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-- ING --
The New Region in the North East

The region is home to every climatic zone on earth - oppressive heat and bitter cold. It is one of the wettest regions in the world with locations measuring the highest rainfall in the world, having no deserts. It is crisscrossed with unpredictable mighty rivers, the legendary sacred river Brahmaputra winds its course through the whole length of this mysterious land fortressed with mountain ranges covered with virgin forests and snow covered peaks.

Kurian T.K.SVD,
Ivan D’Silva SVD,
Jose Kuzhikattuthazhe SVD.

The Society of the Divine Word has constituted a new region in the North East comprising the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Tripura. The inauguration of the new region will take place on the 29th of January, the feast of St. Joseph Freinadametz in the presence of Fr. Antonio Pernia, SVD Superior General and Archbishop Thomas Meenamparambil of Guwahati.


he Divine Word Missionaries have begun a new chapter in their history by becoming part of the evangelization efforts in the North East of India. The idea of the Divine Word Missionaries working in the North East was mooted at the CBCI meeting in Mumbai in 1975. Fr. Engelbert Zeitler, subsequently visited NE and in 1978 two SVDs worked in Nagaland and Manipur for a year. In 1991 Generalate approved the proposal of the Indian provincials to begin a mission in Silchar diocese as a common venture of the SVD India, but as part of INE.

The first trio of SVDs, Peter D’Cunha, Valentine Dung Dung and Cyprian Pinto, arrived in Silchar in 1992. The first parish, Ambassa, in Tripura was opened on October 24, 1992. Presently the congregation is serving in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Assam.

THE LAND AND PEOPLE OF NORTHEAST

The North Eastern region, ‘the seven sisters’, is an intrinsic part of India, spread over an expanse of 265,000 sq. kms. with a very distinct and unique people and relatively cut of from the rest of India.

Geographically and racially, the region we now call North east India is situated between the two great traditions of the Indic Asia and the Mongoloid Asia. This geographical-cultural condition of “in-between-ness” is an important factor for the crisis of identity. It was only since the British period that the entire region came to be associated with India politically. To answer the question “who are we?” most Northeasterners are caught between the racial-cultural definition and the politico-administrative definition of their identity. Whereas they are politically Indian, they are racially and culturally Mongoloid.

The region is home to every climatic zone on earth - oppressive heat and bitter cold. It is one of the wettest regions in the world with locations measuring the highest rainfall in the world, having no deserts. It is crisscrossed with unpredictable mighty rivers, the legendary sacred river Brahmaputra winds its course through the whole length of this mysterious land fortressed with mountain ranges covered with virgin forests and snow covered peaks.

It is a great ethno-cultural frontier - a rich complex transition point of racial, religious and linguistic streams: It has a lot of uniqueness and differences from the rest of the country; their ethnic communities, religions, cultures, early sunrise and sunset, topography, climate, food habits, language, rich flora and fauna, colorful dress patterns, and international borders make it a wonderland. The population here remains predominantly tribal. For centuries, the passes and valleys of the Northeastern region were the great crossroad of the movement of people, commerce and culture that linked India overland to east and Southeast Asia.

In 1874 the British created the province of Assam comprising most of the North East. After the independence the whole area became seven of the 32 states of India, the land lying between Tibet, Bhutan and China and Bangladesh and Myanmar. There are about 500 distinct groups of people so closely interwoven, yet in splendid isolation and often diametrically opposed to one another. No other part of the globe can boast of a greater diversity of races, peoples and languages within the same area. They live at one with their ancestors and the jungles surrounding them inhabited by spirits, believing in the magic qualities of animals. They pray, dance and make sacrifice for the fertility of their fields and acknowledge the ancient forces of the earth, sky, water, wind and stars. The region is home to many an ancestral religion, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. In this vast living mosaic of men and races so closely interwoven, mutual influences cannot be ignored.




CHURCH IN THE NORTH EAST

According to one of the traditions the first Christian community in the NE (Silchar) consisted of soldiers and their families from Meerut who migrated to the region in the year 1790. Priests occasionally visited them from Calcutta and served them spiritually. The first German missionaries, the heroic Salvatorians, came to Assam in 1890. Guwahati the first Apostolic Prefecture of NE was erected in 1891. The Salvatorians had to leave this land of their apostolic labors in the wake of the First World War in 1915. The Salesians of Don Bosco inherited this mission in 1922. Many protestant churches and numerous sects are operating even in the deep interiors of the mountains and hills. Initially mission work was begun among the migrant workers in the tea gardens.

Assam was among the most unwanted apostolic fields in the Catholic Church because few missions presented such varied and difficult region, like long distance, isolation, lack of funds and personnel, illness discouragement and death. But there were also positive elements: first the indomitable courage and zeal of the missionaries and their love for the people and secondly the natural goodness and openness of the people.

Today after 115 years, the Catholic presence in the North East is remarkable on the rise. There are 13 dioceses, 650 priests, 40 brothers and’ 1600 religious women and about 2 million Catholics. Though there are many congregations in the region, the contributions and the impressions created by the SDBs are praiseworthy. The people of the region ardently desire to know the person of Jesus and be liberated from many a bondage in their communities. Therefore they welcome the missionaries with great cheer and hope. It is apt to recall the Gospel passage, “the harvest is plenty but the laborers are few”.

ARUNACHAL PRADESH: MYSTERIOUS, MAGICAL AND MYSTICAL

Right at the top of northeastern India is Arunachal Pradesh, the ‘Land of the Dawn-lit-Mountains.’ This is the first Indian soil to greet the morning sun. Over 50 distinct languages are spoken in this state, which is home to Tawang, the largest Buddhist monastery in India. Arunachal shares borders with Bhutan, Tibet, Myanmar and China and is influenced by these neighbors.

The state has a population of one million, the least thinly populated state of India, 13 persons per sq. km., 16 districts - English is the state language though ‘there are numerous dialects. It’s a protected territory where in the outsiders need a permit to enter in - protected by the Indian army:

Anthropologically they are a very colorful and rhythmic people of Tibeto-Mangloloid origin - 26 major indigenous .tribes with many more sub-tribes - short in stature and aggressive in nature yet very hospitable - a celebrating people, ever alive with music and dance as they celebrate their many feasts. An artistic people known for their weaving, painting, smithy work, woodcarving and basket making.

Geographically it has an area of 83,743 sq. kms. with 80% forests and form part of the Himalayan ranges.

Religions: The people are Worshipers of sun and moon and have Strong Buddhist influence. Twang houses the biggest Buddhist monastery in India. AP continues to be a home to ancestral religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.

Church in Arunachal has only about 25 years of history, began with the personal initiatives of individual missionaries. It is only since 1992 the missionaries are permitted to enter AP. The SVDs started its mission in AP as visiting missionaries on the occasion of Christmas and Easter. Fr. Joseph P. Xavier was the first resident SVD missionary in Roing, in the lower Dibang Valley, under the Dibrugarh diocese. There are 12 SVDs working in five interior stations of AP in the dioceses of Dibrugarh and Tezpur (details of each of the stations with the confreres). They are engaged Primary evangelization, Education, health care, programs of socio-economic development, educational and welfare programs for women and youth, ecumenical efforts and dialogue with other faiths. Faith formation programs, hostels and schools and promotion of culture.

TRIPURA: A CULTURAL SYNTHESIS

In Tripura, the second smallest state in India, 23 different languages are spoken. Characterized by moderate temperatures and a highly humid atmosphere, Tripura is a storehouse of tribal crafts and culture as well 3S music and dancing. Tripura has mainly a Bengali community, in spite of the 19 Scheduled Tribes that form a major chunk of the population. Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity are the main religions followed in Tripura. The tribals, with a rich and varied culture, belong mainly to the Reang, Chakma, Halam and Usai communities. The majority of tribals live in elevated houses of bamboo called ‘Tong’.

Tripura is the most ancient princely state of North East, a state of great antiquity - the farthest comer of India - an area of 10,846 sq. kms. and a population of 3.1 million.

Tripura is politically a Marxist ruled state with traditional tribal administrative systems functioning independently side-by-side with the government. The population consists of Bengalis, both Hindus and Muslims and over 19 indigenous tribes. Here we have a unique combination of ancient Hindu-Muslim cultures and the tribal cultures.

Geographically Tripura has three fourths its boundary running along Bangladesh with mountainous terrain and a land without stones and rocks. It is a home for ancestral religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.

CHURCH IN TRIPURA

Initially Tripura was under the Archdiocese of Dhaka. Since 1952 it was part of the diocese of Silchar and now the diocese of Agarthala. The first parish in Tripura was established in 1,939. There are 15 parishes and 18,000 Catholics. The Catholic community consists mainly pf me indigenous tribal communities and immigrant workers. Evangelization is a big challenge in the state of Tripura. It has an alarming rate of racial discrimination, insurgency and terrorism. There is a sharp divide between the tribal and the non-tribal people.

SVDs IN TRIPURA

Now there are 13 SVDs at the service of the local Church. They are ministering in three parishes, in one diocesan catechetical center, the diocesan minor seminary and an information center. The first priority is primary evangelization and faith formation. Direct contact with the people through regular visits to the villages and training of catechists and lay leaders are important means.

Today the SVDs are involved in Educational apostolate with schools and hostels. In the context of the schools/hostels and at the village levels various programs are organized for the youth. Ecumenism is one of the main concerns of the mission. In the midst of abject poverty people suffer from malnutrition, sickness and various forms of exploitation. Awareness building and developmental programs are an essential part of our ministry. The inter-tribal conflicts are one of the reasons why the non-tribals moving into tribal areas. Through all our ministries we aim at bringing about unity and harmony among the various tribal groups, between the indigenous people and the migrant groups and among different faith communities.

ASSAM: HOME OF THE BRAHMAPUTRA

The largest of the northeastern states, Assam, consists mostly of the plains around the Brahmaputra and Barak rivers. It is best known for its tea plantations, which yield the strong Assam leaf tea, and for its large population of the one-homed Rhinoceros, a species that once faced extinction. Assam produces more than half of India’s petroleum. Dominated by the mighty Brahmaputra River, Assam is one of the most advanced states in the NE. She is blessed with vast alluvial plains rich in forests and rolling tracts of paddy and tea, and oil from the vast depths of the earth. Guwahati is the capital of the state, the main entry point to the whole of northeast. It is also one of the major cities of the region. From here one can get road, rail and air traffic to and fro to the rest of the country. The Regional house of the SVDS is to be situated at Guwahati, the capital of Assam.

CONCLUSION

There have been dynamic and systematic changes among these ‘seven sisters’ - since the arrival of the Christian missionaries. The ‘Indian consciousness;’ and their own cultural identity and patriotism have helped them integrate well with the mainstream Indian society. Educational institutions, even to the most interior hamlets have paved the path in bringing in the light of education and esteem for the masses. The missionaries are constantly under undue criticism as destroyers of the indigenous culture. But the fact is that they have only enhanced the culture, given them national and international exposure. It is here the SVDs, who are promoters of anthropological and cultural studies, can make a specific contribution to the unique culture of these peoples.

Although such a land of contrasts is of extreme interest for ethnography and philology, it poses many problems for the missionaries. At every step he is confronted by different languages, customs, mentalities, not to mention the barriers built by nature, and his work is hampered by enormous difficulties. Farsighted vision and planning for future developments, meaningful evangelizing methods, creative apostolic measures, adaptation to local cultures, customs and languages will bring in a hundred fold harvest in the vineyard of the Lord. This will enable the Divine Word Missions to make lasting contributions in building up the ‘Body of Christ’ in the North Eastern Region.

(Article from WORD India)