A Province of Society of Jesus in South Asia Assistancy
THE HISTORY OF THE CHOTANAGPUR MISSION
Posted on: 4 Jun, 2019|Modified on: 1 Dec, 2014
By Fr . James Toppo S.J
Dear Fathers and Brothers, you know very well that within a short duration of two hours, it is impossible to narrate the whole history of Chotanagpur Mission. So, I would not like to try the impossible, though I must say that the history of the Bengal Mission is very interesting, captivating, inspiring and strengthening one’s faith. What I am going to do is to pick and choose certain events, persons, periods and weave them up in a thread of chronology, so that to you it would appear as a sketchy history all the same.
To understand me you would require the basic knowledge of history and geography of Chotanagpur in the second half of the 19th century. For the sake of history just recall three things in your minds – 1) The word “Kohl” originally meant people from Kolhan, the country of the Hos; Chaibasa and around. Some people of Kolhan used to serve as coolies in Calcutta. They were honest and hardworking labourers but because of their unintelligible language, queer cultural traditions and low social status as compared with all the other ethnic groups in Calcutta and around were regarded as coming from the lowest strata of human society, almost subhuman. The word Kohl stood to connote the backwardness of the people.
In course of time all tribals got the same name, for the same reason, being the most degraded and depressed group of people of history of the times. In fact even today the word Kohl is a pejorative term, it denotes, the uncultured, the uncouth, the uncivilized, and the “hate-worthy” people. They were human only because they walked on their two legs, for the rest they were as good as animals. Speaking of human rights was as good as barking at the wrong tree. 2) In 1861 census among the tribals there were hardly 3 persons out of a thousand who could, with great difficulty, write their names. Literacy wise the tribals, therefore were at the lowest wrung of the ladder, though those were the years when India had fought the first War of Independence (1857) and according to the History books National awakening all over the country was significantly marking the new age. You can understand the socio-political situation of the tribals by comparing them with the rest. 3) Subjugation, oppression, exploitation and suppression of the tribal peoples, in Chotanagpur by 1835 was almost complete once the kohl Insurrection or the revolt of the Larka Kohls against the Dikus, the British, the Zamindaers, the Thikedars, the Mahajans and the money-lenders was suppressed and a different system of administration was worked out for the tribals by the Britishers, called the Wilkinsoin’s Rule of the South Western Frontier Agency. This special administrative system was not due to the credit given to the freedom loving tribals but a technique to keep them quiet, without disturbing the progressive society of the British as well as the other progressing societies of the area.
From Calcutta to Midnapur there were some sort of transport and communication systems. But from Midnapur if you tried to travel westward, you were in the country of the wild; no roads, not even cartable roads of the Indian villages, because of the hills and dales, valleys and ravines, rivers and streams, and above all the endless forests, thoroughly inhabited by wild animals and birds, snakes and reptiles, but almost untrodden by “the cultured” human feet. Jungle dwellers, the tribals of Chotanagpur had no need of roads, footpaths suffices for them, and those footpaths could lead you to anywhere even to the worst slopes and to the sharpest climbs through the dense forests and the impenetrable jungles, across the rivers and streams without bridges. Foot-paths of the tribals are like the wild imaginations of a day-dreamer In our narratives we shall be talking only of the footpaths especially when we are dealing with the initial fifteen to twenty years of the mission history
Let us, now, clarify what we plan to do. We are going to try to catch the spirit of the first missionaries, our predicessors; try to see the motivating force that drove them almost like mad, to achieve something. For younger members it would be worthwhile knowing that Chotanagpur Mission is one of the most successful, almost miraculously successful mission of the church.
Shall we begin by looking at the country geographically. The great drama of the initial fifteen years has been played in this region. Here is Midnapur and here is Chaibasa. In between there is the hilly terrain, forests, rivers, ravines, anything you can think of in the situation of the wild, except roads. There were not even cartable roads in that region. The inmates of the vast jungle area, the tribals, did not need roads. What they needed were footpaths, and those footpaths, as it has been said earlier, could lead the traveler to any place, the deep gorges, or the mountain tops, even to the ravine beds and inside the bushes for miles on end. It was in this hilly terrain that Fr. Augustus Stockman, the first Jesuit priest, traveled with his catechist Alois Bose, took ten days to cover the distance of 80 miles ,on a bullock cart. That was in 1868,when Fr.Stockman was on his first fact-finding mission: i.e. where did these Kohls come from, what was their strength like, was there any possibility of preaching the good news to them ?
Fr.Stockman stayed in Chaibasa for five weeks and went back to Calcutta like the scouts of Moses to tell to the Jesuits in Calcutta how fertile and also difficult the newly discovered vineyard was, and to prepare himself for the new adventure that would last for life not only his own but of like minded many more enthusiasts who would dedicate their lives without counting the cost, only motivating factor being the spread of the kingdom of God among these Kohls the most backward community of the Indian society.
Initial 15 years of the missionary activities in Chotanagpur were spent in the little corner of the famous Tebo Ghat area, half way above the hills. The fact is that for 5 years just like the German Lutheran missionaries in 1845, Stockman too had absolutely no success, the Hos of Kolhan just wouldn’t bite on the bate even though it was the good news of eternity. In 1873 a whole group of 70 adults stepped forward to accept the offer but when the time did come for baptism, only 27 took the daring step, they were Mundas not Hos. The first baptisms were conferred to the neophytes by the Bishop of Calcutta, Bishop Steins himself in Khuntpani, a village about 40 Km .still further away from Chaibasa. Acceptance by the Mundas, of Christian faith added fuel to the fire, now they wouldn’t be allowed to settle anywhere in Kolhan. So, Fr. Stockman, not only with his bag and baggage but also with his 27 new converts and their families went further westward into the hills until they came in the Munda territory, and settled in Burudih and Tutui. Burudih is on the hilltop while Tutui is in the valley. An insignificant community in the most insignificant place of the Munda kingdom, started leading a new way of life, it was a seed germinating quietly under the earth waiting for the new shoots to sprout.
Within another three years Burudih would give birth to three more mission centers, Sarwada, Dolda and Bandgaon, thus the four parishes, known as the quadrilateral parishes of the mission lit a little lamp that remained hidden in the thick jungles of the Tebo Ghat. It was the most difficult place to live and to work, population being very very sparse, communication equally difficult and malaria being the easiest malady to contact.
Beginning from 1868 to 1885, the initial 16 years were the most difficult, the most painful, the most trying years of the mission.They were also the years of greatest satisfaction to the eight heroes of the beginnings,(1)Fr. Augustus Stockman who responded to the first call, fell ill went all the way to China for recovery only to come back to Chotanagpur mission. (2) Fr. Sapar who had joined this band after two decades of missionary experience in Mandasore. (3)Fr.Fierens, the indefatiguable slogger in silent dedication. (4) Fr. Mullender, the young Turk in our jargon, or the first Demoulder of the Ranchi mission, for those who knew Fr. Demoulder of happy memory, until some ten twelve years ago. (5) Fr.Desmet the born linguist for whom Mundari seems to have been as easy as a cricket game. (6) Fr.Motet the man of the management skills, and vision, who bought the Coffee Bagan along the Purulia Road. (7)Fr. Decock the builder and (8) Fr.Lauchwitze who reminds us of the promising children going to their graves at the very early young age. He died within six months of his arrival in the Chotanagpur mission.
What were the achievements?
1..First five years nothing at all. No Ho would show even the remotest indication of accepting the good news. Even after the 27 Mundas accepted the faith, others came in slow trickles. Number wise returns after sixteen years was hardly 2120.again only the Mundas. Not a single one from among the Hos.
2.Some sort of three ramshackle bungalows were constructed in Burudih, Sarwada, and Bandgaon. One at Dolda never saw the day of its completion even after hundred years.A very small school was constructed in Sarwada.
3.Mundas have been befriended. They looked at the Catholic missionaries as their well wishers and not as enemies.
4.All the missionaries learnt the lesson that if they wanted their dedication to last longer for better and greater service, they must learn to protect themselves from Malaria, Blackwater fever, and survival with the most frugal meal.
5.Missionaries had found out the vastness of the Munda country, and its perilous terrain
and equally perilous Munda language and culture.They were happy that they had succeeded in becoming Mundas themselves, even though only partly.
1885 THE SECOND BEGINNING WITH FR.LIEVENS
So far we have used seven names of places only, namely Chaibasa, Khuntpani , Burudih, Sarwada, Dolda and Bandgaon. Let us add some more names in our list, Budma. This was the place where Fr.Mullender had started to live before starting Sarwada, a very very unhygienic place for a parish. Hence immediate shift to Sarwada was opted for.. It is hardly two KM away from Sarwada. While working on the little house in Budma the workers who had come to do the work had come all the way from Jamgain, which is almost sixty KM away, closer to Duranda ,out of the forest area of the quadrilateral parishes. Jamgain is a village on the border line of the Munda and the Kurukh or the Oraon country. In 1885 when Fr.Leivens came to Duranda via Giridih and Hazaribagh, it was Fr.Decock he met in Duranda,who was chaplain to the Madrasi Regiment stationed there, who also kept contact with the people in Jamgain Next day of his arrival Fr.Lievens rode to Jamgain,and the neighbouring villages, on a fact finding mission just as Fr.Stockman had done in 1868 from Midnapur to Chaibasa.He discovered that side by side with the Munda people there were the Oraons who differed considerably from their Munda neighbours in terms of language and character. But inspite of their differences the exploitation they suffered from the hands of the Zamindars and the Thikedars ,the Mahajans and the money lenders were the same. System of baithbegari, forced labour without remuneration, was a legalized evil that sucked the life blood out of even the sturdiest of tribals because of its exaggerated inhuman demands.
The tribal peoples had some evils of their own too, fear of the evil spirits and the bhoots, but more than that the harassment they had to undergo under the despotic moneylenders, the mahajans and the thikedars affected their daily lives too negatively. There was no chance of their betterment as long as this lasted..
Often we tribals of the present age don’t understand what baithbegari meant, to our forefathers hundred and fifty years ago. Literally it means work without remuneration. But in reality it implied the involvement of the whole family, father, mother, sons, daughters, nephews and nieces along with the uncles and aunties if it was a joint family; all men and women who were able to work. Secondly it meant that the whole household should be at the beck and call of the person who was calling the family for baithbegari, beginning at dawn and continuing till the dusk, some of the male folks might have to oblige the masters even during the late hours in the evening, depending on what kind of work it was. Thirdly, this whole service was to be done gratis, without any remuneration. Fourthly, days of baithbegari in a year could be anywhere between 144 to 288 days. The explanation given by the Raja of Jashpur to the Commissioner of Chotanagpur was that their raiyats could not pay their taxes in cash and therefore they had to pay it through labour, or else they would have to leave the kingdom to find new domiciles just as many people had left Biru Raj to become the raiyats of Jashpur and Surguja. This shows that Baithbegari was one of the biggest curses of the tribal peoples when the missionaries met them first.
Land litigations with the Zamindars and the Thikedars was another curse that shook the tribal society at its very roots. Pieces of land taken away on all kinds of pretexts, rent receipts not given to the payee for years and after a while confiscation of his land in toto, or the claim of the money lenders to forcibly occupy the land on the ground that even after so many years the debt incurred had not been paid, etc. etc. there were hundred and one reasons of this kind that forced the tribals to take recourse to the Court. But in the known history no tribal had ever won any of the court cases against the Zamindars, the Thikedars the Mahajans and the money lenders. The result was that there was total frustration, and inner turmoil in the tribal community, but the way to ventilate this revolt was far from forthcoming.
With a rich gold mine of discoveries Fr.Leivens decided to settle down in Torpa which was in the border line between the Munda and the Oraon countries,away from the Quadrilateral parishes, but much more easily accessible for the people, and also easier to march to Ranchi in case the court had to be taken resort to.
As far as his methods were concerned Lievens proposed only two solutions(1)He himself would take up the land litigation cases to court(2)People in return would be led to empower themselves with the spiritual powers.This process of empowerment would begin with the initial instructions on Christianity,would continue for years through education until a whole church community would be formed in the midst of these same tribals.
Fr. Leivens settled down in Torpa in October 1885 and his magical formula began to work wonders. Within weeks Torpa had become a place of confluence for people from all directions.To his help came two of the tertians from Asansol .But the task was too multifaceted even for three to manage. Hence, after Christmas , a whole reshuffling of personnel in the mission, if possible calling for new hands as many as possible had to be finalized without delay. As far as the jobs were concerned preparing the legal matters for the court was one in which Fr.Leivens himself was the executor. Second was the teaching, instructing and preparing of the catechumens and thirdly working on the shelters, houses, deras and residences was the most urgently felt need of the people working in Torpa. Equally urgent was the task of preparing helpers, catechists and teachers who would share the responsibilities of teaching the people in their turns.
Within weeks a revolution had begun in all earnest. The news spread like wild fire in all directions. Among the crowds that began to assemble in Torpa the Oraons coming from the most distant places outnumbered the Mundas. . Without any prior planning Torpa had become the centre of the tribal world, with Fr. Lievens as the hub of all activities. This mass movement made it urgent that the reshuffling of men in the mission be done immediately. Accordingly Fr. Motet had to leave Bandgaon pastorless and move to Duranda. Fr.Desmet left Sarwada pastorless and moved to Torpa on permanent basis. Fr.Fierens went back to Chaibasa leaving Burudih pastorless, because Fr.Stockman needed someone to pull him back from the death’s door. Fr. Mullender was made the sole master of the quadrilateral jungle parishes. He had to leave Dolda, even the construction of the bungalow only half done, and make Bandgaon his residence. Fr. Decock was a sick man, he had to go to Kurseong for a rest. Fr. Leivens with Fr. Desmet in Torpa engaged themselves with the fourfold tasks mentioned above. By summer of 1886 any number of times Fr.Lievens with his clients had marched to Ranchi for the court cases. It was clear that all activities related to court cases required a place in Ranchi . Fr.Motet from Duranda was the first one to make a move. He negotiated with the Englishman who owned the Coffee Bagan along the Purulia Road purchased it for Rs.8,000 and hurriedly put up deras all over the Bagan, and in 1887 began in all earnest to put up the structure called Manresa House. In imitation of the local people, keeping the time constraint in mind he built it with the kacha bricks and the local hand- made tiles for the roofing. The second part which stands even today was made a more permanent structure with the burnt bricks and concrete roof. On the place where the present Main hostel of the college stands there was also a kacha little house that sheltered the handful of new recruits in the newly started St.Peter’s School, which, within two years would not only change its site but also its name and become St.John’s English Primary School.
As far as the Christians were concerned there were none in Ranchi still the Coffee Bagaan began to be crowded with people coming from Biru and Barwe, Noatoli and the Munda country, so much so that Fr. Lievens had to move to Ranchi permanently and Torpa remained one of the parishes like Bandgaon. Meanwhile two new centers had developed very much in the model of Torpa namely, Tetra and Dighia. Now the primacy of interest had shifted from court cases to the learning of Christian faith, the Bible stories, the life of Christ, the principles of Christian living and the formation of the Christian community, the church. From Tetra contacts as far as Biru , Panari(Gumla), and Bendora were established where as from Dighia , contacts with Doensa, Bahar Barway and Bhitar Barway from the other end continued to deepen.
Mention has been made that till 1885 no tribal in the whole history had ever won land litigation against his Zamindar. In 1886 when the first case of one of the tribals from some village around Dighia was decided in favour of the tribal against the Zamindar there was celebration all over the tribal world. Similarly when the very first case of Birri village in Barwe was won by the tribal against the Zamindar of Shrinagar there was jubilation all over Barwe. Losing of a case by the Biru Raja in favour of another simple tribal infuriated the Raja and the Zamindars but the tribals were dancing the whole night over the victory. Five or six cases of this kind created euphoria in the tribal world. A new age had dawned.
For Fr.Leivens January to June were months of court cases. Once the rains fell mobility of the people stopped because they had to be busy with cultivation either of their own or of the Zamindars or their kinsfolk, hence baithbegari. It was during these months that Fr.Lievens traveled to the villages, meeting crowds in the villages, catechizing them or baptizing them or organizing catechists and chaprasees for them. It was during these visits that he started schools in the villages and appointed teachers. It was during these tours that he gave general guidelines for common behaviour infront of opposition, vindictiveness, persecution, and stricter baithbegari impositions. Emboldened by victory in court cases even the simple villagers began to react adversely to orders for baithbegari. Many a case of harassment by the police , the money lenders and Mahajans were nipped in the bud which brought all the five kinds of exploiters together in unity to hatch a plot against the christianized tribals and the missionaries
GOLD IS TESTED IN THE FIRE 1889
If 1887, ’88 and ’89 were glorious years of reaping big harvests- in Barway alone the number of the baptized touched 16,000,leaving out the catechumens who numbered twice as many- the last three months of 1889 proved to be the period of disaster.Lievens was in Barway in his first glorious visit to his beloved people of Barway, instructing , examining ,baptizing the ready ones and ushering in a new way of life in Barway. Back home in Ranchi the Zamindars under the leadership of Biru Raja had given the sensational news to the British Officers that the converted tribals were out for a revolt against the British as well as the local authorities. Organized retaliations to Baithbegari, refusal to pay the land taxes were expected to be launched any day within those months. . The threat complaint reached the ears of Mr.Grimley the Dpty. Commissioner of Chotanagpur who never took the trouble of verifying the allegations. Hurriedly he dispatched a posse of 200-armed men in the command of Mr.Renny to suppress the revolt at its very inception. He was given the authority to call for greater numbers from the army barracks if he felt the need of it. Mr. Renny moved fast since that was the occasion to make a good name for oneself he thought. The procedure was very simple to follow. He would go to the Zamindars or the Rajas, whoever happened to be on his way, get the list of trouble-makers of his Zamindari or the kingdom, hunt out the individuals whose names appeared in the list, chastise them in whatever way he thought fit, most of the time they were cruelly beaten up, sometimes fined heavily and sometimes arrested for ten twelve years of imprisonment The fact that the armed police in such big numbers entered into the villages sent waves of panic among the villagers and the Zamindars’ men went announcing that unless and until the villagers stopped associating with the catholic missionaries the British Government would have no mercy on them. The company had started campaign from Jariagarh close to present Bero, proceeded to Basia, terrorizing all the villages enroute. Ignoring all the explanations, arguments and confrontations of Fr. Cardon in Tetra and the neighbouring villages Mr. Renny went ahead to Biru. He made his company turn round to Palkot, then to Panari, Nawagarh, Barway, Bahar Barway and back again to the Munda country. In three months time they had runsacked the whole of Chotanagpur. The arrests made numbered 70 – 75.who had nothing to do with the insurrection or the revolt; at most they were petty thieves or an eyesore to the Zamindars because of their daring, challenging ways. But the panic they managed to instill in the tribal minds and the dissociation they succeeded in bring about from the missionaries were too deep seated to dissolve within a couple of years. Not so much in Barway but in Biru, Doensa, Panari, and Nawagarh defections were in thousands. Also the oppression of the landlords came back with a vengence.There have been cases of attacks on the missionaries and the catechists so much so that for some time missionaries carried arms for self defence, and minimized their mobility to a certain extent, at least for the time being.
By the time Fr.Lievens came back from Barway armed men had already left Ranchi to suppress the revolt.He met the Dpty Commissioner, Mr.Grimley but found him adamant in his convictions, also very adverse in his opinions about the Roman Catholic Missionaries and their converts. Not finding a way to stop the menace he dashed off to Calcutta and with the Archbishop and the Superiors tried to see the Vice Roy himself. Seeing the time running short and the new Christians without respite they went to the press. Statesman and some other dailies picked up the story of concocted rebellion and fake encounters with the poor villages who had no concern of anything during the time of harvest except reaping their fields. The Papers brought out how the small “murgichors” had been termed as the great revolutionaries and how the British Government, which was supposed to be secular in matters concerning religion and freedom of conscience had been involved in interfering with religion and freedom of conscience albeit unknowingly through just a handful of its Officials in Chotanagpur. The day the news hit the headlines of Calcutta Dailies, Sir Stuart Bailey, the Commissioner took up the matter immediately in his own hands. He contacted the Archbishop, got to know what in reality the situation was, and called for Mr.Grimley and asked him officially to see the Archbishop and arrive with him to some conclusion so that justice is done to the wronged. Ultimately an agreement was arrived at that the Missionaries did go on an Appeal but not in the High Court in Calcutta, so that the embarrassment of the English Officers is kept under control. Instead the Government would establish a Court of Appeal in Ranchi itself with Mr. Cauley as the Judicial Magistrate This court would have the authority to deal with all the cases once again.
It was in the month of February, 1890 that the Court of Appeal sat on judgment once again all the cases were reviewed, there were plenty of irregularities in the procedure, there were many cases of blatant discrimination in favour of the Rajas and the Zamindars. There were gross irregularities with regard to handling of witnesses too and imposition of penalties, within two days more than three fourth of the persons arrested with the understanding that they would be imprisoned for at least 10-12 years were set free on the spot and immediately, the gravest accusation that the christianised tribals had been preparing for an insurgency was falsified without doubt, and the allegation that the Roman Catholic missionaries were responsible for this insurrection was termed as the concoction of the biased mind.It was an honest restoration of justice but the panic created in the minds of the people could not be remedied and there were thousands who retracted from joining the catechumens, particularly in Doensa, Panari, Nawagarh and Biru. This was a tragedy that shook the trust of the people on the power of the Missionaries, even though only short lived it was an experience of helplessness all the same. It would take years before the faith of the people would be rebuilt again.
There was lull everywhere during the following months. In the distant villages of Biru and Nawagarh, the Zamindars and their hunchmen doubled their exploitations in different forms,almost teasing the people for their short lived honeymoon with the missionaries telling them never to expect the return of those sunshine days. In order to rejuvenate the languishing spirit of the mission Archbishop Goethals came on his Episcopal visit to Chotanagpur. It was meant to say “We are with you”. In burning heat
He traveled from Ranchi to Torpa, Tetra, Panari and Dighia meeting crowds in the villages on the way. Even this victory procession the Zamindars managed to derail partly by intentionally misleading the people about the date of His Grace’s visit to the particular places. In Doensa the people were threatened with dire consequences if they tried to go and see the Bishop in Tetra. Similarly in Panari, i.e.Soso, Barway people could not reach due to the false propaganda about the date, and actually when they did come they found that the function was over just the previous day.
Celebrations were not enough to rebuild the broken faith and confidence. So Fr.Leivens, Fr. Dihon and Fr.Cardon decided to travel the length and breadth of Barway covering every village. They divided the whole of Barway in three parts each one covering one part, every weekend assembling in a particular village for assessing the situation together. During their tours they taught whatever was found unsatisfactory from the catechists’ or chaparasis’ teaching, baptising all those who were found ready and also children. By Christmas 1890 all the villages of Barway were touched. Faith was saved. The greatest sign of this claim was that in the month of January and February which was the wedding season every year according to the old dispensation,all weddings were postponed until the arrival of the Fathers who had been preaching among the people that Christian wedding was a sacramental celebration to be solemnized by the presence of a Father celebrating the Eucharist specifically for the marrying couples. Whole of Barway waited for the Father to come back And though late he did come back and in two places, Katkahi and Bendora solemn nuptial ceremonies were organized of 290 and 130 couples.This is how the tradition of solemn nuptial ceremonies on the same day for many couples began without any preplanning, but turned out to be one of the best sights in the sacramental celebrations in Chotanagpur. Biru,Tetra, and Dighia too followed the good example. This tradition lasted for more than sixty-seventy years in the mission until the educated couples began to prefer Eucharist for the single couple only.
The situation in Biru, Panari , Nawagarh, and Doensa was bad. In fact it was worse than that of Barway. Many villages in those parganas had cut themselves off from the Mission completely. In Panari, i.e. Gumla, close to 35 villages severed their relationships with the mission and went back to their ancestral ways. For Lievens Barway was the test case. Come what may but Barway had to be saved. It had to be so because the response of the whole of Barway as one was so overwhelming, their magnanimity had been so overpowering and their faith so sincere. To make sure that the fire lit in Barwe continued to burn Lievens made three more journeys to Barwe, once with his mentor, Fr. Grosjean from Kurund to Bendora, second time to take the family wise census of the baptised and the third time trying to save Barwe from the Lutheran intrusion into it. During his second visit his condition worsened. He had developed T.B. an incurable sickness those days. He had to go for a rest to Kurseong. As we all know with slight improvement in his health he came back and dashed to Barwe in order to save it from Lutherans who had entered the valley .After three weeks he was called back to Ranchi under obedience, was punished by the new Rector for being disobedient to his Superior.After the punishment retreat in Hazaribag he left for Calcutta and from there for Belgium to die almost incognito in 1893 November 13.
There was certain amount of disagreement too among the missionaries on the subject whether the Mission Director’s policy itself was not responsible for the catastrophe of 1889 “ We should not have gone for big numbers like this in such a short time” said some “Consolidation must have followed trail immediately,” said others. Some vocal ones gave vent to their feelings openly criticizing the Director over his involvement with the land litigations, which went directly against the authorities embittering them against the Mission. This disharmony among the Fathers .added fuel to the fire. The united front that had given a momentum unparalleled in history to the small group of missionaries within the past 25 years seemed to have broken asunder. The experience of the backlash was too strong to bear. Strong brave men like Cardon, Dihon,Desmet, Motet, Moene, Dasnoy, and Van Severin held on patiently to their places trying to safeguard the flock as well as they could. Gradually priority shifted from rushing to baptize as many as it was possible, to consolidation of whatever they had.This gave rise to a new pattern of missionary activities. Dharam Classes for the First Confessions, Dharam Schools for the First Communions, greater concentration on the village schools that were already in existence and beginning of new schools where there was none, began to gain greater importance now. Slowly zest for the new patterns of activities began to replace the dampening spirits.
Now when the eye-catching missionary activities in the mission had slowed down almost completely, activities in Ranchi began to catch the attention . In 1890 Loreto Nuns had come in Ranchi and had begun in all earnest to create a new civilization among the Adivasi women of the place. They had already started a sort of a school for girls just across the Purulia Road in front of Manresa House in the Lal Kothi. This added a new dimension to the church here in the tribal heartland. In the nineties an attempt was being made to survey the land in and around Ranchi by the British government. The officers asked for helping hands from the three educational institutions of the place namely Gossner School, St. Paul’s and St. John’s. The need was of big number of workers to accelerate the process. St. John’s was caught unawares since this discipline, Ameengiri, was not introduced in the school, whereas others were fully prepared since the Lutheran church had anticipated this demand. There was a sense of letting down of the people at the nick of time. Hurriedly a crash course was organized lasting for several weeks and close to 200 young people were prepared for the job. That was the first experience of employment the young tribals had and it made quite a bit of noise all over the tribal world, not to say the distraction it ushered in amidst disturbances, uncertainties and frustrations of the missionaries and the new Christians alike. Ameengiri was made part of the regular curriculum in St. John’s with field work and practical classes more than the theory in the classrooms. This added to the special of St. John’s, the Roman mission campus. That also gave the idea of starting a kind of technical school with carpentry, spinning and weaving, black smithy, an masonry, trade s which opened the doors of employments for the young however small in numbers.
Let us end this part of the story by tying up the loose ends. The census, which Fr. Lievens worked on during his last trip to Barway while still baptizing, showed almost 36,000 persons in Barway alone. In Nawatoli where the mission had shifted from Tetra 16,000. In Torpa, Dorma, Khunti, Karra combined 12,000 and in Dighia 3,200. Quadrilateral Parishes had 2,650 already when the whole of Tebo Ghat area was, for all practical purposes being closed down. Though Ranchi didn’t have any Catholics of the place but it had a community of 2,700 persons all the same. Everything put together was definitely a herculean achievement. An account of the manpower offered to God during that period would speak in favour of those whose names we have intentionally avoided so far-
In 1881 only after six months in the mission Fr. Lauchwitze died at the age 31.
In 1887 founder of the first school, initially St. Peter’s, which was changed into St. John’s, died of black fever, Fr. Cazet in Torpa. He was 36.
In 1887 again died Fr. Vanden Goate at the age of 35.
In 1890 died Fr. Decock at the age of 44.
In 1890 again died Fr. Clement in mander at the age of 44.
In 1890 died Fr. Mullender in Kandy enroute to Belgium as a dying man at the age of 41.
In 1891 died Fr. Vander Keelen on his way from Karra to Ranchi being carried in the palanquin he was 36 old.
In 1891 Fr. Servois went to Calcutta for treatment but died there he was 45.
In1893 Fr. Bodson, the new regional superior of Bengal mission died after five months of superiorship at the age of 36. And to cap it all Constant Lievens died in Belgium in November 1893. He was only 37.
As it has been said earlier after the Zamindari plot, in spite of various attempts to rejuvenate the morale, lull continue to prevail by and large in the entire mission. Gradually the lost spirit was restored but in a different form. Instead of going for new contacts, new catechumens and new baptisms the missionaries began to concentrate on consolidation. By 1895 Katkahi had developed into a full fledged parish and had two substations Nawadih and Tongo, that is in Barway and Soso outside the Barway valley in Panari Pargana.
GOD WRITES STRAIGHT IN CRUCKED LINES
With determined departure from the mission policy of Fr. Lievens and the unforgettable backlash of the zamindari plot, Chotanagpur mission had suffered a severe jolt. For five-six years all activities had slowed down as though the missionaries tried to find their bearings back. They became cautious but not frightened more prudent not deserters. Once bitten twice shy runs the expression.
In 1896 rains cheated the farmers. After a good beginning it let the farmers down half way. Crops failed and famine knocked at the door. In 1897the whole of north India was caught in the spell of severe famine. Tribals in Chotanagpur who had dug up all the hills and the jungles hunting for edible roots in 1896 had nothing left as a last resort. In 1897 even mahua and sakhua (sal) failed. Those who could dare to walk began to walk to the tea gardens in Assam and West Bengal in crowds .It was an Exodus in reverse.. Some were directed to the Andamans and still some to the Indigo plantations at the foothills of Nepal. Many villages were abandoned completely since the inhabitants moved away to unknown destinations wherever they could earn their two meals a day for survival.
The missionaries took the first initiative to approach the British Government to start food-for-work project. For the incapacitated, emaciated, the old and children food distribution centers were started in Ranchi, Karra, Torpa, Nawatoli, Soso, Majhatoli, Bendora and Katkahi. There were other feeding centers too run by the government agencies and other churches but there was no comparison of these with the centers mentioned above. All children even those who did not like to go to school assembled in school feeding centers. The missionaries of Bengal mission went all out to salvage the situation, to save the people from starvation deaths. The Fathers wrote to Belgium for help and help came from magnanimous hearts generously in real abundance. Fathers arranged for seeds for cultivation to help the farmers out for the next year. After famine it was the turn of cholera. Once again the mission centers became the centers of incomparable service. Great father Dasnoy, who had slogged hard to save theBarway people from dying succumbed to death himself on 24.08.1897 in Katkahi. For his burial half of Barway congregated in Katkahi, nobody had seen such a burial in history. This service won back the people, their confidence in the catholic missionaries and shut, at least for the time being, the mouths of those who opposed the mission. By 1901 normalcy had been restored and within two years Katkahi would give birth to two new parishes, Nawadih and Tongo in 1903.
In Biru Fr. Cardon had been active throughout. Though after the Zamindari plot there was sharp decline in numbers all over Biru he along with Fr. Florquin, Fr.Britaudau and Fr. VanGerwin reconquered the lost villages of Basia, Palkot and Biru area. By 1901 he had left Noatoli to settle down in Konpala (Rengarih). Within another two years Kurdeg and Samtoli had become big centers themselves. Kurdeg under Fr. DeGryse, Samtoli in the supervision of Fr. Van Gerwin and Konpala under Fr. Cardon, recreated the scene of Barway in Biru. Kurdeg and Samtoli combined entered Raj Gangpur in Orissa and established Hamirpur, Kesramal, Jhunmur, Gaibira, and Kusumdegi parishes with their respective schools in course of time. The expansion had started on its own. Responses to the felt needs went on adding newer pastures..
In the political and administrative centre of Chotanagpur the presbytery of Ranchi was built in 1901 in the place where SDC stands today with Fr. Van Robays as the first parish priest of Ranchi. To give the look of a real parish the primary school of St. John’s was detached from St. John’s and attached to the presbytery with the new name St. Aloysius Primary school. It continues to stand there, but under the management of Montford Brothers of St. Gabriel.
By 1903 Dighia gave way to Mandar and a whole new community of fervent christians began to thrive in their newness of life. It was close enough to Ranchi for any need hence the Rector, Manresa House, was appointed the PP of Mandar.
In 1903 again Soso was given the status of a full-fledged parish whose northern parishners had given up all contacts with the mission but the southern villages in Nawagarh area continued to be faithful.
The year 1903 seems to have been a special year in the plan of the Divine Providence. It was this year when Kurdeg, Samtoli, Tongo, Nawadih, Soso and Mandar all new parishes were added to the number of already established parishes of Burudih, Sarwada, Dolda, Bandgaon, Nawatoli, Dighia, Torpa and Ranchi.
It was in 1903 that the missionaries ventured into the forbidden territory of Jashpur Raj. To get the simple people’s impression of Jashpur Raja one only needs to listen to the folksongs sung even today on the dance-floors of the non-christian tribals “the ruthless king of Jashpur is not only a despot but he is an inhuman ruler who does not allow us to pick up even the sal seeds from the forests. (sal seeds as we know are the poor men’s food in utter desperation which nobody bothers to collect unless there is a dire necessity in the total absence of all alternatives for food ) – jaspur ta belas khara khilpait nandas, nawran pesa mala chi:das.(a folk song in Oraon).
This Jashpur Raj was part of Chotanagpur but it was under the jurisdiction of the native Raja who paid the annual tribute to the British in matters of Baithbegari, annexation of raiyats’ property, curtailing of human freedom of his subjects the Raja of Jashpur was the worst among all Rajas and Zamindars of Chotanagpur. He had strictly forbidden not only the missionaries from entering into his territory but also his own subjects from going out to meet the missionaries. Any violation incurred the unprecedented wrath of the Raja or his hunch men.The example of Khairkona,Tigra and Kastura were vivid enough in the minds of the people to categorise him as the inhuman brute. The native police of the Raja was another force to reckon with. In 1903 on the prolonged request of the people of Jashpur Raj missionaries from Katkahi, Nawadih and Tongo in Barway, Majhatoli in Nawagarh and from Kurdeg in Biru began to visit and established contacts with the people. This was justified because the British government stood for freedom of conscience and religion. With lots of ups and downs in relationships signed treaties sometimes respected and sometimes violated by the Raja himself both Upar Ghat and Nich Ghat made steady progress in faith, freedom, and education.
A new mission began in all earnest in Jashpur Raj. In order to improve the relationship with the Raja Fr. Vande Drysse with his colleague Fr. Stass helped construct three roads in three directions from Jashpur Nagar, from Jashpur to Lodam, from Jashpur to Manora and from Jashpur to Loro, so that the Yuvaraj could bring his first motorcar to Jashpur. In gratitude Fr. Vande Drysse was given a gallant steed as gift by the Raja. Archbishop Goethals , having been brought from Gholeng to Panchacki, the Raja’palace on the Raja’s elephant, was made the Guest of Honour amidst all the royal pomp and show of the palace while His Grace in return sent a German riffle to the Yuvaraj. It reads like Mathew Ricci’s entry into the Chinese Mandarine haven, with a difference though, Jashpur did not honour its own treaty and let loose a spell of terror and atrocities due to which the Archbishop had to send a Memorandum to no other than the Vice-Roy himself. The tug of war between the missionaries and the princely family and its courtiers dragged on, but God’s work through the hands of the missionaries went on. No wonder then that inspite of opposition and many sporadic periods of persecution the establishment of new parishes like Gholeng, and Ambakona in Upar Ghat, Ginabahar, Tapkara, Kasabel, Kunkuri and Duldula in Nich Ghat, and Musgutri, Tongo Ghaghra, Saraitoli, and Manora in Khuria went on crossing unhurt all the road blocks erected to stop the progress of the mission.
From today’s point of view even greater achievements of 1903 was the beginning of the Apostolic School in Ranchi, a second milestone of Grosjean’s visionary foresight .Who would believe that only within 18 years of Christianity in Barway and 30 years in the Munda country, seeds of priestly vocation would be identified, protected and nurtured and that too from a community which socially had no status yet in the eyes of their own neighours, leave alone the British? But a miracle had happened already during the famine year of 1897. Archbishop Goethals, having seen the tenacious determination of the four tribal girls, all fourth class passed, to become someones like the Loreto nuns had accepted them in a new Congregation, called St. Anne’s of Ranchi for which Fr. Motet had to work on a Constitution adapted and suited to the local charism and its needs. And the miracle of miracles was that those four Nuns did pave a way for hundreds of aspirants to follow them. The question was if the tribal girls could dream of becoming nuns why not the tribal boys of becoming priests, though they were only in theMiddle Schools? Realists went on opposing the idea but the visionaries won the battle. Apostolic school was begun in 1903 in a little room of the Technical School in St. John’s. Everything in this mission had to be done only with half the preparations. Best was never allowed to become the enemy of the good. In the same vein starting of the Major Seminary in Bankuli in 1914, which ultimately would be transferred to the Coffee Bagan of Ranchi in 1916 marked the apex achievement of the Chotanagpur Mission.
The germs of this insight must be traced in the introduction of a system of education the missionaries developed in this mission. To make it suited to life, to update it according to the changing demands of time, to revitalize it when it seemed to slow down, to train the teachers for the job, to revamp them from time to time, to work on the suitable text books, to inspect the schools spread all over the mission, to do whatever that would help the schools recognizable in the eyes of the British Government, a School Inspector's Office was thought of as early as 1911 when great Fr. Van Hoeck was appointed the first inspector of schools. It was during this period that major portion of the Jesuit work was termed as the work of consolidation. And among the various tasks enumerated for consolidation education ranked the very first. Inspite of time running short let me just rattle off the nine tasks enumerated by one of the missionaries then –
- Improving, standardizing, establishing schools, getting more and more children
in the schools, making these schools the centers of learning so that the whole
tribal environment is changed .
- Organising Dharm Schools for the First Communion and Shadi Schools for the
marriageables, initiation schools for faith seekers.
- Centre and village level meetings for educating the peopkle in cooperatives,
like the Catholic Cooperative Bank
- Education to help each other through Dhan Gola.
- Education to organization living and leadership through Catholic Sabha and
- Pastoral service through regularly available resident priests.
- Conducting of retreats to as many people as possible for educating them in the
Christian way of life.
- Village tours for knowing the people in the concreteness of their lives and for
- the people to feel 9one with the priests.
- Education through the big celebrations like the procession of Christ the King, the feast of the Sacred Heart etc.
Among all these activities education dominated the scene. Within fifteen years after the 1st World War, educational standards even in the most interior village schools had improved so much that the British Government happily recognized all unrecognized Primary and Middle schools of the mission and announced its readiness to offer grants to those schools which asked for it.. This was a real feather pinned on the cap of the Mission schools, their staff, and the School Inspector’s Office in Ranchi. It was clearly the recognition given to the quality of educational services offerred to the people of Chotanagpur.
Emphasis on the all round education of the people did unexpected wonders in the villages. In due time middle schools grew into high schools and Primary schools into middle schools. St.John’s had grown into a High School already in 1906.In 1930 St. Mary’s High School, Samtoli in Biru became the living sign of the educational growth of that distant area. 1934 gave birth to St.Ignatius High School in Gumla and within another ten years that is in 1944 St. Xavier’s College Ranchi was born to make higher education possible even for the tribal youth of Chotanagpur.
At the time of Ranchi being erected into a separate diocese in 1927 the Bengal Mission of Chotanagpur had developed so much that it had its own resources to sustain it, if not in terms of finance, surely in terms of man power and infrastructures needed for the diocese to stand on its own feet.They were the results of the visionary insights of master planners and the dedicated commitment to a cause, disregardful of all convenience price and returns in terms of riches, fame and glory on the part of the missionaries chosen and sent to the vineyard of Chotanagpur Mission.
The story does not end here. The second part of the story, the growth of the Church in Independent India, with its triple tinge of successes, struggles and failures has the charm of its own. But that would require another sitting of several hours.
For the time being let us call it a day. Thank you.
Now that you have asked me to speak,
You might be disposed to listen.
Where was I,’
You asked ,
“ when the demonic waves
rose and roared,
and grabbed and chewed and spat
our little children on our beaches?”
I was there.
In the terror of the child,
In the anguish of its mother,
In the helplessness of the father.
I was there,
Grabbed and chewed and spat
On your beaches,
…and no one seemed to notice,
Yes they are our children,
For every child I send
To brighten up your/our dreary homes
Is my hope in humanity
Of which, I remind you,
I am very much a part.
And so every child that is gone
Reopens the wound,
And brings to life
The darkness in the garden, and
My pierced heart on the cross,
‘ why would I let death’,
‘dance merrily on you/our shores
the day after
you merrily celebrated my birth>’
It was appropriate to celebrate
As my humanness was not a shoe,
And so you danced at my birth.
When “ I danced on the cross
With the devil on my back”,
…….I was left alone.
When the waves
Threatened my disciples,
I had to be awakened
From my slumber.
When the killer waves
Came to rock you/our lives,
I was wide awake,
Being grabbed and chewed and spat
On your/our beaches,
….waiting to be recognized..