Walking With the Poor and Marginalised

Posted on: 18 May, 2015

Modified on: 18 May, 2015



The social Apostolate in various forms has been the integral part of evangelization in Chotanagpur since the beginning of the mission in the late 19th century. Fr. Constant Lievens came to Chotanagpur in March 1885. His legal aid and assistance to the people of the area worked wonders. The people who were trapped by the lures of jagirdars, zamindars, thekadars and money lenders and were losing their land one after the other, found in him a great liberator who proved to be instrumental in restoring to them their lands. As they were able to redeem their land from the court, fraudulently taken away by the landlords and others, they accepted his faith too. Fr. Lievens and his companions (Huyghe, Cardon and Dehon) were not afraid to adopt an approach that was bound to conflict with the vested interests. They chose to be on the side of the oppressed, fostering in them the desire to take their destiny in their own hands.

Fr. J. B. Hoffmann continued to work on the land rights of the tribals in his own unique way. He wrote a special memorandum on the land system of the Mundas. He was the chief architect of the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908, a protective law for the tribals, dalits and backward classes. The Chotanagpur Catholic Mission Cooperative Credit Society (CCMCCS) was another of his monumental contributions to the economic empowerment and well being of the tribals which was followed by his down to earth initiatives of Dhan Golas (Rice Banks) and Catholic Cooperative Stores. Br. Lemonie started an Industrial School at St. John’s School, Ranchi to teach non-agricultural skills to the students like carpentry and building works. The same was done in Katkahi by Fr. Bodson in the second decade of the twentieth century. Similarly Fr. L. Claeskens opened a weaving and cottage industry in Ranchi for the diversification of jobs for the tribal people from the primary sector.

When Ranchi became an independent Province it was a blend of the missionary zeal of the pioneering Jesuits like Lievens and Hoffmann and institutionalization of social involvement like Catholic Mission Cooperative Credit Society. Ranchi Province was created at a time when the growth and expansion of the mission was in progress not only through the establishment of new parishes, educational institutions and political proliferation of the Christian tribal community, but also through the social interventions of the Missionaries like Fr. Edward de Meulder in protecting the land of the tribals through his Jamin Bachais Sabha which he started in 1944, like Fr. Herman Rasschaert who was martyred in Gerda (Kutungia) in an effort to establish peace between the two communities during the riots of 1964, like Bishop Oscar Severin who defended the Church from the unjust accusations in the Niyogi Report published in 1956 alleging the missionaries of indulging in anti-national activities.

There has also been the institutionalization of Social Apostolate in the Province. The Province has been and is still carrying out its social outreach and empowerment of the people through XISS (Xavier Institute of Social Service), Kishor Nagar (Boys Town), ATC (Agriculture Training Centre), Namkum, AROUSE, Gumla and its Extension Centers at Simdega and Lohardaga, Gram Utthan Kendra, Gumla, Hoffmann Law Associates, etc. However, the active involvement of the Province in the Peoples’ Movements against the mega projects of Koel Karo, Hydel Project, Netarhat Field Firing Range, Nagri Displacements and IBSA (Issue Based Social Apostolates) are worth mentioning.

AGRICULTURE TRAINING CENTRE (ATC), NAMKUM

The Agriculture Training Centre (ATC) at Namkum was started in 1962 with Fr. Jozef De Pypere, S.J. as its first Director (1960-1964). The main objective of ATC was to train students in improved methods of cultivation and to disseminate new skills in agriculture through an active extension service. Two types of courses were offered by the Centre – a junior course for non-matriculates and a senior one for matriculates. There was no guarantee of employment to the junior trainees. It was expected that after the course they would return to their villages and apply the new agricultural strategy learnt at the centre to their respective villages. The matriculates admitted to the senior training course were in the line of Village Level Workers (VLWs) also called Kamdars. This course was meant to make them agricultural advisers in various Extension Centres. Both the courses ran concurrently for 2 years. Besides the farm, there were also training program on other allied activities like piggery, poultry, dairy and carpentry.
ATC Namkum served the tribal farmers very well for thirty years since its inception till 1992 when it had to be closed due to the problem of the Labour Union. Nevertheless agriculture extension and training programmes have continued till very recently in different parishes of Ranchi. A serious thinking process has started to renew and rejuvenate the original mission and charism of ATC in the light of the present day need of the people in the rural areas.

St. Joseph’s Community College, Namkum

St. Joseph’s Community College was inaugurated on August 1, 2009 by Fr. Ranjit P. Toppo, S.J., the then Provincial of Ranchi Jesuit Province. It envisions a just and self-reliant community of the marginalized people who are socially, economically and culturally conscious and sustainable. It is committed to develop human education and resources among the underprivileged people, to impact their all round development, to bring about sustainable livelihood and income generation, to bring in understanding about the meaning of life and its challenges and to develop positive attitudes. It began with the training of the health assistants along with two more trades on driving (four wheelers) and electricity and electrical. The ANM students were 30 in number; the trainees for driving were 14 and 12 trainees were for electricity and electrical. These initiatives were taken keeping in mind the need and demand of the time to prepare our own brothers and sisters coming from interior, rural and backward areas of Jharkhand for increasing their employability. As of now, it has 22 nursing students. The premises and infrastructural facilities of ATC are being meaningfully used for the purpose.

Kishor Nagar

Kishor Nagar is 45 years young. At the end of 1969, Fr. Victor Van Bortel, then Assistant Parish Priest in Ranchi, took about 30 boys to a haunted house in Samlong. It was a group of youngsters, who had dropped out of school and were living on the streets. That is how Kishor Nagar was born. Fr. Victor moved with his flock to its present location at village Bargawan in January 1972. With the tenacity of a Flemish farmer Fr. Van Bortel took up the arduous task of building up the Kishor Nagar campus.
Today, five years after his death, Kishore Nagar is very much alive. There are now 620 boys: 30 of them are post-matric students and are pursuing their further studies. While there are a good number of orphans, the majority of the boys come from one parent families. No fees are charged; there is only a one time admission fee of Rs. 400/-. There is a total of 20 staff: 17 lay collaborators and 3 Jesuits.

Some Significant Events in 2014

In January 2014 a two-day Objective Setting Workshop was held with the teachers under the guidance of Dr. Sant Kumar of XISS. In April the new Dining hall was inaugurated. Introduction to Computer classes were held in XIPT for students of Class 9 and 10. The Ranchi Samaritans–Round Table India- donated more than 10,000 books for the library. The Kishor Nagar Munna football team captured the trophy in the Guru Bhakti Munna Football Competition, organized by St. Ignatius’ High School, Gumla.
Working at Kishor Nagar is a mission ‘at the frontiers’. It is feeling one’s way in an unexplored territory, finding a way of enabling the children from different backgrounds to live together as a family. We are called to walk with the boys, listening to them and also learning from them and to accompany them on their journey from childhood to adulthood. It calls us to be sensitive to the various ways in which God guides each one.

ANIMATION RURAL OUTREACH SERVICE (AROUSE)

AROUSE began as an outreach unit of St. Ignatius’ High School, Gumla on 2nd of October, 1978. Fr. Peter Paul Van Nuffel, S.J., the Principal of the School at that time, and a great educationist and visionary took this path-breaking initiative. Initially, AROUSE was extensively involved with the adult education programme under the aegis of the National Adult Education Programme of the Janata Government. In course of time, it took the shape of a full-fledged NGO (Non Governmental Organization) and was registered under the Societies Registration Act, 21 of 1860. It aims at promoting socially united, culturally integrated and just tribal and human communities through animation, organization, mobilization, capacity building, networking and advocacy, assistance and support for sustainable income generation. Since its inception, AROUSE has been working for the social, economic and cultural transformation and empowerment of the people of the area. Some of the significant interventions worth mentioning are: NLM (National Literacy Mission/Adult Education), Sericulture (with its silk processing unit), Village Balwadis (Kindergarten), Watershed Management, Micro-Economic Projects, EDP (Entrepreneurship Development Project), SHGs (Self-Help Groups), Food Processing Unit, Preservation and Promotion of Tribal Cultural Heritage of which the Tribal Museum is an integral part, etc. AROUSE Silk is still a brand name which enjoys recognition in the markets within the country as well as abroad. It is also to be noted with a sense of pride that AROUSE has been the recipient of Seth Baldeodas Shah Award for the year 1998-99 for promotion of sericulture among tribal, rural populace under the poverty alleviation programme in Gumla.

As of now, AROUSE has two sub-centres: (1) AROUSE, Simdega which was established on 19th March, 1994 and (2) AROUSE Lohardaga which was started on 1st June, 2006. AROUSE with all its extension centres is busy with some of the activities like (a) promotion of WSHGs (Women Self-Help Groups), (b) empowerment of tribal youth through promotion of Yuva Jhankars, (c) promotion of improved and diversified crops, as for example, System of Rice Intensification (SRI), vegetable production/ mixed crops, Potato Value Chain Development (PVCD), formation of Kisan Clubs, and (d) strengthening of community based organizations (CBOs) to access government social security benefits and judicious management of natural resources for reducing the risks of climate change, (e) micro-economic activities (sericulture, cultivation of ragi, green chili and ground nut, food preservation, poultry farming, goatry, fishery, duck rearing, retail shop, semialata plantation, etc), (f) EDP (Entrepreneurship Development Programme) like tailoring & embroidery, computer education, etc., (g) health awareness programmes, (h) promotion of tribal culture through tribal museum, (i) spiritual, intellectual and ethical formation of the High School children through Jeevan Pravesh, etc.

Gram Utthan Kendra

In 1992, Catholic Charities, Ranchi was divided further into the new Dioceses of Gumla, and Simdega in 1993. The Catholic Charities in Gumla was soon changed to, “Gram Utthan Kendra” in order to obviate the wrong impression that development was meant for a particular section and aimed at giving things only. A social need appeared which was no more fighting hunger, but awareness building. Farmers realized that together they could not only fight for their needs, but also could plan positive progress. Starting with group irrigation, they fanned out to skill training for the idle youth. Today there are 14 wisdom councils covering each 40 to 50 villages, committed to reflection on their assets and situation, and taking remedial initiatives. A new environment of concern for village communities is appreciable. Up to now untouched villages, learn to sit and listen to one another. This is a new experience of brotherhood, equality of gender and special care of the weak. A wider impact shows that these concerns open the hearts of any villager, where formerly the access was difficult or repudiated.