94.4%; Nagaland–86.5%; Meghalaya– 86.1%; Arunachal-68.8%; Manipur-35.1%; Tripura-31.8%) and central India (Chattisgarh- 30.6%; Jharkhand-26.2%; Odisha-22.8% and Madhyapradesh-21.1%)3. In fact this estimate is considered low by many social scientists. This huge population of tribals has remained the victims of oppression, exploitation, inequality, illiteracy, injustice, and neglect for decades. According to an Oxford University study done, using the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), the poverty level among the tribals is 81.4% and among the Scheduled Castes it is 65.8%4. Seeing the pathetic condition of these tribals in Central India, the Jesuits of central zone provinces, namely Dumka-Raiganj, Hazaribag, Jamshedpur, Madhya Pradesh and Ranchi, have taken a clear option and priority to bring education among them. The Jesuits have a huge task to bring them to the main stream. Having worked mainly in central India, I will reflect in this article only on Jesuit education in the central Zone of South Asian assistancy. These 5 provinces cover only some parts of the five states i.e., Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal. This paper has five sections: 1) Response of the missionaries to Educational need; 2) Present Challenges to Jesuit Education; 3) Jesuit response to these challenges; 4) Impact of Jesuit Education; and 5) Conclusion and a way forward. 1 GOI, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Selected Educational Statistics 2004-05 and NSSO. 2 3 4 Arun Kumar, Half of India’s Population lives below the poverty line, 3rd August 2010, 32 Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat Response of the missionaries to educational need in the past The history of Education in the central zone provinces dates back to the beginning of the missionary work towards the end of 19th century in Chhotanagpur, Santhal Paraganas and Singhbhum. One must note that Chhotanagpur mission was part of the Bengal mission till 1928 when Ranchi diocese was created. In the broad umbrella of Chhotanagpur mission were the present dioceses of Hazaribag, Raiganj, Gumla, Khunti and Simdega in Jharkhand; diocese of Sambalpur in Odisha, and the dioceses of Raigarh and Ambikapur in Chhattisgarh. Right from the beginning of the mission work, the education was very much associated with the proclamation of the good news to the poor and building of Christian community with special attention to the tribals. The missionaries realized very early that formal education was absolutely necessary to help tribals manage their own affairs especially in relation to the many land related court cases; excessive land taxes and to withstand forced labour and indignity they faced from their oppressors. It was further realized, if the Christians were to be faithful to the Gospel and stand up against the onslaught of external and unfriendly forces, education was a must. Present challenges to jesuit education in the Central Zone There is no doubt that education of the tribals has improved in the last few decades, but there is still a long way to go. The forms of discrimination and deprivation have changed while the gap between the rich and the poor is getting widened. Thanks to early missionaries and the present educational thrust, the provinces have opened primary and high schools in the interior rural areas, called dehat. The Society has also opened a considerable number of educational institutions for higher and professional studies. Another area of concern is in terms of branding of tribals as ‘Naxalites’ or ‘Maoists’5 (militant communist groups operating in different parts of India) and the use of violence, murder, rape, kidnapping, abduction, dacoity, robbery, arson, etc. against the innocent tribals in the name of eliminating these naxal/Maoist movements. Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha and some parts of Andhra Pradesh are considered as the “red corridor” states, (due to the colour that represents them) infested by these left wing extremist group. Many tribal boys and girls are kept behind bars under the pretext of being “Maoists/Naxalites” or even their supporters. What can the Jesuit education offer to reduce the pain and agony of these people and also to identify ourselves more with the ‘suffering Christ’? This is one of the major challenges for our education system in the provinces. A Jesuit response to the contemporary challenges When the Christian mission began to spread far and wide in Chhotanagpur, every mission station or a parish had a school. This was true especially wherever Jesuits went as pioneers; they spread Christian faith and at the same time promoted formal education. This was a process and a method used for the liberation of people from exploitation and oppression, and a way to empower and to give voice to the voiceless. 5 The terms ‘Naxalite’ and ‘Maoist’ are often used interchangeably. Promotio Iustitiae, n° 114, 2014/1 33 Focus of our Education Ministry In the recent past, the focus of our education is to cater education to the priority groups: tribals, poor and less privileged people. Our vision-mission statement goes as follows: “United by the bond of Ignatian spirit and mission, we commit ourselves to the service of faith and promotion of justice through educating all with whom we are associated – staff, students, parents – and make them competent, compassionate and persons of goodwill guided by well thought out networking. We further commit ourselves to prepare and update our men to be able to read the signs of time to bring social transformation”. Our Targets and Priorities: The central Zone has been trying to implement the resolutions of the annual meetings of Jesuit Education Apostolate (JEA) South Asia and carry out the action plans made in the triennial assemblies and the workshops held at the Zonal level. A lot of efforts have gone to share the Jesuit legacy with teachers, parents, students and other collaborators of which enhancement of self esteem, promoting tribal leadership and empowering them, faith formation, imparting human values, initiative to establish peace and communal harmony and care for mother earth are integral part of our priorities. It tries to spell out the characteristics of Jesuit education in Educational institutions. Central zone Provinces have made a great leap in this endeavour. A number of primary and high schools have been opened in the recent past in the tribal and backward regions with the purpose of educating and empowering them. The following table presents the number of Schools/Educational institutions run by Central Zone Jesuits and the number of students studying in them, which clearly indicates the option: Province No. of Schools / Institutions No.º of Students Tribals Dumka Raiganj 23 21,000 60 % Hazaribag 82 26,032 46 % Jamshedpur 34 37,100 50 % Madhya Pradesh 36 25,132 55 % Ranchi 94 49,092 70 % Impact of the Jesuit Education Ministry The Central zone Provinces have identified the main issues and challenges in terms of illiteracy, unemployment, exploitation caused by various forces, human/women trafficking, displacement, migration, ignorance, human rights violations, militarization of tribal areas (conflict), lack of governance, corruption, communalism, secularization, naxalism, and so on. These problems, however, are symptoms of the larger malaise. The Jesuit education in the Central Zone does not claim to resolve all these issues. However, it has been trying to bring in meaningful interventions in the lives of the people to make this world a little better place to live in. Hence, that “Kingdom of God”, which is being concretized through Jesuit education, is constantly promoting the Jesuit charisms. Hence, as part of the mission of the Jesuit education, the kingdom of God in concrete terms would be ‘to enhance 34 Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat the quality of life and protect the sacredness of the human person, primarily of the marginalized sections of society’. The Jesuit education has been able to do this to some extent. I try to capture here, the way in which the Jesuit education is trying to concretize God’s Kingdom here on earth for the tribal groups. Historically, the Jesuit education in the Central Zone has been able to empower the ‘powerless’ tribals, who due to their ignorance, were exploited and oppressed by antiKingdom forces, like zamindars (landlords), contractors, moneylenders, colonizers, and so on. The tribals were made to work as bonded labourers as they had virtually no voice. The Jesuit education gave them courage, power and strength to be their own voices. This process continues even to this day. Economically, the Jesuit education has helped the poor tribals to make progress in life. The tribals depended primarily on hunting and gathering subsistence economy for their daily sustenance. The Jesuit education equipped them with adequate knowledge to facilitate diversification of their economy. While they depended primarily on agriculture and forests, education helped them explore new vistas through professional occupations, jobs and other self-employment possibilities. Religiously, Jesuit education has also facilitated many local vocations, not only to the Society of Jesus but also to other religious congregations and dioceses. While in the Provinces of Jamshedpur, Hazaribag and Dumka-Raiganj, there are many tribal Jesuits, the Provinces of Ranchi and Madhya Pradesh has almost 99 percent of them from tribal communities. This would not be possible without the Jesuit education. Culturally, Jesuit education has helped in protecting, preserving and promoting tribal cultures in the region. Those who have been educated in Jesuit institutions have composed tribal hymns, collected tribal songs, myths, legends, stories, and tribal idioms and proverbs for the posterity. Above all, Jesuit education has been instrumental in initiating the process of enculturation in the region after the Second Vatican Council that has helped in the works of evangelization as well. Socially, the Jesuit education is trying to arrest the outmigration of tribal boys and girls to mega cities as domestic helps and cheap labour. Though Jesuit schools were primarily for boys initially, recognizing the need for girls’ education, many of our schools are starting to have both boys and girls. One of the efforts of the Jesuit schools in this zone has been to give quality education to its students so that there are fewer dropouts, and much fewer migrants to cities. Politically, tribals have become more conscious of their rights and duties to be good citizens of the country. Without education they are manipulated by vested interests. The Jesuit education equips them with adequate knowledge so that they can use their franchise to elect the right people. This political consciousness is also a sign that they are participating in the democratic process of the country to bring in transformation in their lives. This is also a sign that our students are participating in the process of nation-building. Spiritually, there is character formation of the students in Jesuit institutions, which is absent in many other educational institutions. The charism, such as magis, excellence, discernment, choices, the greater glory of God, etc. are translated in terms of action. These become the buzzwords for the teachers and the students. These values are carried home when the students pass out from our institutions. Promotio Iustitiae, n° 114, 2014/1 35 Education is one of the crucial solutions to the problem of Maoism and Naxalism. Many tribal youth today join the naxal movement because they are disillusioned by the system. Most of them are dropouts. They recognize the injustices done to them through pillaging and plundering of their tribal land and other natural and mineral resources. If they are educated well, instead of taking to arms, they will be employed in other institutions and enterprises. Although the Jesuit education is preventing many youngsters from joining such underground movements, much more still needs to be done to bring the misguided youth back to the mainstream. In a multi-cultural context like ours, the Jesuit institutions, to some extent, are able to inculcate in our students, reverence and respect for all cultures, all faiths and all traditions. Fundamentalism in any form is not tolerated in our institutions. Some of our institutions have also collaborated with other organizations promoting peace and harmony. Some anti-social forces are trying to poison the young minds by spreading hatred. Our institutions try to inculcate love, harmony, social justice, etc. in the consciousness of our students. Conclusion and the way forward To conclude, we would like to humbly submit that the endeavor of the Jesuit education is only a drop in the ocean. There are anti-Kingdom forces constantly at work. However, we try our best to make at least ‘some difference’ in the lives of people, primarily among the tribals and other marginalized sections of the society. Thanks to the Jesuit missionaries, education entered into remotest villages, where no other schools - the government or any other – had any access. The real way forward for the Jesuits of the Central Zone at this juncture of history is to adhere to the guiding principles of the Society of Jesus and the early missionaries manifested in their vision. It must continue its legacy of bringing about Human freedom from all types of bondages as started by the great missionaries. More specifically it needs to address today the above mentioned issues and challenges besides others. The Jesuit educators must respond to these challenges squarely through programs of action in their respective contexts as per their knowledge, expertise and social movements. Original English