Online Santal Resource Page: the Santals identity, clans, living places, culture,rituals, customs, using of herbal medicine, education, traditions ...etc and present status.

The Santal Resource Page: these are all online published sources

Santal Gãota reaḱ onolko ńam lạgit́ SRP khon thoṛ̣a gõṛ̃o ńamoḱa mente ińaḱ pạtiạu ar kạṭić kurumuṭu...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Santhal Adivasi

Santhals are the largest Adivasi community in India and can be found mainly in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Tripura and Orissa. Santhals can be also found in Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar boarder areas. In Nepal they live in the districts of Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari. And also one can found significant population of Santhals in Bhutan as daily wage laborer. In Bangladesh, Santhals have made remarkable history of Santhal’s identity. Majority of Santhal are being traced in the Chhotanagpur plateau. Rajmahal hill, Damodar valley and forest of Dolma are the witness since time immemorial.

Fahien the Chinese traveler was the first to make a pilgrimage in India and first to describe about the Santhal tribe at large. His journey lasted about sixteen years (A.D. 399-414) and described in detail about the tribe staying and lifestyle in foothill of Rajmahal. He also describe about the religion followed by Santhals. It is fact that, Santhals belong to the Austro-Asiatic group of human families. They have also been called as a sub-group speaking a language belonging to the Munda family (Dahal, BS2051/052). Some anthropologists also indicate that racially the Santhals belong to the Proto-Astraloid racial group, linguistically they belong to the Mundari group of Austro-Asiatic linguistic family and economically they may be classified as plain agricultural type.

Origin of Santhals:

The species known as Ramapithecus was found in the Siwalik foothills of the northwestern Himalayas. This species believed to be the first in the line of hominids lived some 14 million years ago. Researchers have found that a species resembling the Australopithecus lived in India some 2 million years ago. Scientists have so far not been able to account for an evolutionary gap of as much as 12 million years since the appearance of Ramapithecus. The people of India belong to different anthropological stocks. According to Dr. B. S. Guha, the population of India is derived from six main ethnic groups and main ethnic group which define Adivasis especially Santhals, Munda, Kol and Ho are as follows:

“Pro-Australoids” or “Austrics”: This group was the next to come to India after the Negritos. They represent a race of people, with wavy hair plentifully distributed over their brown bodies, long heads with low foreheads and prominent eye ridges, noses with low and broad roots, thick jaws, large palates and teeth and small chins. Austrics tribes, which are spread over the whole of India, Myanmar and the islands of South East Asia, are said to “form the bedrock of the people". The Austrics were the main builders of the Indus Valley Civilisation. They cultivated rice and vegetables and made sugar from sugarcane. Their language has survived in the Kol or Munda (Mundari) Santhali in Eastern and Central India.

History of Santhals:

Histories of Santhals are only persisting in songs and folklore of Santhal tribe itself. Historians from different region have come and wrote different things regarding them and large populations believe that is only the truth about Santhals. Pandit Raghunath Murmu, who develops Santhali manuscript, written Santhals are from Pre Aryan period. And they were the real great fighters during British regime. Santhals were the first who fought against Permanent Settlement Act of Lord Cornwallis during 1855. It was during late 1850, when Sidhu Murmu, Kanhu Murmu, Chand Murmu and Bhairo Murmu hoarded around 85,000 Santhals to wage a war against British to object all the law which were objectionable to them at that point of time..

So, Santhals with their entire musical instrument (like Tumdak, Tamak, Banam, and Trio) and weapons (Aag-Saar, Kapi, Tarwade) start moving towards Calcutta. But they had to face British army on the way and could not able to reach Calcutta.

It is also recorded that “Baba Tilka Majhi” was the first Santhal’s leather who raise weapons against the British in 1789. It was due to great famine in 1770 and the consequences of “Court of Directors” orders influenced by British Prime Minister Pitt the Younger. Court of Director issued ten year of the settlement of Zamindari and later in 1800, it was permanent. This resulted in minimal chance to negotiate between local Zamindars and Santhal villagers. Baba Tilka Majhi made bold step to kill one of the British lieutenant with arrow from the top of banyan tree. Later Baba Tilka majhi was hanged till death from the same tree to show example for such deeds.

Santhal Language:

Languages can be broadly classified as:

1. Dravidian

2. Munda or Austric

The Kissam Koya and Oraon belonging to Dravidian-language-speaking clan are few in numbers in this district. The Santhals, Kol and the Munda tribes belong to Austric family and are the prime tribes and they do have own mother tongue. Santhals have their own language, which belong to Austro-Asiatic language family. Santhals have well developed manuscript called “Ol Chiki” developed by Pt Raghunath Murmu in 1920s. Initially “Ol Chiki” was regarded as copied one and also considered as, which doesn’t have any characteristic of language. But after lot of studies, when it was found that “Ol chiki” is alphabetic, and does not share any of the syllabic properties of the other Indic scripts such as Devanagari. It uses 30 letters and five basic diacritics. It has 6 basic vowels and three additional vowels, generated using the Gahla Tudag.

Santhals did not have a written language until the nineteenth century. Therefore, the script is a recent development. A distinct script was required to accommodate the Santali language, does not combine any features of both the Indic and Roman scripts. The modern “Ol Chiki” script was devised by Pandit Raghunath Murmu in 1925. He wrote over 400- 450 books covering a wide spectrum of subjects. Darege Dhan, Sidhu-Kanhu, Bidu Chandan and Kherwal Bir are among the most acclaimed of his works. Pandit Raghunath Murmu is popularly known as Guru Gomke among the Santhals, a title conferred on him by the Mayurbhanj Adibasi Mahasabh.

Art and Culture of the Santals:

Santali culture is such that it had and has been attracting many scholars and anthropologists since centuries. The first attempt to study the Santali culture was done by the Mughals and which followed by the Christian missionaries. The most famous of them was the Norwegian-born Reverend Paul Olaf Bodding. Unlike many other adivasi groups of the Indian subcontinent, the Santals are known for preserving their native language despite waves of migrations and invasions from Mughals, Europeans, British and others.

Santali culture is depicted in the paintings and artworks in the walls of their houses. Local mythology includes the stories of the Santhal ancestors Pilchu Haram and Pilchu Bhudi.

The Santhal people love music and dance. Like other Indian people groups, their culture has not been influenced by any mainstream Indian culture and or by Western culture, but traditional Santhals have own way of music and dance. Santali music differs from Hindustani classical music in significant ways. Onkar Prasad has done the most recent work on the music of the Santhal but others preceded his work. The Santal traditionally accompany many of their dances with two drums: the Tamak' and the Tumdak'. The flute (tiriao) was considered the most important Santhal traditional instrument and still evokes feelings of nostalgia for many Santhals. Santali dance and music traditionally revolved around Santhal religious celebrations. However, Santhal music and dance both retain connections to traditional celebrations. The names of many Santhal tunes are derived from the traditional ritual with which they were once associated. Sohrai tunes, for example, were those sung at the Sohrai festival. Santali rituals are mainly comprised of sacrificial offerings and invocations to the spirits, or Bongas.

The Santhals are musicians and dancers par excellence and have dances for every imaginable occasion. The martial dances - Golwari and Paikha are marked with vigor, virility and a lot of jumping and leaping in the air. They carry bow and arrows while doing martial dances and perform mock fights and attacks. Their courtship and marriage dances are typical. These dances, romantic and lively in nature, are performed on full moon nights. The loud drumming, resembling thunder, calls the belles of the community and they come dressed in their fineries, adorned with flowers, feathers and assemble under a large banyan tree. The young men come forward taking strides with drums and lilting songs on their lips, and then the dance commences in two rows, their arms interlinking in pairs. The rows surge forward like rhythmic waves and then recede with supple footwork and swaying heads and bodies. The boys in the row opposite play on flutes, drums, and large cymbals and sing songs in perfect harmony. After the dance the boys and girls mingle and have a good chat.

Santhals have their hunting and sowing dances. On Dassai festival men-folk dance from one locality to another. Then there are the Jhika and the Lagren type dances in which men and women dance together. Men form the outer ring and the women the inner circle. The Dhong and Lagren are exclusively confined to women. The Lagren has many forms and variations according to the occasion, be it a marriage, a festival or social gathering. All these dances reflect their collective nature, cohesion, community feeling and social awareness. They are great spontaneous collective singers and dancers. The Santhal women and girls can be seen singing and dancing while engaged in their daily chore like sowing, plantation, journeying to and from the forest. They work and sing simultaneously and in between pause for a round of dance. They use song and music as a convenient tool of dancing. Dance is a super ordinate and all the rest is subordinate.

Adivasi Religion:

Santhals have Jaher and Gosade are two places where Santhals do religious activities. Santhals don’t have even shape of God and do not believe in idol worship. Santhals follow the Sarna religion. The common God and Goddess of Santhal are Marang-buru, Jaher-era. Santhals pay respect to the ghosts and spirits like Kal Sing, Lakchera, Beudarang etc. They have village priests known as the Naiki and Ujha. Animal sacrifices to the Gods are the common practice common practice among the Santhals to appease the Gods and Goddess.

Santhals do believe in many Gods and Goddesses except common GOD and patrimonial one. According to them the Sun is omnipotent. He is the creator and father. The earth is believed to be their mother. She brings up all. Mother earth is the female and the Sun God is the male and all other are their off springs.

Different clans of Santhals worship the God with different names. The ancestral GOD is important and followed by some rituals in regular interval of time. Santhalis worship the powerful Sun God as ‘Singabonga’ (also spelled as Singhbonga) in common.


Santhals celebrate loads of festivals in different occasion. Santhals follow cycle of nature and agricultural term to celebrate festivals and celebrate festivals accordingly. They celebrate this festival to invocations the Nature for helping them in getting where ever they have and sometime to increase their wealth and free them from all the enemies. It is the tradition among the Santhals to grow the tree outside their house after the purification process for different purposes.

The Santhals celebrate other festival like, Sohorai, from the end of Paush and for the entire month of Magh. "Karam" festival is celebrated by the Santhals in the month of Aswin (September- October) in order to have increased `wealth and progeny` and to get rid of the evil spirits. During this festival, two youths after being purified, fetch two branches of Karam tree from the forest and plant them just outside the house. Other festivals of the Santhal community include Maghe, Sakrat, Baba Bonga, Sahrai, Ero, Asaria and Namah. They also celebrate haunting festival called Disum sendra on the eve of Baishakhi Purnima.

Ero (Paddy sowing festival)

The Santals, Mahali, Bhumija and Lodha celebrate this festival on the day of 'Akshitrutiya' to worship mother earth with religions flavor and enthusiasm. The black cock is offered as sacrifice with non-boiled rice, flower, Vermillion and incense sticks to propitiate mother earth for bumper harvest, prosperity peaceful and disease free life. Dance amidst traditional tribal songs and beating of drums rent the air, which makes the festival quite enjoyable.

Jamtala Bonga (Jantal Festival):

This festival is celebrated when the ear of paddy hangs downward exclusively in the year when crop is destroyed due to scanty rainfall. The fill treated as God is offered male goat as sacrifice with a belief that propitiation of hill God will bring about bumper crops. The male goat so killed is distributed among the villagers.

Karam Parva:

This festival is celebrated in the month of 'Ashwina' or 'Kartika' and the auspicious day in fixed by the village meeting. A 'Karam Bough' is planted on the altar in the middle of village. The village maids offer molasses non-boiled rice, flower and vermillion then story of 'Karamdharan', the God of fate is recited and it continues amidst dance, song and beating of drums till morning and then immersion of 'Karam Bough' is solemnised with the blessings of God of fate the life becomes enriched with health and this is their sincere belief.

Makar Parva:

The prime festival of Santhals is celebrated with pomp and grandeur by Adivasis month of 'Pausha' and English month 'January' when the paddy reaping is half done and the mind is free from all lures and anxieties. Irrespective of colour and crew and age all partake in religious gaiety and fervour.

This festival lasts for three days and celebration primarily starts night before 'Makar Sankranti'. First day is celebrated since morning by the burning of log of woods in the bank of river or near water reservoir. It is told as 'Kumbha', done mostly by the children and teens. The process is done in the early morning. Day of Sakrat, everyone in the family will take bath early and wear new cloths. In every household 'Makar Chaula' and delicious cakes are prepared. After that head of the family offer food and drinks to ancestors and Ora bongs (house God) in the inner most (Bhitar orah) part of the house. In other words we can say the deities are worshipped. After having food which includes mutton curry, chicken, pork, lamb, sheep, palatable cakes and country liquor 'Handia', in every village or collection of villages’, male will participate in archery competition and female come to witness. First village priest “Naike” will purify the target and set the distance for competitors. Three chances will be provided until someone hit the target. If someone hit the target, then he’ll be the winner and awarded with garland of flowers and someone (assign by headman of village) will take him in shoulder till “Gosande”. Manjhi/Naike will worship and is followed with singing, dancing and playing of instrumental music. All those present there, are given rice-beer. Winner will be accompanied by Santhali traditional dance, song and music. In that occasion men and women dance in the “Gosande” till late night with boisterous music, songs and drums. The traditional dress of Santhal women is called Pandhat, which is a covering from the chest to the foot.

Second and third day is for the occasion of Makar a special 'Monkey Dance' named as 'Gari-aseen' is performed. The tribal folks adorning their bodies in many forms roam door to door asking for paddy, rice and cakes, which becomes quite enjoyable. Also female makes-up by men and dance with tradition songs and drums called “Budhi-Gari”.

Finally in a village meeting all the collected items will be disclosed. And villagers will organized for feast or grand village party on some free day. Rice will be distributed to different household to brew rice whisky or rice beer and collected on the day of grand village party. Relatives are also invited to join.

By nature, the Santhals love Dance, Music and wine. There cannot be a festival without these. Their fairs and festivals are very colorful.

Judicial system:

The Santhals traditionally had an organized judicial system for the management and solution of the various problems within the community. They make every effort to solve the social problems arising within their community by themselves. The Santhal system of governance, known as Manjhi–Paragana, is compared to what is often called Local Self Governance. This body is responsible for making decisions to ameliorate the village's socioeconomic condition.

The head of the Santhal community is called Manjhi Hadam (headman of village). He is the chief of the executive, judicial and all other functions within society. He is assisted by other office bearers like Paranik, Jagmanjhi, Jagparanik, Naike, Gudit, etc, who work in their respective fields to solve various kinds of problems. After the birth of a child, the Jagmanjhi and following the death of a person the Gudit and others are present. Manjhi Hadam undertakes the looking into judicial cases and the dispensing of justice and above him is Disham Manjhi, and above both is Diheri. The Diheri is the highest judicial office bearer of Santhals. The Santhals who generally like to live in concentrated settlements of their own near rivers and forests are divided into 12 thars or groups. As the groups are in accordance with professional specialization, this appears as a form of social system. The Murmu are the priests of Santhals and Mardi the businessmen, while Kisku are the rulers and Hemram judges. Similarly, the Tudu are musicians and Soren soldiers. The organizations of Santhals are village council (Manjhibaisi), Parganna Council (Pramatrabaisi) and the highest council (Labirbaisi).

Customs of the Santhal:

After the birth of a child, the Santhal midwife of Gaasibudhi cuts the umbilical cord of the child with an arrow and buries it near the door. The child is named on the day of the birth or on any odd numbered day following birth. The first-born son is given the name of his grandfather; and second a male child will be named from maternal side. He is also given another name for calling him.


Birth is regarded as very joyous occasion in the society of the Santhal. It makes the couple fertile and washes the strain of barrenness forever. It enhances the status of the husband and the wife as father and mother. After birth of child family has to provide feast to villagers.


Family is the smallest unit of social organization in the Santhal society. Family is nuclear, husband-wife and their unmarried children. Married son established their own family and married daughter leave the house to lead a family with their husband.

Marriage and divorce:

The ritual of marriage generally comes in the life of all boys and girls of the Santhal, Monogamy is the usual form of marriage. Bigamy is also allowed. Levirate and Surrogate marriage are possible depending on the situation. Pre-marital relation within lineage group is not allowed. But in case of other lineage group it is excused and finally results in marriage. Marriage may take place between boys and girls of two lineages but generally it is avoided. They generally follow village exogamy. Usual way of acquiring bride is by bride-price and through the consent of parents of boys and girls. But marriage by exchange, elopement service and love may also take place.

The Santhals have different types of marriage. Their marriages are exogamous and these marriages known as `Bapla` are of seven types namely Sanga Bapla, Kadam Bapla, Kirin Bapla, Upagir Bapla, Tanki Dipil Bapla, Itut Bapla, Nirbelok Bapla, Diku Bapla etc. At the end of every marriage, the bride money is collected. Divorce can be obtained easily; however, some alimony has to be given whole divorcing. If marriages are undertaken within one`s own group, such couples are ostracized and chased away from society. There is also the practice of the son-in-law staying in his in-laws` house.

To learn more about Santhali Marriage, go to -


The death during old age is taken good because it brings occasion of transformation of body and soul of a person. The dead body is buried or cremated. Only male members participate in death rituals. The dead are cremated as well as buried. After the death of a respected person of the community who occupies an important post such as Manjhi, Paranik, Gudit, etc, all Santhals participate in the death ceremony. The entire village has to mourn the death. On the evening of the death of a person, a rooster is killed and Khichadi (porridge) cooked and offered to the soul of the dead. After seven days the Santhals purify themselves by bathing in a river. The last rites (Bhandan) are undertaken at an appropriate time after another seven days. The last rites or purification are undertaken on the same day of the week as when the dead was buried.

Population, Economy and Livelihood

Santhals has total Population --96, 05,000 (from 2001 census)

• West Bengal 19, 97222

• Bihar 1039425

• Jharkhand 20, 67039

• Orissa 9, 29782

• Assam 1223032

• MP 2348500

Major economic activities of the Santhal are agriculture, collection of forest produce from the forests and cultivation. The livelihood of the Santhals revolves around the forests they live in. They fulfill their basic needs from the trees and plants of the forests. Apart from this they are also engaged in the haunting, fishing and cultivation for their livelihood. Santhals possess the unique skills in making the musical equipments, mats and baskets out of the plants. This talent is safely passed on from one generation to the other. Now days, Santhals, who got education engaged in well paid governments and private jobs.


• Archer, W. G. The Hill of Flutes: Life, Love, and Poetry in Tribal India: A Portrait of the Santals. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1974.

• Bodding, P. O. Santal Folk Tales. Cambridge, Mass.: H. Aschehoug; Harvard University Press, 1925.

• Bodding, P. O. Santal Riddles and Witchcraft among the Santals. Oslo: A. W. Brøggers, 1940.

• Bodding, P. O. A Santal Dictionary.(5 volumes), 1933-36 Oslo: J. Dybwad, 1929.

• Bodding, P. O. Materials for a Santali Grammar I, Dumka 1922

• Bodding, P. O. Studies in Santal Medicine and Connected Folklore (3 volumes), 1925-40

• Bompas, Cecil Henry, and Bodding, P. O. Folklore of the Santal Parganas. London: D. Nutt, 1909.

• Chakrabarti, Dr. Byomkes, A Comparative Study of Santali and Bengali, KP Bagchi, Calcutta, 1994

• Chaudhuri, A. B. State Formation among Tribals: A Quest for Santal Identity. New Delhi: Gyan Pub. House, 1993.

• Culshaw, W. J. Tribal Heritage; a Study of the Santals. London: Lutterworth Press, 1949.

• Duyker, E. Tribal Guerrillas: The Santals of West Bengal and the Naxalite Movement, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1987, pp. 201, SBN 19 561938 2.

• Hembrom, T. The Santals: Anthropological-Theological Reflections on Santali & Biblical Creation Traditions. 1st ed. Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1996.

• Orans, Martin. "The Santal; a Tribe in Search of a Great Tradition." Based on thesis, University of Chicago., Wayne State University Press, 1965.

• Prasad, Onkar. Santal Music: A Study in Pattern and Process of Cultural Persistence, Tribal Studies of India Series; T 115. New Delhi: Inter-India Publications, 1985.

• Roy Chaudhury, Indu. Folk Tales of the Santals. 1st ed. Folk Tales of India Series, 13. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1973.

• Troisi, J. The Santals: A Classified and Annotated Bibliography. New Delhi: Manohar Book Service, 1976.

• Tribal Religion: Religious Beliefs and Practices among the Santals. New Delhi: Manohar, 2000.


Bapla: The Santhal Adivasi Marriage

Marriage in Santhal Adivasi community is sign of a prosperity and beginning of new life. In spite of some social upheaval in social norms during the past century in Santhal communities, one can find the institution of marriage is very strong. Bapla is a Santhali word which means marriage. Marriage have significant place in Santhal society. In Santhal like most ancient societies needed a secure environment for the perpetuation of the species. Although in many views, Santhals marriage as a private expression of their love for one another, but for centuries Santhal matrimony has been a very public institution impacted by tradition, culture, religion and Santhali laws. Santhals marriage is private as well as social obligation. Without joyful night by singing, dancing, drumming and playing flutes Santhal marriage is not considered.

History of marriage in Santhal:

Discourse of Santhal’s marriage starts with two names Pilchu hadam and Pilchu bhudi. Folklore is believed that, Santhal’s world started with them and they were the first couple to get married. Rest followed and modified in due course of time.

Anthropologists have documented a diverse variety of marriage practices in Santhals cultures. Edward Westermarck defined Santhal’s marriage as “a more or less durable connection between male and female, lasting beyond the mere act of propagation till after the birth of the offspring.”

The anthropological handbook Notes and Queries (1951) defined marriage as “a union of a man and a woman such that children of the woman are recognized as legitimate by both parents”.

Meaning of Santhal marriage:

The ritual of marriage generally comes in the life of all boys and girls in Santhals. Monogamy is the usual form of marriage. Bigamy is also allowed. Levirate and Surrogate marriage are possible depending on the situation. Pre-marital relation within lineage group is not allowed. But in case of other lineage group it is excused and finally results in marriage or social segregation. Marriage may take place between boys and girls of two lineages but generally it is avoided. They generally follow village exogamy. Usual way of acquiring bride is by bride-price (Gonog) and through the consent of parents of boys and girls. But marriage by exchange, elopement service and love may also take place followed by customs only.

The Santhals have different category of marriage. Their marriages are exogamous and these marriages called as `Bapla` are of twelve types namely Sanga Bapla, Kadam Bapla, Kirin Bapla, Upagir Bapla, Tunki Dipil Bapla, Itut Bapla, Nirbelok Bapla, Diku Bapla, Sange Bariyat, Haram Bariiyat, Gardi-Jawain.

At the end or mid of every marriage, the bride price is collected. A woman made pregnant by another male can be socially accepted and converted in marriage. Divorce can be obtained easily; however, some alimony has to be given whole divorcee. If marriages are undertaken within one`s own group, such couples are ostracized and chased away from society. There is also the practice of the son-in-law staying in his in-laws` house.

Marriages in Santhals are regarded as pure and sacred. It is therefore done with all customs. First few steps are common in every type of marriages. Parents of boys or girls will appoint an interlocutor called Raibaar. Raibaar is that who, mediate in initiating talk about marriage proposal to either family. Generally Raibaar is known by both the family, and have jesting relation with both boy, girl and parents too. Each process customs are followed strictly by the Raibaar and parents of boy or girl. One can divide the whole process in different phases.

Phases in Bapla:

Phase 1: (Sar Sagun) Talk initiated by Raibaar to both the families.
In this phase Raibaar take initiative to visit both families. He talks mostly with parents (if parents are dead, then head of the family) about the other family’s interested in bride for their son/brother. Raibaar allow girl’s family to have discussion with other family members. After few weeks or couple of day’s times, if girl’s family shows interest will inform Raibaar. So, that he can inform boy’s family for the further processes.

Phase 2: (Orah duar njel) Visiting of parents and relatives to each other’s home
If girl’s family shows interest in the proposal put up by Raibaar. It means they are ready to go for further process, which is visiting to each other families. By visiting each other’s families, they will not only examine the condition of living, status and other things but also check how the family members are and presenting themselves in front of other family members. For that reason not only parents, relatives also visit to observation and discuss in various issues. After going back to respective home all family members come together and share point of their observation and all will give their opinion for the proposal. But in most cases final decision is only depends on the parents of the boy or girl.

Phase 3: (Horah chinah) Final decisions and conveyed by Raibaar.
After family has come to the final decision they will convey their decision through Raibaar. And it is his responsibility to convey other family. If the decision is negative, the process will end in this phase. If the decision is positive, the process will continue to next phase of marriage. Both parents will convey their decision to Majhi (headman of village) in order to get social sanctioned and involvement. It is rarely possible to arranged marriage without Majhi and villagers. Process also includes with substantiation by presenting cloths (most often) for to be bride and groom and the process is called Horoh Chinah.

Phase 4: (Taka chal) Express decision to Manjhi (or Majhi) (headman of the village) and arrangement of marriage.
Parents will convey their decision of marriage to other family boy or girl by going to Majhi’s home. After got confirmation from parents, Majhi call Jogmajhi and assign him to prepare for marriage. Majhi, Naike, Jogmajhi and villagers are also stake holders of marriage in village. Many customs are incomplete without the help of Majhi, Naike and Jogmajhi. And villagers play a vital role in helping marriage’s whole processes. Taka Chal is the custom included with the process. In this process groom’s family has to hand over meager money to bride’s family.

Phase 5: (Newta) Invitation to relatives and final preparation of marriage
After conveying decision of marriage to Headman, family members will be relaxed because they know the Majhi will take care of the customs and ceremonies. Family members will be busy inviting their relatives, friends, near and dear once. But first invitation is always to the Majhi.

Phase 6: (Bapla) Holding of Marriage

Different categories of Marriage:

1. Sangha Bapla (Ader bapla): Sangha Bapla (Marriage) is referred to marriage done by elder brother’s wife by younger brother in case of death and lost. It is common understanding between bride and groom side. Also need consent from wife of elder brother. This marriage is done in order to prevent anyone from widowhood. Society accepts followed by some rituals and customs by more hor (five eminent people of village) villagers, naike and manjhi haram (headman). In brief it is required a man to become the husband of a deceased brother’s widow.

2. Kadam Bapla: Kadam Bapla is generally done under kadam tree with all rituals and customs. This is oldest kind of marriage in Santhal community. In olden times, Santhals had no strong witness then nature. Kadam tree is useful and considered to be sacred in Santhal tradition. Now a day’s even branch of Kadam tree is solving the problem- if kadam tree is not available.

3. Kirin Bapla: Kirin in Santhali means purchase. Kirin Bapla is referred to purchase of to be bride from her parent’s home. In Santhali family, everyone in family contribute to occupation, which is agriculture. Therefore, each family member is considered to be manpower. To compensate manpower one has to pay certain amount for bride to their parents. It is not considered to bride price but a customs for identify value of bride.

4. Upagir Bapla: Santhal community is open towards interaction to male or female. Any male or female get along and come to common consent of getting marriage. Society accepts such kind of unionism and considered as marriage. It is without the information of parents but, later on parents are being informed by messenger of village i.e. assigned by Headman. Such kind of marriage occurs from haat (village, daily or weekly local market), pata (mela or community celebration of some occasion). There is special function for newly married couple called Tiril-Tarob. Where villagers have rights to ask and clear their doubt about both of them. This custom is done through a representative by headman. The entire question is being asked in indirect way to maintain the decorum of custom. Question like, have you ever married? Is being asked as “have you crossed anyone barricade before?”

5. Tunki Dipil Bapla: This kind of bapla is also known as Rahi Chaudal Bapla (portable house for bride). After finishing all customs bride sit inside decorated rahi chaudal to groom’s house. Bride has to be taken only in Rahi Chudal by the villagers/relatives from groom’s village.

6. Itut-Sindur Bapla: Process of applying vermillion in mid of forehead of bride by the groom is called Itut. Usually the process is done in door of bride’s home. This process is part and partial of marriage custom. And Itut custom is being done after completing certain years too.

7. Nirbelok Bapla: This kind of marriage is fixed in the childhood by parents. Nirbelok means who is not attended the age of adult.

8. Diku Bapla: Replicating Hindu methods of marriage or other than Santhal custom is called Diku Bapla. Diku in Santhal means outsider, term Diku was being used to denote British or any outsider in pre Independent India by Santhal Adivasi.

9. Haram Bariyat Bariyat: Haram mean old man in Santhal. Marriage led by Haram hor.

10. Sange Bariyat or Sange: Marriage accompanied by many.

11. Ghardi-jawain: In such marriages, groom is liable to stay in bride’s house after marriage. This sort of marriage is mostly with single girl child family or elite Santhal family.

Some Santhali Marriage terms used above:
Gonog is a bride price, that groom has to pay to the bride’s family. Generally it’s a pair of oxen. It helps the family in agricultural activities.

Merhed-Sakom: It is to be a distinctive feature for married person (especially bride). So that she can be identified by others in social occasions and other functions or in general day to day life. It’s a special kind of bangle only for married women. It is social obligation to wear Merhed Sakom to all married women. There is special function for wearing of Merhed Sakom in the process of marriage.

Daram-Gande: If bride is having elder sister and not married. This process is to respect her by presenting pair of cloths. It is social custom, by which she will not be able to touch groom after marriage. And also, if groom is having elder brother, bride is not supposed to touch him after marriage.

This page has been developed and maintained by Jharkhand Volunteer*



positions around an Indian sculpture
SANTHAL FAMILY positions around an Indian sculpture is an exhibition of modern and contemporary art that takes as its point of departure Santhal Family, a work made by Indian artist Ramkinkar Baij in 1938.

In picture:Boran Handsa with his Santhal Portrets, terracota sculptures, 2007

With its starting point in India, the exhibition is in line with earlier M HKA-projects such as Alles onder de hemel (All Under Heaven) 2004, which looked at China, Intertidal, 2005, which looked at Vancouver and Moussem, 2007, which looked at Morocco. But unlike these projects, SANTHAL FAMILY Positions Around an Indian Sculpture goes beyond the model of a regional exhibition to focus on the legacy of a single work.

Starting with Santhal Family, the exhibition will radiate outwards: first, from the state of Bengal, where the sculpture stands, drawing historic links between left wing politics and the arts; then through the work of contemporary Indian artists familiar with this iconic work; and finally, through the intervention of diasporic and non-Indian artists who will consider the sculpture’s importance from afar. The exhibition will consider Santhal Family as a work that links the art histories of different continents and provides an entry point into the complexity of India’s cultural and political scene. It will also question how aesthetic gestures can speak beyond their immediate circumstances and how both political and formal elements can coalesce within a single work.

Considered to be the first modernist public sculpture in India, Santhal Family combines an interest in the forms of modernism and temple sculpture with a concern for ground level reality. Depicting a family group from the Santhal tribe carrying their possessions with them to a new place of work, it is a portrait of labour that presents the complexity of its subject without heroism or pathos. Little known outside of his native country, Ramkinkar Baij was a revolutionary in his own time, celebrated for his experimental use of materials and for the way that he drew freely on several artistic traditions at once.

SANTHAL FAMILY Positions around an Indian Sculpture not only includes archival material and existing works but 14 artists (including artist groups)were commissioned by the M HKA to produce new work for the exhibition with several artists travelling to India to see Santhal Family on location. In addition, the museum has taken this opportunity to acquire a number of works from India – including collages by C.K. Rajan (which were recently shown at documenta 12) drawings by K.P. Krishnakumar and terracotta sculptures by Boran Hansda.

SANTHAL FAMILY is curated by Grant Watson in collaboration with Suman Gopinath and Anshuman Dasgupta. Watson and Gopinath work together on an ongoing basis and have produced exhibitions with amongst others inIVA (London) Project Art Centre (Dublin) and the Crafts Museum (New Delhi). Anshuman Dasgupta teaches at the Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan and is a specialist on Ramkinkar Baij. The Polish artist Goshka Macuga has designed a layout for the exhibition that allows its various concepts and histories to become accessible to the public. The entire 2nd floor of the M HKA has been opened up to make one space in order to accommodate SANTHAL FAMILY.

The exhibition comes at a time when there is a growing interest in contemporary Indian art with many Indian artists being represented in international exhibitions. documenta 12 featured work by, amongst others, Sheela Gowda, C.K. Rajan, Nasreen Mohamedi and Amar Kanwar; Amrita Sher-Gil exhibited in 2007 at Tate Modern; Suman Gopinath co – curated Horn Please, an exhibition of Indian art at the Bern Kunstmuseum; in 2006 Subcontingent: The Indian Subcontinent in Contemporary Art brought artists from the Indian subcontinent together in a group show in Turin; and India Contemporary [Icon] was an Indian exhibition at the Venice Biennial in 2005. The work of Indian artists is also shown at major international art fairs. Khoj International Artists Association of Delhi showed works by Subodh Gupta, Anita Dube, N. Pushpamala and Ravi Agarwal at the Frieze Art Fair 2007 in London; Subodh Gupta’s work was present in 2006 at Art Basel; and the gallery Bodhi Art [which supports SANTHAL FAMILY] has participated at international art fairs including Art Chicago, ShContemporary Art Fair in Shanghai and Art Brussels.

> with work by: Ramkinkar Baij, Santanu Bose, Matti Braun, Calcutta Art Research, Ritwik Ghatak, Sheela Gowda, Boran Handsa, N.S. Harsha, Reba Hore, I.P.T.A., Kerala Radicals [inc. Anita Dube, C.K. Rajan, K.R. Karunakaran, Alex Mathew, Reghunadhan K., Jyothi Basu, K.P. Krishnakumar], Valsan Koorma Kolleri, K.P. Krishnakumar, Goshka Macuga, Melvin Moti, Meera Mukherjee, The Otolith Group, Sudhir Patwardhan, Juan Perez Agirregoikoa, Ashim Purkayastha, C.K. Rajan, N.N. Rimzon, Raqs Media Collective, Ravi Shah, Vivan Sundaram, Klaus Weber
> in the context of the exhibition, Anshuman Dasgupta, Monika Szewczyk and Grant Watson will produce a publication with texts by, among others, Will Bradley, Sivakumar and Stephen Morton and the author Mahasweta Devi and visual essays by, among others, Sunil Gupta, Matti Braun, Juan Pérez Agirregoikoa and Raqs Media Collective
> in 2008-2009 the exhibition will travel to India
> in association with Bodhi Art and supported by British Council and Kunststiftung NRW


A salute to the unsung heroes of the Santal Hul

Humaira Fatima

Throughout 2005, the indigenous people of the State of Jharkhand and elsewhere in the Indian Sub-continent has been celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Hul- the movement for social justice led by the two Santal brothers, Sido Murmu and Kanhu Murmu. Although the Hul was eventually and brutally suppressed in 1856, it brought about a dramatic shift in colonial policy as well as a new political consciousness amongst Adivasis, or indigenous and tribal people, in the region that continues to grow till today. This is evident both in the claims for political and cultural autonomy in Jharkhand, which was inaugurated as a State in 2000, and in the increased assertion of tribal rights at national and international levels.

Before we review the dramatic events of this significant resistance of the Santals let us first question ourselves: What do we really know about Santals? Santals are the largest adivasi (indigenous) community in the Indian subcontinent with a population of more than 10 million, and they reside mostly in the Indian states of Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, Assam and Bihar, and sparsely in Bangladesh and Nepal. The Santals are one of the oldest tribal populations in Bangladesh and are largely concentrated in the districts of Rajshahi, Dinajpur and Rangpur. According to a rough estimate (1984) there were approximately 1,50,000 santals in Bangladesh alone.

The Santals in Bangladesh were originally inhabitants of Chotonagpur, Santal Pargana of India. During the British period they migrated to different areas including Bangladesh in search of employment as agricultural laborers. Primarily the Santals were hunters and gatherers who lived in hill forests of mid-eastern India. Over the years due to rapid increase in population, deforestation and scarcity of wild animals they had to move out to different areas, mainly plain lands for their livelihood.

Santals are fiercely independent and possess their own language called Santali. However, they can speak Bengali as well. Santals are a partilineal ethnic group where descent is recognized through male lines. Patronyms are inherited through male lines and the father is generally regarded as the head of the house. However, females also significantly contribute towards the financial solvency of their families. Traditionally the Santal tribe is divided into 11 clans. They are Hadsa, Murmu, Kisku, Hambrom, Mardi, Sauren, Tudu, Baski, Besara, Chaure and Pauria. Interestingly these clans are totem based with each clan having its own totem which is generally animals, birds and plants.

The clans regulate marriages, inheritance, succession and affiliation. One becomes a clan member by birth or by marriage (applicable for females only). Furthermore, the clans are hierarchically organized on the basis of occupation (Kiskus were kings, Murmus were priests, Sauren were warriors, Baskies were traders). Thus, this kind of occupation related clan patronyms are somewhat like the Hindu caste system. Apart from this the Santals, like many tribal groups, believe in various impersonal spirits and forces which control human life. They believe in a number of deities and worship the supernatural powers. This primitive form of their religion is called Sonaton Dharma. Ironically, these very people who have fought so bravely for their origins, cultural heritage and rights are the ones whose distinct religious and cultural ethnic heritage are undergoing rapid changes, particularly through the process of Christianization. But perhaps social and economic oppressions are more to be blamed for this.

In spite of these transitions the adivasi souls rose in revolt nearly 150 years ago. The brave freedom struggles by Adivasi, specially Santals, against the British tyranny and cruelty of Desi (native) landlords have often gone unnoticed and sometimes, by nefarious design excluded from History text books. However, mere omission from the History books in educational curriculum can not conceal the stories of bravery of Adivasi Heroes and the stiff resistance they had offered in the struggles. Baba Tilka Majhi was the first Santal leader who took up arms against the British in the 1789's. The British surrounded the Tilapore forest from which he operated but he and his men held the enemy at bay for several weeks. When he was finally caught in 1784, he was tied to the tail of a horse and dragged all the way to the collector's residence at Bhagalpur. There, his lacerated body was hung from a Banyan tree. But this was only the beginning. The actual freedom struggle of the Santals began with the great Santal Hul.

Hul is a Santali term. It means a movement for liberation and normally the instigation of this massive movement is attributed to two Murmu brothers, Sido and Kanhu. Santal Hul was one of the fiercest battles in the history of Indian freedom struggles causing the greatest number of loss of lives in any battles during that time. The number of causalities of Santal Hul was 20,000 according to Hunter who wrote it in his Annals of Rural Bengal. The Santal Hul of 1855-57 was master minded by four brothers Sido, Kanhu, Chand and Bhairav; and is regarded as a heroic episode in India's prolonged struggle for freedom. It was, in all probability, the fiercest liberation movement in India next to the Great Sepoy Mutiny in 1857.

With the capture of political power of India by the East India Company, the natural habitats of the Adivasi (indigenous) people including the Santals began to shatter by the intruders like moneylenders, traders and revenue farmers, who descended upon them in large numbers under the patronage of the Company. Unbelievable though it may sound but the rate of interest on loan to the poor and illiterate Santals varied from 50% to 500%.

These intruders were the crucial links in the chain of ruthless exploitation under colonial rule. They were the instruments through which the indigenous groups and tribes were brought within the influence and control of the colonial economy. And as a result discontent had been simmering in the Santal Paraganas (present Jharkhand) from the early decades of the nineteenth century owing to most naked exploitation of the indigenous Santals by both the British authorities and their collaborators, native immigrants.

Sido Murmu and Kanhu Murmu, from the village Bhognadihi in Sahibganj district, like hundreds of their tribesmen had long been brooding over the injustices perpetrated by the oppressors. The situation finally reached a point of no return and, not surprisingly, a small episode that took place in July 1855 triggered one of the fiercest uprisings that the British administration ever faced in India. The emergence of leaders like Sido and Kanhu, who were youthful, dynamic and charismatic, provided a rallying point for the Santals to revolt against the oppressors .On 30th June 1855, a large number of Santals assembled in a field in Bhagnadihi village of Santal Paragana, They declared themselves as free and took oath under the leadership of Sido Murmu and Kanhu Murmu to fight to the last against the British rulers as well as their agents.

Militant mood of the Santals frightened the authority. A Police agent confronted them on the 7th July and tried to place the Murmu brothers under arrest. The angry crowd reacted violently and killed the Police agent and his companions. The event sparked off a series of confrontations with the Company's Army and subsequently reached the scale of a full-fledged war.
At the outset, Santal rebels, led by Sido and Kanhu, made tremendous gains and captured control over a large tract of the country extending from Rajmahal hills in Bhagalpur district to Sainthia in Birbhum district. For the time being, British rule in this vast area became completely paralyzed.
Many moneylenders and native agents of the Company were killed while local British administrators took shelter in the Pakur Fort to save their lives. However, the rebels could not hold on to their gains due to the superior fire power of the East India Company which was soon aimed heavily at them.
Thus, the courage, chivalry and sacrifice of the Santals were countered by the rulers with veritable butchery. Out of 50,000 Santal rebels, 15,000 -20,000 were killed by the British Indian Army. The Company was finally able to suppress the rebellion in 1856, though some outbreaks continued till 1857.

The Santals showed great bravery and incredible courage in the struggle against the military. As long as their national drums continued beating, the whole party would stand and allow themselves to be shot down. There was no sign of yielding. Once forty Santals refused to surrender and took shelter inside a mud house. The troops surrounded the mud house and fired at them but the Santals replied with their arrows. Then the soldiers made a big hole through the muddy wall and the Captain ordered the Santals to surrender but they again shot a volley of arrows through the hole. The Captain again asked them to surrender but they continued shooting arrows. Some of the soldiers were wounded. At last when the discharge of arrows from the door slackened, the Captain went inside the room accompanied by his soldiers. He found only one old man, grievously wounded, standing erect among the dead bodies. The captain asked him to surrender, but instead the man rushed on him and killed him with his battle axe.

It is believed that Sido was captured by the British forces through treachery and Kanhu through an encounter at Uparbanda. He was subsequently killed in captivity. The Santal Hul, however, did not come to an end in vain. It had a long-lasting impact. Santal Parganas Tenancy Act was the outcome of this struggle, which dished out some sort of protection to the indigenous people from the ruthless colonial exploitation. A Santal territory (Jharkhand) was born. The regular police was abolished and the duty of keeping peace and order and arresting criminals was vested in the hands of parganait and village headman.

However, this turn of events did not mean the end of oppression for the Santals or the other indigenous people in the Indian Sub-continent. Though the oppressors have changed the oppressions haven’t. Ignorance, usurpation, illiteracy, ever growing population, economic backwardness, deforestation and aggression of non-tribal people have continually blighted the lives of these ‘adivasis’ or original inhabitants of the land. They have been constantly victimized and rendered landless as they are turned away from the land that has been theirs for centuries and by right belongs to them.

In Bangladesh, there are about 45 such communities who have been living in this country for centuries. Unfortunately, the rights of the ethnic groups are yet to be established fully even in some key areas, and only a few of them have received attention. For example, they do not yet enjoy documented right to land possession. The government has set up a land commission in terms of the CHT accord, but it is yet to effect a breakthrough as far as settling the land-related problems in the region goes. The situation of the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh is certainly very alarming. In many areas they are subjected to extreme discriminatory situations in offices, markets and public places. Health and education standards of indigenous areas are clearly among the lowest in the country. Indigenous languages are not allowed to be taught in schools, leading to weakening of these languages and very high primary school dropouts.

But the major grievance of these people lies elsewhere. Lands of the different peoples, including the Rakhaing, Garo, Santal, Tanchangya, Oraon, Rajbangshi, and Khasi continue to be taken over by non-indigenous people. Such land alienation is forbidden by the East Bengal State Acquisition and Tenancy Act of 1950, and the ILO Convention No. 107 (ratified by Bangladesh), but it nevertheless continues. The lands of Garo and Khasis have been arbitrarily included within so-called "Eco-Parks" and "National Parks" for the benefit of city-dwellers and foreign tourists.
The forest area of Modhupur used to cover 62,000 acres. However, with the establishment of 20,000 acres of National Park, the area of the Garos (inhabitants of the region) decreased dramatically and they were even forced to pay entrance fees every time they passed the park's boundaries. In the past, they have already faced numerous forcible evictions, as more forest land was transformed into an Air Force bombing field (1985) and plantations (rubber, commercial plantation with exotic species and pineapple and banana plantation). Apart from this some land has simply gone into illegal possession. Most of these plantations were funded by external resources, such as Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.
In 2003, the government of Bangladesh embarked upon a plan to implement the Modhupur National Park Development Project. The project has its roots in a World Bank funded study under the Forest Resources Management Project and aims to create a special eco-area of 3000 acres. There are eight villages located within this eco-area and are most densely populated by the Garos. The building of a brick wall around this area had already begun. Once built, these walls will restrict Garos' movement and limit their access to land and forest resources, which are already severely limited. The project also foresees building of various infrastructures such as picnic spots and rest houses in order to attract tourists.
Although the implementation of the project has been halted temporarily at present, the government of Bangladesh has not officially cancelled the project. The plan will not only put the Garos' habitat and rich cultural heritage in jeopardy, it will also threaten the right to food of thousands of Garos to whom the forest is the major source of livelihood as it provides food and firewood to them. Not only this there are many individuals among these adivasis against whom more than 70 to 80 legal cases have been submitted and being poverty stricken they have no way of fighting back this expansive battle.

Apparently, it is a case of a development project finding no acceptance among the indigenous people. It is yet another project launched in the name of tourism development and "biodiversity conservation" but which has become part of the systematic and profound assault on indigenous communities and their ancestral lands.

Another particular cause of concern is the creation of such a park in the Moulvibazar district, which will involve clearance of forested land inhabited by Khasi and Garo people, with tree felling, the leveling of hills, road building and construction of buildings. The government once again claims the twin aims of the project to be economic development and "biodiversity conservation".

It is feared that at least 1,000 families will lose their homes and be relocated, and an even larger number will be deprived of their land upon which they depend for their livelihood. Moreover, this eco-park plan seriously threatens the cultural integrity of the indigenous communities by calling for their "social improvement", which includes the creation of a "cultural village", where the "tribals" will be on display for tourist consumption.

A statement released by the Bangladesh Landless Association (BLA), says, "The real objectives of the misnamed 'eco-parks' are to evict minority ethnic groups - which goes hand in hand with environmental destruction - and to transfer public funds into the coffers of the construction industry."

"The latest policy of establishing 'eco-parks' must be condemned," the BLA continues to say. "It flies in the face of the most basic tenets of human rights, ecological protection and sustainable development. The already marginalized inhabitants of the land earmarked for 'development' and 'preservation’ will bear the cost of this pointless exercise. Their lives and livelihood are considered expendable. Putting 'biodiversity preservation' before humans is simply the government's latest 'green' catch-cry; the plan is to destroy most of the natural environment to justify the 'preservation' project. The forests of Bangladesh, which have for centuries been the traditional lands of non-Bengali peoples, are steadily being depleted for profit. This is being done behind the backs of the whole population in an undemocratic manner. The fight to save the forests is also the fight for the rights of the minority inhabitants."
On the other hand, one of the worst developments in the Chittagong Hill Tracts was the transfer program of 1979-1985 whereby the Government of Bangladesh brought one hundred and fifty thousand Bengali Muslim people and re-settled them with the S S military, on lands owned or traditionally used and occupied by indigenous people.
Moreover, the settlers have been given land grants credit and even food program support. In contrast, in 2003, the government stopped supplying rations to those indigenous people who were earlier refugees and who had to take shelter in India. Until today, those indigenous people who were forcefully pushed out of their lands by the settlers have not been able to return to their own homes and lands. The government has formed a Task Force to rehabilitate the displaced people, but the Task Force has not been able to do its work yet.
These indigenous segments of our society demand from us something that is legally theirs— they want the freedom to live their lives according to their age old ways on the lands that have always belonged to them. It is their inheritance as well as their heritage and as such their rights must be respected. We cannot be blinded by our nationalistic feelings and the drive for economic well being at any cost for this time the cost is too great. This time the cost involves not only human lives, democratic and human rights and survival of ethnic groups but also an irrecoverable loss— loss of our own ethnic background and cultural heritage for we are after all descendents of similar ethnic groups who had intermingled with the invaders of this region.

(Author is a freelance journalist and editorial staff of Banglarights)
21 july,2005


HR Pioneers

Ain o Salish Kendro (ASK), is a legal aid and human rights resource centre. It provides free legal aid to the poor- women, workers and child workers... >> details

In Brief

22 percent of country's population poor, destitute women
Dhaka, Feb 6 (BDNEWS)- About 22 percent of the total population of the country are poor and destitute women. According to women affairs directorate, there are 17,39,542 poor and destitute women in the country.13/02/06 >> details

Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
HR & Bangladesh Constitution


Santal - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Santal pantheon includes about 150 spirit deities, generally called bo&NA;gas. These deities include a large number of separate classes, impossible to enumerate here. Some relate to the subclan, but even here we must distinguish between the bo&NA;ga of the place of origin of the clan and its ancestral bo&NA;ga. Each village has a sacred grove, where we find represented the bo&NA;gas common to the Santal tradition. They are generally benevolent. The forest bongas, however, are malevolent, and include the souls of people who died an unnatural death.

Hindu influence is particularly notable in the appearance of Hindu goddesses as tutelary deities of Santal ojhas. On the one hand, these goddesses patronize Santal witches and introduce disease; on the other hand, their patronage is necessary to combat the same evils. Hindu symbols, such as the trident, have become potent ritual paraphernalia of the Santal ojha.

Religious Practitioners. The village priest ( naeke ) is identified, with his wife, as representative of the original Santal couple. Their functions are mainly related to festivals and recurrent annual ceremonies. He consecrates the animals offered to the sacred grove deities. He often compares himself with the Brahman of the encompassing society.

The Santal ojha, a healer and diviner, has several functions. He drives away the malevolent deities, divines the causes of disease, administers remedies according to considerable medical knowledge, and expels pain from the body. He learns his basic magical formulas (mantras) from his master, but he also adds to them from his own experience. An important element in his repertoire is the sacrifice of his own blood (conceived as menstrual blood) to the bo&NA;gas, for which he receives a fee. In the rationalization of his practice he employs several Hindu concepts, yet remains fundamentally within the Santal cultural framework. This position between two Cultures enables him to interpret his own culture and society.

Ceremonies. Life-cycle rituals, such as initiation, marriage, and burial are celebrated individually. But after burial, the final ceremony of gathering the bones and immersing them in water becomes a collective rite. Other collective rites are related to the agricultural cycle: sowing, transplanting, consecration of the crops, and harvest festivals, as well as the annual festival of the cattle. Another cycle concerns the old hunting and gathering traditions, notably the seasonal hunts. The most important, however, of the festivals related to the old hunting and gathering society is the flower festival, which is also the festival of the ancestors and related to the fertility of women. Rainmaking rituals, held in the spring, involve the ritual participation of the village priest, who has the power to produce rain.

Arts. Santal oral literature is rich and includes folktales, myths, riddles, and village stories, and much of it has been recorded or written. Publication began in 1870 with the work of the Norwegian missionaries, who also left large archives of texts written by the Santals themselves. There is also a certain amount of literature in Santali: newspapers, Christian books, and schoolbooks.

Traditional songs are many and various, including ritual texts, dances in homage to the bo&NA;gas, obscene songs sometimes related to hunting or the punishment of offenders, etc. They are classified according to tunes that in turn relate to content. Christian songs have been composed to the same pattern. Each type of song is accompanied by a particular type of traditional dance. The sexes dance separately except when love songs are performed.

More recently, a tradition of folk theater, often with Political overtones, has developed. The main plays have been written by cultural reformers like Ragunath Murmu, and together they present a message of modernization and tribal uplift for the Santal tribe as a whole. Among the visual arts, we may mention the designs decorating houses, the traditional wood carving, and the traditional jewelery, sometimes made of iron and silver.

Medicine. Traditional medicine is highly developed among the Santals and implies a surprising range of botanical and zoological knowledge; more than 300 species each of plants and of animals are identified and used in the pharmacopoeia. There is even, in the organization of botanical knowledge, a hierarchization based on the morphology of plants. The making of remedies implies again a considerable practical knowledge of chemistry.

This medical knowledge is described in a Santal text from the turn of the century, which establishes a complete pathology defining and ranking symptoms and disease according to consistent criteria. Recent fieldwork data corroborates the value of this work, though there is a tendency nowadays to replace such remedies by ritual invocations.

For the Santals, modern medicine sometimes provides an alternative for healing without in any way replacing or superseding traditional medicine.

Death and Afterlife. Santal souls become bo&NA;gas three generations after death, provided that the correct rituals have been performed. At cremation, some bones are collected by the main mourner (usually the eldest son) and kept for awhile under the rafters of the house. They are washed and fed ritually by female mourners with milk, rice beer, and sacred water. Thus, the mourning ritual displays the central Santal symbolism of flower and bone. The feeding of bones that are crowned by flowers expresses the complementarity of the principle of descent (bone) and the principle of affinity (flower = uterus). The chief mourner is possessed by and impersonates the dead and is questioned by the village priest. This dialogue aims at providing the deceased with the wherewithal of the other world. A year later, the bones are immersed in water, a ritual involving sacrifice of a goat. The dead now becomes an ancestor known by name; one month later the recitation of a ritual text releases him from identity to become a nameless ancestor. He now joins other ancestors in the ancestral room of the house and partakes in the offering of rice beer to the ancestors. Now his shadow, which was roaming between the worlds, goes to Hanapuri, the abode of the dead. Here Jom Raja, king of the dead, rules; the passage from there to the state of becoming a bo&NA;ga is never made explicit.

The land of the dead is conceptualized as a place where certain individuals acquire the source of magic powers, while others are simply rewarded according to the way they have acted during their life. While the yogi returns to the world and achieves immortality, simple men endure the justice of Jom Raja. The idea of afterlife shows both Hindu and Christian influence.

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

“View Exchange for Sixth International Santal Conference in Bangladesh”

Last Friday, June 4, 2010, we the Santals of Bangladesh arrange a meeting for view exchange for 6th International Santal Conference in Bangladesh. The meeting was called at Human Resource Development Foundation Bel Danga, Birmpur ,Dinajpur for the Northern Santals of Bangladesh. 25 high professional (Regional Director of Caritas, Teachers, Students, Santal Heademen Govt. employees, Non Govt. employees, Businessmen and others) Santals represent the meeting from different areas.

“View Exchange for Sixth International Santal Conference in Bangladesh” meeting preside over by Mr.Santus Soren ((Regional Director of Caritas, Dinajpur, Bangladesh).
Prof. SC Albert Soren was chief speaker in the meeting.

Prof. SC Albert Soren discuss about – International Santal Council, previous International Santal Conference held in different region in Indian Sub Continents and its importance for Bangladeshi Santals. All participants are agree to arrange 6th International Santal Conferece in Bangladesh and take proper initiatives form now. Participants realized that all The Santal of the world should come together in a platform for their language, Scripts, Culture and Developments although we have contradiction for religion and Culture.

The participants feel to establish “International Santal Council “Bangladesh Chapter immediately to organize 6th International Santal Conference in Bangladesh.

Next meeting for “View Exchange for Sixth International Santal Conference in Bangladesh” for Greater Rajshahi region in July, 2010 and finally a meeting will be call for to form a committee to implements Sixth International Santal Conference in Bangladesh.

“View Exchange for Sixth International Santal Conference in Bangladesh”

June 4, 2010, we the Santals of Bangladesh arrange a meeting for view exchange for 6th International Santal Conference in Bangladesh. The meeting was called at Human Resource Development Foundation Bel Danga, Birmpur ,Dinajpur for the Northern Santals of Bangladesh. 25 high professional (Regional Director of Caritas, Teachers, Students, Santal Heademen Govt. employees, Non Govt. employees, Businessmen and others) Santals represent the meeting from different areas.

“View Exchange for Sixth International Santal Conference in Bangladesh” meeting preside over by Mr.Santus Soren ((Regional Director of Caritas, Dinajpur, Bangladesh).
Prof. SC Albert Soren was chief speaker in the meeting.

Prof. SC Albert Soren discuss about – International Santal Council, previous International Santal Conference held in different region in Indian Sub Continents and its importance for Bangladeshi Santals. All participants are agree to arrange 6th International Santal Conferece in Bangladesh and take proper initiatives form now. Participants realized that all The Santal of the world should come together in a platform for their language, Scripts, Culture and Developments although we have contradiction for religion and Culture.
The participants feel to establish “International Santal Council “Bangladesh Chapter immediately to organize 6th International Santal Conference in Bangladesh.

Next meeting for “View Exchange for Sixth International Santal Conference in Bangladesh” for Greater Rajshahi region in July, 2010 and finally a meeting will be call for to form a committee to implements Sixth International Santal Conference in Bangladesh

Thursday, June 3, 2010





The author wishes to acknowledge his appreciation to many colleagues and friends both home and abroad who have been the patient companions behind the scene and whose prayers and encouragement contributed greatly to take the initiative of writing the present work. The researcher is equally thankful to the EAPI staff and the librarian.

A very special word of appreciation is due to Father Edward Luc Mees, M. J., the moderator of my thesis for his patient guidance. The author is grateful to the panel members for their careful reading of the thesis and their useful suggestions. However, the author alone is responsible for the views expressed.

In a very special way, the author is indebted to Mr. and Mrs. Suellentrop and family. Without their financial support and encouragement this work literally would have been impossible. My gratitude goes also to the parishioners of Sacred Heart Church at Colwich, Kansas and many other friends in the United States of America and in Europe for their continuous prayers and remembrance.

Many thanks are due to my Bishop Most Reverend Moses Costa, csc, and his Councilors of the Diocese of Dinajpur, Bangladesh for the permission granted to continue my higher studies and for freeing me from Diocesan engagements away from home in the Philippines. This enabled me to complete an undertaking that turned out to be far more difficult and time-consuming albeit deeply satisfying, than had been anticipated.

Last but not least, all glory and gratitude to God, the Creator or the Thạkur Jiu of the Santals under whose loving care everything exists and moves toward the fulfillment of the Master Plan of the coming of his Kingdom and the goal of our mission of evangelization.


AG Ad Gentes (Vat. II, Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, 1965)
BIRA Bishops’ Institute for Inter-religious Affairs
BISA Bishops’ Institute for Social Action
CA Centesimus Annus (John Paul II, One Hundred Years, 1991)
CCA Christian Conference of Asia
CBCB Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh
CBCP Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines
CCC The Catechism of the Catholic Church, (1994)
CD Christus Dominus (Vat. II, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops, 1965)
CT Catechesi Tradendae (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation on Catechesis, 1979)
CTC Conclusions of the Theological Consultation
DP Dialogue and Proclamation (Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and

Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples, 1991)


Ecclesia in Asia (John Paul II, Church in Asia, 1999)


Evangelii Nuntiandi (Paul VI, Evangelization in the Modern World, 1975)


Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences


Fidei Depositum (Deposit of Faith)


General Catechetical Directory (Congregation for the Clergy, 1971)


Gaudium Et Spes (Vat. II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,



Lumen Gentium (Vat. II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 1964)


Nostra Aetate (Vat. II, Relationship of the Church to World Religions, 1965)


Office of Theological Concerns


Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, 1991


Presbyterorum Ordinis (Vat. II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 1965)


Populorum Progressio (Paul VI, The Development of Peoples, 1967)


Redemptoris Missio (John Paul II, The Missionary Activity of the Church, 1990)


South Asia Bishops’ Meeting, (Katmandu, 1996)


Salvifici Dolores (John Paul II, Christian Meaning of Human Suffering, 1984)


Vita Consecrata (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation on Consecrated Life, 1997)



Researcher: Joseph Marandy

Adviser: Fr. Edward Luc Mees M. J.

Year: 2006

Subject Area: Pastoral Studies

Degree Conferred: Master of Arts

Statement of the Problem

Main Problem:

1. How do we assess the realities of Bangladesh and the Santals in relation to the mission of evangelization?

2. In what way can evangelization foster communion and integral human development among the Santals in Bangladesh?

3. What recommendations can be made to make evangelization “real good news” for the Santals in Bangladesh at the dawn of the Third Millennium?


4. How do we explain the importance and role of proclamation and witness in the context of the mission of evangelization?

5. How does dialogue become an unique approach for the mission of evangelization in Asia especially with regard to the culture, other religions and the poor?


a) Historical: It relates to historical facts, events and stories of the people making use of available material of Church documents, books, articles etc.;

b) Descriptive: It explains the situation of the area of interest of the study;

c) Analytic: Compares facts and findings derived from the study;

d) Synthesis: It draws together the parts, facts and findings in a summary form to reach out conclusion and recommendations.


a) Bangladesh is a country with multiplicity of cultures and religions. Besides the vast majority of Muslims, there are also Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and the tribal minorities. Among the tribals, the Santals are the largest ethnic community with a population of about 225,000 of whom only about 50,000 have embraced Christianity since last century. The Church in Bangladesh remains a small minority of 0.3% of the total population of over 123 millions.

b) Though there are many problems and challenges of different categories there are also new opportunities for the Church to respond to the “signs of the times.” For Bangladesh is a fertile ground for the mission of evangelization, particularly with regard to the Santals, where Christ should not be brought from outside but be born and discovered within the culture of the people themselves. Yet, such an effort cannot remain an isolated action. It needs to be realized by building communities based on integral human development considering both material and spiritual needs in the concrete situations of human concern: religious, educational, economical, physical (health), political and ecological development.

c) The mission of the Church is to carry out God’s mission of building his Kingdom revealed by Jesus Christ. Therefore, proclamation and witness remain fundamental means of doing mission. The dialogue with cultures, other religions and the poor as recommended by the Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) is the concrete way of doing such mission in the multi-cultural and diverse religious situations of Asia. However, due to the unique socio-cultural situation and belief system of tribal people who follow a form of Primal religion, a new approach to dialogue as “Christian encounter”, as proposed by the researcher, could be more effective for mission among the Santals.


a) Evangelization will remain incomplete without addressing the various needs of the people in their context;

b) It will lose legitimacy if proclamation is not accompanied by other forms of witness;

c) Dialogue with culture, other religions and the poor is the way of doing mission for Asia; yet, due to difference in situation, an alternative approach of “Christian encounter” could be best suited for the Santals;

d) Evangelization will be meaningful when it is integral, i. e., when it considers all aspects of human reality;

e) The new trend of the Second Vatican Council engages the whole Church community in the mission of evangelization;

f) Evangelization commits us to build universal brotherhood and sisterhood of unity in diversity and not unity inuniformity is the only way to incorporate Santals in a pilgrimage toward the Kingdom of God.


The researcher presents a total of ten recommendations in the original thesis. Due to lack of provision in dealing with such issues in this paper, we here present some of the most important issues:

a) That “Christian encounter” be implemented as the basic approach to mission among the Santals;

b) That a desk be established by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh (CBCB) to foster genuine evangelization among the tribals that will include the Santals;

c) That programs and educational seminars be initiated for laity, priests, religious and seminarians on the Trinitarian view of mission emphasizing that the Spirit of God moves through all peoples and thus to build up a human community based on integral development;

d) To work for reconciliation of the Santals with people of other religions i. e., with their neighbors. This is essential to foster greater solidarity, peace and harmony among the people of Bangladesh;

e) Promoting evangelization is the responsibility of the whole ecclesial community and not only be seen as the work of priests, religious and catechists.

Prepared by: Joseph Marandy

Ateneo de Manila University
Loyola School

Office of Graduate Service


CHAPTER I (pag. 1-27)

O 1. Introduction: God has a Plan

The very thing that I learnt from my Catechism teacher at my early age was that God has created us so that in this world we may know, love, and serve him and to be with him in eternity. Although this teaching of the Catechism refers back to the pre-Vatican II period, the researcher believes that it is still relevant for us today. Nevertheless, there is a need to look at reality from a broader perspective that is, to understand the realities of: creation, Christ, Church and the people of other religions, cultures and traditions. All of these certainly are different aspects of God’s self-revelation and manifestation of his love.

However, God’s invitation is extended to all human beings to share the “fullness of life”[1] that can only be achieved through human response to become one with God, thus to find salvation. But the paradox is, while God wants human cooperation, the work of God’s love (salvation) is not the result of human effort rather it is the mission and work of God. The situation in which people accept this offer of God’s love is the Kingdom of God,[2] which is already among us but not fully present because in all aspects sin still reigns. The aim of the Church therefore, is the Kingdom of God that is characterized by the situation where God’s love rules supreme; where every structure, social, political, economic reflects love, care and forgiveness and even the poor, the marginalized experience such love and care. The Church is called to be the sign of the rule of love constantly renewing itself to live up to the call and to engage itself in the total mission for the Kingdom of God. This, in fact, is what we call “evangelization”.

In the past, evangelization has always been understood as proclamation of the Good News. For the apostles, evangelization was telling people that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and giving the testimony that the ministry of rehabilitation of fallen humanity initiated by Jesus is continued through the ministry of the Church. However, twenty centuries later, we are here today asking ourselves whether this mighty man’s message is still relevant and has left us a heritage worth carrying forward.

Men and women today have many questions. They want answers to their questions. Paul VI reminded us: “The condition of the society in which we live oblige all of us therefore to revise methods, to seek by every means to study how we can bring the Christian message that modern man can find the answer to his questions and the energy for his commitment of human solidarity.” [3]

The Council of Vatican II, the writings of recent popes and further reflections by the contemporary theologians have ushered a new understanding and new commitment to evangelization, which gives us a deeper and broader outlook. According to Paul VI, evangelization is a complex reality. It is the Church’s mission in its totality. It means to bring Good News into all area of humanity and to transform that humanity from within, making it new.[4] Referring to the Synod, R. W. Timm, a Holy Cross missionary in Bangladesh, cites: “[Evangelization is] the activity whereby the Gospel is proclaimed and explained, and whereby living faith is awakened in non-Christians and fostered in Christians.”[5]

Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world; and the Santals[6] remain here a minority in such a situation. This situation poses a challenge to everyone reminding us of the fact that evangelization cannot be reduced merely to “save the souls”; nor is it just a question of eliminating hunger and reducing poverty. It involves building a community where people live a truly human life, free from discrimination on account of race, religion or nationality; it involves building a human community of men and women.[7]

In the light of the missionary experience and theological development, it is necessary to identify the type of evangelization that is desired especially in the context of the Santals in Bangladesh. It is important to reassert what Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said: “If we could first know where we are and whither we are heading, we could better judge what to do and how to do it.”[8] The wisdom of these words certainly applies to the work of evangelization. Treating the topic as presented in the title, “Evangelization of the Santals: Fostering Communion and Integral Human Development in Bangladesh,” we believe would be anchored in reality and will be best approached in a concrete manner, carefully nuanced, updated, and holistic. But, announcing the Good News in a complex reality today is a challenging task. Yet, wherever challenges arise, some new opportunities are also present and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

2. Background of the Study

At the time my parents embraced Christian faith, I was still young. Yet, I remember well that my grandfather called the villagers for a meeting to resolve the case of my parents who were accused of: a) disregarding the society and b) violating the bonga (spirits) belonging to the family and the society as a whole. The outcome of the verdict was very clear that we were considered outcasts and were forced to leave the village itself. The tragic drama ultimately ended up when we left the house that very evening and took shelter in the parish where I was brought up in the convent along with my mother. As the time passed by, things have changed—and after my priestly ordination, I was assigned in a rural parish and over the last two decades I have been privileged to work among many tribal groups including my own Santal community. During these fruitful years I really enjoyed doing the mission of serving in God’s Kingdom. However, there were also times with more challenges than results, more questions than answers. One such issue is the slow progress in the field of religious conversion among the Santals.[9] In spite of much missionary work with the Santals over 150 years, (1847-2005 that includes the British colonial period of undivided India) the missionary activities have not been so effective among the Santals. Numerous in number, the Santals as an ethnic tribal community, have ranked the last to respond to the Good News of Jesus. It is important therefore, to ask: Can the Good News spread among the Santals?

After a long journey of my missionary activities, finally, I realized that I am not a foreign missionary; I am a native and my mission of evangelization does not remain farfetched, but it has come home. It’s a part of me, my people, my society, my church community, my surroundings and the world at large. In this context, it is worthwhile to mention Archbishop J. Quinn, who made his remarks referring to the Puebla Conference:[10] “Puebla’s analysis of Latin American reality is an invitation to us to asses with the key of revelation and teaching of the Church the reality of the Church in our own situation.” He continued saying:

More than ten years ago, the Medellin Conference noted: “A muted cry wells up from millions of human beings, pleading with their pastors for a liberation that is nowhere to be found in their case. The cry might well have been muted back then. Today it is loud and clear, increasing in volume and intensity, and at times full of menace.”[11]

Pope John Paul II deeply realized its gravity and thus could rightly say: “The Church cannot remain insensible to whatever serves true human welfare anymore than she can remain indifferent to whatever threatens it.”[12] Today, it is important to examine and to realize that perhaps we have used the pulpit for too long to repeat “nice words”. To be noted, out of around 225,000 Santals, about 50,000 (this includes Protestant denominations) only have so far embraced Christianity in Bangladesh during the last century.[13]

Allow me to recall the story told by a veteran Jesuit missionary, who shares his experience of evangelizing mission in Japan. He cites that a young religious enthusiast once wrote on his college classroom chalkboard: “Jesus Christ is the answer!” On returning after a while, he found someone has written: “But what is the question?” On evangelization, it is important that we need to avoid the mistake of trying to give people answers to the questions they have not asked. [14]

Recalling my childhood experience, I was born in Santal society that was known to be bedin.[15] Yet, Santals are people with rich and distinctive language, beliefs, tradition and cultural heritage. In early days, I have heard from the elders’ stories and mythologies. One of such examples is the saying: Ale do bonga menak’kotalea (“we have spirits”). However, practice shows that not all of these gods or spirits are good; rather some are harmful and considered to be evil. Therefore, as a child, I was never allowed to go alone anywhere even during the day. To be more explicit, the huge baŗe dare (banyan tree) stood on the crossroad in the center of the village, the ul dare (mango tree) in the Southern edge, the jojo dare (tamarind tree) in the North, the big pond in the West, the jaherthan (sacred grove), the mạŗipoda (burial ground) at the outskirts of the village, and the Christian Church in the East; all these were considered areas of special sensitivity.

Without downplaying the Santal religious and socio-cultural values and potentials, what I inherited at my young age is a life totally being bounded by constraints imposed by the situation itself. This is very much the same with many Santal children who are born even today. They inherit the same because of the circumstances and traditional taboo people unquestioningly hold sometimes without knowing. The presence of too many Christian denominations in the area also makes people confused for lack of clarity of what evangelizers really mean, or whether they all mean the same thing when they preach. Many Santals, who are waiting to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, often seem very reluctant and for many it is harder to make a right choice. What’s really wrong? Where do we stand? What would be the fresh choice that we, as ecclesial community can make to bring hope and confidence for many Santals to rely on the message of Jesus who says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).

3. Statement of the Problem

The Santals in Bangladesh are a people with a rich tradition and cultural heritage. They prefer to live in a community of their own, free from any discontent that might upset their simple life-style and self-identity. The “object” of their religious belief is not clear, for the reason that for them “God” the Creator remains far away and sees everything from a distant location up above the sky; and it is the Bonga (spirits) who actually live among the Santals. To avoid any danger or misfortune and to pledge their care one should offer sacrifice to satisfy the Bonga. Thus, the Santals live not only in the human community but also in the community of the Bonga who roam around and have their place in every family, and within the secret boundary of the village itself.

In a rapid changing situation the traditional belief system, which has orally been transmitted generation after generation; the common language, socio-religious-cultural ceremonies, feasts and festivals, are no longer able to play a role in preserving the tribal identity. Many now are becoming much more individualistic and do not care the traditional pattern of community living. Due to economic hardship and poverty situation, many Santals now live hand-to-mouth, struggling for mere survival. Kazi Tobarak Hossain makes his comments on the predicament of the Santals by saying: “If the process

of cultural disintegration …continues under the intervention of external forces, time may come when they will have a new social and cultural formation, leaving behind their distinct cultural traditions and traits.” [16]

Realizing the gravity and the importance of the issue, this study thus enhances the research by answering the following questions:

1. 1. How do we assess the realities of Bangladesh and the Santals in relation to the mission of evangelization?

2. How do we explain the importance and the role of Proclamation and Witness in the context of the mission of evangelization?

3. 3. How does dialogue become an unique approach to the evangelizing mission in Asia particularly with regard to cultures, other religions and the poor; and how does it affect the Santals in Bangladesh?

4. 4. In what way can evangelization play a role to foster communion and integral human development among the Santals in Bangladesh?

5. 5. What recommendations can be made to make evangelization “real good news” for the Santals at the dawn of the Third Millennium?

4. Significance of the Study

This study is especially significant in the sense that:

a) a. The topic of the thesis reflects the concern and particular preoccupation of the local churches in Bangladesh to share with the Santals what is “most precious in our hearts and in our lives, Jesus Christ and his Gospel” (Eph 3:8).

b) b. To emphasize that the Church is destined to work for the Kingdom of God; to foster communion and total development and for the salvation of all human beings according to the Plan of God.

c. The researcher himself stands at both ends of his experience as a convert to Christianity and as a priest engaged in doing the mission of evangelization, inviting and guiding people to search for light, the way and the truth.

d. Many of the priests, religious and laity who are engaged in the work of evangelization among the Santals may benefit as they read and ponder the essentials of the thesis in the light of the Holy Spirit, the primary author of evangelization.

e) e. This research-study bears a pastoral and missionary character in its approach as it attempts to emphasize the relevance of the topic in a particular context of the Santals as a token that is open to wider human societies.

5. Objectives of the Study

The objectives of this study are:

a) To bring hope for the Santals that God’s plan of salvation is for all human beings irrespective of caste and creed;

b) To promote new mission awareness that our goal of evangelization is primarily to establish the Kingdom of God;

c) To show that the promotion of “Communion and Integral Human Development” is essential for meaningful evangelization that would be more in tune with the concept and understanding of the Santals in Bangladesh.

6. Scope and Limitation of the Study

This reflection will comprise two major points such as: the scope of the study, and the limitation of the study.

a) Scope of the Study: This study will focus on evangelization of the Santals in Bangladesh. Therefore, it will present an overview of Bangladesh realities followed by special coverage on the Santals with their historical background, cultural, socio-economic-political realities, worldview, belief and mores. It will also focus briefly on the Santals as a nation in search of new identity (chapter II).

We will also deal with “proclamation” and “witness” (chapter III) as fundamental elements of the mission of evangelization. A focus will be made further on “dialogue”: with cultures, other religions, and the poor as a new approach to the mission of evangelization for Asia (chapter IV) with particular reference to the Santals in Bangladesh.

The reason for the social emphasis for the Church is not merely relevant but essential. The very foundation of faith relies on the response of the Church to social affairs. Indeed, this emphasis on the social dimension of faith is more attuned to the Gospel and the spirit of the teaching of Jesus Christ. Thus, we will discuss about communion and integral human development (chapter V) and highlight some of the issues related to evangelization like: religious, economical, educational and physical or health development that are already in practice in different parishes as part of evangelizing activities in Bangladesh.

b) Limitation of the Study: The thesis deals with evangelization of the Santals living in Bangladesh and does not necessarily cover the bulk of Santals residing in India. Further, discussion on the second section in chapter V, which contains the issue of “integral human development”, will be limited to: religious, educational, economical and physical or health development related to evangelization. We will leave aside the other aspects like, psycho-spiritual, political and ecological development for future studies.

The writer acknowledges with simplicity that he is not a professional theologian but an ordinary evangelizer who worked for over two decades in the field of evangelizing mission mostly among tribals and especially with the Santals in the then greater Diocese of Dinajpur, in Bangladesh. Most of the critical issues of theological nature have been avoided and many of such issues presented here are also left to the hands of the readers.

7. Conceptual Framework

The following diagram and its explanation attempt to depict a comprehensive vision for our study on the “Evangelization of the Santals” in the context of Bangladesh.

fig. 1 Evangelization of the Santals in Bangladesh

To clarify this vision, it is important to note:

First, nothing is presupposed. In fact, the heading “Figure 1” draws our primary attention to the contextual reality, which is

“Bangladesh”. Exploring the realities of Bangladesh will help us to know the actual situation of our place of involvement; this is to answer the question: “where” does evangelization take place?

Second, the Santals remain the target group of our efforts for evangelization. Therefore, it is necessary toknow about the Santals as much as possible from their historical and cultural perspectives. This responds to the question: “to whom” the mission of evangelization is directed?

Third, the work of evangelization is not a private enterprise nor it is something that can be carried out by any human institution or organization of its own, rather it is a divine act being commissioned to the Church, instituted by Jesus Christ himself. Therefore, “proclamation” and “witness” are the fundamental elements of the mission of evangelization where the active presence of the Holy Spirit is ever recalled. This point in effect provides the answer of the “means” that is: “how”?

Fourth, to focus on the missionary nature of the Church, importance has been given on the threefold dialogue: with culture, with other religions and the poor, which are the dimensions of evangelizing mission recommended and re-echoed time and again by the Federation Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) for Asia. The Church as the servant of the Kingdom of God needs to carry out this mission not in isolation but in collaborative dialogue with her partners, the people of good will. Here dialogue becomes a reality of life. This provides a double effect and the response to our concern: “how” and “by whom.”

Fifth, communion and integral human development projected here re-echoes the basic yearning and the desire of the human heart. Communion: with oneself, with others, and with God; and integral human development: the growth of the individual and the society as a whole to the full human dimensions. Communion and integral human development being the goal of evangelization must find its basis in the reality of human living in the dimensions of religious, educational, economical, and physical (health) development as much as these affect the lives of the Santals as individuals and as society.[17] This brings us to the climax of our search in consistency of the title of the thesis: “Evangelization of the Santals: Fostering Communion and Integral Human Development in Bangladesh.” The researcher believes that implementation of this vision would be attuned to the hope and aspirations of the Santals.

8. Clarification of Terms

Several important terms are used here to facilitate the understanding of this study:

Bonga is a term used in Santali (language spoken by the Santals) to mean “spirits”, both good and evil. According to the Santal belief, any kind of non-corporeal being may be referred to as Bonga. The Bonga remain a part and parcel of the Santal-religious beliefs, socio-economic, cultural, cult and ritual practices of daily living.

Evangelization (Euangelizesthai or Euangelizein in Greek) is an act of ‘announcing the Good News’.[18] Yet, Evangelization is a complex and dynamic phenomenon referring to the Church’s essential mission in the world, which refers to the mission of the Church in its totality. Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi develops a comprehensive view of evangelization, which is centered on the renewal of humanity and the transformation of culture. Thus, evangelization means bringing the Good News “into all strata of humanity,” transforming it from within and making it new ((EN 18). More specifically the term evangelization means to proclaim Jesus Christ, the Savior of all humanity and of the creation as a whole.

Human: It is a general understanding that holds a positive view of human being. In this vision, a human person is presented as somebody who searches for meaning and the fullness of life (humanum in Latin that is, what is “worth of human being”). In the Christian perspective, Jesus is the apex and model of what it means to be a human.

Integral means “holistic” or total. It focuses on the integral nature of human reality: of growth, liberation and development on the basis of search for truth. This view of looking at the human person will help us to avoid the danger of reductionism[19] and enables us to describe the multi-faced involvement and relationship of human person in society in all dimensions of socio-cultural, economic, political, educational, physical, religious, psycho-spiritual and ecological aspects from a Christian faith perspective.

Kingdom of God[20] is a metaphor expressing the impact of God’s gracious and decisive saving power and redeeming presence in the world, which will have its fulfillment in the end of time. Kingdom of God is not a crystallized doctrine to be analyzed scientifically, rather,

It is a living, dynamic and challenging vision that has to take flesh in the struggles, sorrows, dreams, loves and joys of the people of every place and time in history… [Kingdom of God] is to “trade with it,” to sow it into the womb of our life realities by letting it interact with them for their mutual enrichment towards the bearing of more fruit. [21]

Kingdom of God is the situation that is open to all and all are invited to enter into it. But it is given especially to those who are marginalized, poor, afflicted, oppressed and the captives (Lk. 4:18). Kingdom of God is the goal of evangelizing mission of the Church.

Mission: Promoted by the Second Vatican Council and in keeping with the new self-understanding of the Church as the People of God, and servant of the Kingdom of God, mission today is understood differently from that of years ago.[22] The paradigm shifts that have taken place in this regard are:

a) Mission begins from the Trinity;[23]

b) It is a divine act; Holy Spirit is the “principal agent” (RM chapter 3);

c) It is salvific service to both inward (in Church community) and outward (to non-Christians or to the whole world);

d) All members of the Church are united in proclaiming the Good News through Christian witness (EA 9);

e) Bishops, priests, religious orders, congregations, missionary institutes, lay leaders and Christian families all have special role in this mission.

f) Mission is decentralized to the dioceses where every community is both mission sending and mission receiving.

The Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences[24] (FABC) has identified mission as a triple dialogue: with cultures, with other religions, and with the poor. It means, the churches in Asia are moving from a sense of the Church as institution and hierarchy towards the Church as the people of God participating in the mission not only for the expansion of the Church but for the life of the world. [25]

Santals (in plural) refer to a tribal minority in the Indian sub-continent, which includes Bangladesh. Often the word Adibasi (“original inhabitants” or indigenous people) is used to denote the population as a contrast with non-Adibasi society (usually Hindu or Muslim society). Santals however, prefer to call themselves hoŗ (“human” in generic term). They believe in one Supreme Being and also believe in the presence of the multitude of spirits who influence every step of Santal-living. Most Santals are economically poor and majority remains illiterate.

Tribal or Tribes is the official norm to define Scheduled Castes[26] and tribes in the then British colonial and post-colonial period of Indian sub-continent, which includes the territory of Bangladesh. The tribes have been defined in the Indian Constitution as: “Such tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 to be Scheduled Tribes for the purpose of this Constitution.” Some of the tribal groups in Bangladesh are: Santal, Oraon, Mahali, Mahato, Munda, Pahariya, Garo, Hajong, Khasi, Kuki, Tipera etc.[27]

Theological Clarification: The mission of evangelization mainly depends on our understanding of the theological vision and how we prioritize the three central realities of our Christian faith like: Church, proclamation and the Reign of God or the Kingdom of God. [28] In the following stage we will highlight these issues of fundamental importance.

fig 2 Vision of the Theology of Mission

The comparison between the ecclesio-centric and the regno- centric theology of mission seems rather simple, that is, turning the ecclesio-centric theology of mission upside down provides us the view of the regno-centric theology of mission. Thus, the focus and priorities are inverted; what was on top fell to the bottom; what was first became last, and what was last became first. Here all the three elements are present in both columns but with very different modes of emphasis and all are connected to one another. The first one gives us the perspective of pre-Vatican II model, while the second one represents the Vatican II model. Yet, perhaps the most difficult thing would be to have change in our attitude accordingly.[29]

9. Methodology

The research methodology used here is mainly historical, descriptive, analytic, and synthesis. The study is made primarily on the basis of existing literature: books, Magisterial documents, periodical articles, search related to internet access, unpublished writings; personal reflection, and the working experience over two decades in the field of evangelization among the tribals, especially with the Santals in the then greater Diocese of Dinajpur in Bangladesh.

10. Organization of the Thesis

The study is organized into six consecutive chapters as it fits into the logical framework, which provides the readers a glimpse of the thesis. The chapters are:

Chapter I: It is an overview of the proposed study that introduces the theme of the research: Introduction, Background to the study, Statement of the Problem, Significance, Objectives of the study, Scope and limitation, Conceptual Framework, Definition and clarification of Terms, Methodology, Organization of the Thesis, and Review of Literature related to the study.

Chapter II: Focuses on the contextualization of the thesis highlighting a brief history and reality of Bangladesh; and presents a glimpse of the Santals with their tradition, socio-cultural realities, mores, religious beliefs and ritual practices. Large in population in Indian subcontinent with a sizable number in Bangladesh, the Santals are regarded as the “fertile ground” for the mission of evangelization.

Chapter III: Deals with the Fundamentals of the mission of evangelization according to the teaching of the Church with reference to proclamation and witness.

Chapter IV: Keeping in touch with the mind and concern of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC) since its beginning in 1970 and the Asian Synod in Rome (1974), this chapter takes up the mission of evangelization from the perspective of the threefold dialogue: with cultures, with other religions, and the poor.

Chapter V: Clarifies the notion of “communion” and the term “integral.” It focuses on the major point of our research introducing the issue of how evangelization can help to promote “communion and integral human development” among the Santals in Bangladesh that is understood as integral, holistic in its meaning and approach. It deals with development in the totality of human reality in relation to the basic concerns like: religion, educational, economical and physical (health) development.

Chapter VI: Presents the summary, draws conclusion and recommendations depending on the findings of the study. Following such themes and trends, there is an evaluation, which presents the strength and weaknesses of the local church’s response in the mission of evangelization and consequently subscribes some recommendations that would be helpful to enhance evangelization among the Santals in the Third Millennium.

11. Review of Related Literature

Besides many other sources, this study is primarily based on as a research using the following special sources of books and valuable insights related to the topic:

A. Papal Documents

a) Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi [30] defines evangelization as “bringing the Good News into all the levels of humanity; and, through the influence of the Good News, transforming humanity from within, making it new” (EN 18). For the Pope evangelization is a complex process made up of varied elements such as: the renewal of humanity, witness and explicit proclamation, inner adherence, entry into the community, acceptance of signs and apostolic initiative. The Pope concludes by confessing the Holy Spirit as the principal agent and Jesus Christ the first evangelizer sent by God the Father.

b) Redemptoris Missio[31] reaffirms that the Church’s mission is far from its completion. It goes on to deal with many facets especially as it applies to non-Christian places. Here Pope John Paul II supports economic and political liberation but cautions that one finds true liberation only in Christ (RM 5). He argues against the tendency on the part of some missionaries to neglect the explicitly Christian dimensions of missionary activity in favor simply of economic liberation or humanistic activity. The Pope regards inter-religious dialogue “a part of the Church’s evangelizing mission” (RM 55) and emphasizes the role of local communities and churches in missionary activity.

B. FABC and Local church Documents

a) For All the Peoples of Asia (in 3 volumes).[32] These documents of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) from 1970-2001 reflect the theological thinking and teaching of the local churches in Asia. The materials that have emerged from its various assemblies, conferences, and consultations encompass areas of evangelization like: proclamation, inculturation, dialogue with: culture, other religions and the poor, Church, development and other additional themes. It speaks about the values of the Kingdom of God and about struggling along with those who strive for justice and peace. These testimonies bring about a new vision of evangelization in Asia.

b) The Pastoral Plan for the Church in Bangladesh[33] identifies the pastoral priorities and provides guidelines for the missionary involvement by the Catholic Church according to the needs of the country. It emphasizes building a just society in dialogue with the poor and the people of other religions. The researcher recognizes the importance, wisdom and insights of such local church documents and wishes to use them as source material in writing this thesis.

C. Books

a) Mission in the Third Millennium[34] provides a missionary analysis of the five continents and the shape of mission in the contemporary understanding of evangelization. It underlines the problems of the world today and of Church’s mission in the face of the world’s new political order and the advent of globalization.

This study is significant to identify Church’s orientation and response in evangelization from the broader perspective.

b) Peter C. Phan in his book In Our Own Tongues: Perspectives from Asia on Mission and Inculturation[35] provides deeper insights on mission and inculturation with the focus on Asia in the context of Christian faith. He draws particular attention to the socio-political, economic, cultural, and religious settings of inculturation within the liturgical and theological dimensions of Christian mission.

This will help the researcher to present the thesis not only as theory but more of practical context of human concern as mentioned above.

D. Literature on the Santals

There are many important and interesting books and monographs on Santals that owe a lot to pioneers.[36] Many books and articles have been published as a part of literature and scientific research in languages other than English. Due to scope and limitation of the study, we will focus on some sources as a token to serve our purpose of writing this thesis.

a) W. C. Archer in his book The Hill of Flutes provides a full descriptive account of the Santals’ life, love and poetries. He presents Santal society as an elaborate system of checks and balances through which Santals can express their tribal nature and thus achieve happiness. Acher has written this book with exceptional insight and style that attracts a wide range of readers, admires, students and researchers as well. The Santals also have been seen as an ethnic tribe with their history, culture and belief. [37] The researcher will make use of this classical study while attempting to write on the issues pertaining to the historical background of the Santals.

b) Catholic Beginnings in North Bengal: Luigi Pinos, PIME, codified the history of the Catholic Church in North Bengal covering the period starting from the year 1887 to 1983 where he found how frequently God’s ways have crossed North Bengal Railways or even ran on the same tracks.[38] For him, “Catholic Christianity has not been born…as a result of any strategic programming. In most cases it has been the sheep that have gone out seeking the shepherds although the shepherds were not found to be negligent or unwilling.”[39] The author’s presentation of the real story of the early conversion of the Santals is a significant contribution of the past in the work of evangelization.

c) “The Santals of Bangladesh: An Ethnic Minority in Transition”[40] points to some important facets of cultural and traditional changes taking place among the Santals in Bangladesh. To the author, their social solidarity, religion, and traditions as a distinct culture are at stake today because of conversion to Christianity and other outside forces, which he calls a “cultural disintegration.” For him, if this process of cultural disintegration continues under the intervention of external forces, time may come when they will have a new social and cultural formation, leaving behind their distinct cultural traditions and traits. The writer of this thesis remains emotionally moved and appreciates with great interest the comments (as presented above) shared by a Muslim Professor Kazi Tobarak Hossain on the predicament of the Santals.

In the next chapter focus will be made on contextualization of the thesis in the context of Bangladesh especially with regard to the evangelization of the Santals.

[1] In Christian tradition “fullness of life” refers to the horizon in which we live or must live. Yet, our lives are limited, fragmented, broken, pulled on all sides; we are imprisoned by all sorts of limitations. Fullness is God’s gift; it is the gift that we already have as we are created in the image and likeness of God. Realizing this fullness is not so much the goal of life; it is indeed the life. For “We come from fullness and abide in fullness and thus transcend our limitation.” (Cf. Michael Amaladoss, Towards Fullness: Searching for an Integral Spirituality (Bangalore: NBCLC, 1994), p. 5. Hereafter referred to as, Towards Fullness.

[2] See “Clarification of Terms” of the “Kingdom of God” page 17 and also footnote, n. 20.

[3] Paul VI, Address to the College of Cardinals, Rome, 22 June, 1973.

[4] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World), Vatican City, December, 8, 1975, n. 18. Hereafter referred to as, EN. The Pope also warns that defining the whole concept of evangelization from one aspect means to weaken and to give a wrong idea of it (EN 17).

[5] Richard William Timm, The Church and Development in Bangladesh (Dhaka: Caritas Bangladesh, 1994), p. 68. Hereafter referred to as, Church and Development.

[6] “Santals” (in plural) refer to the largest homogeneous tribal population in Bangladesh.

[7] Paul VI, Populorum Pogressio (The Development of Peoples), Vatican City, 26 March, 1967, n. 47. Hereafter referred to as, PP.

[8] Robert E. Coleman, Evangelism on the Cutting Edge (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Com- pany, 1986), p. 7. Hereafter referred to as, Evangelism on the Cutting Edge.

[9] Peter McNee, an Evangelical author writes: “Bangladesh illustrates many lands in which the Gospel has made slow progress even among responsive tribal minorities [like the Santals], little multiplication of churches has taken place.” Cf. Peter McNee, Crucial Issues in Bangladesh (South Pasadena, California: William Carey Library, 1976), p. xiv. Hereafter referred to as, Crucial Issues.

[10] “Puebla Conference.” The third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate held from January 27—February 13, 1979 at Puebla, in Mexico. It expresses clearly a preferential option for the poor and calls for evangelizing action in challenging all forms of systemic violence. Pope John Paul II in his opening address at Puebla stated: “The whole Church owes you [the Bishops] a debt of gratitude for what you are doing, for the example you are giving. Perhaps other local churches will take up that example.” Cf. John Walsh, Evangelization and Justice: New Insights for Christian Ministry (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1983), p. 98. Hereafter referred to as, Evangelization and Justice.

[11] John Eagleson and Philip Scharper, eds., Puebla and Beyond (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1979), p. 328. Hereafter referred to as, Puebla and beyond.

[12] Political Responsibility: Choices for the 1980’s (Washington: United States Catholic Conference Publications Office, 1979), pp. 12-14. Hereafter referred to as, Political Responsibility.

[13] Cf. Marcel Hasdak, “Santalder Poriciti” (Identity of the Santals), Platinum Jubilee Soronika 1927-2002, (Diocese of Dinajpur, Bangladesh, 2002), pp. 107-111. Hereafter referred to as, “Santalder Poriciti.”

[14] James J. DiGiacomo, “Foreword,” in John Walsh, Evangelization and Justice: New Insights for Christian Ministry (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1983), p. x.

[15] The term “bedin” denotes people without religion, who are ignorant, and not Christian. The word is particularly applied to “non-Christian” Santals as an offense rather than to identify them as separate brethren. Use of such negative term should be avoided to facilitate dialogue.

[16] Cf. Kazi Tobarak Hossain, “The Santals of Bangladesh: An Ethnic Minority in Transition.” Source (website:…), accessed on July, 5, 2004. This paper was presented by the author at the Sixth Workshop of the European Network of Bangladesh Studies (ENBS) held at Oslo, Norway during 14-16 May 2000. Hereafter referred to as, “The Santals of Bangladesh.”

[17] Love, justice, peace, liberation, self-reliance are just as important as economic or educational development. So, we equally realize the need and implement Love, which Christ has taught us and the Redemption that he has brought to the humanity and to the whole of creation.

[18] Referring evangelization as “Good news mission” it is important to see the very origin of the term in Greek ‘eu-angelos’ or ‘good news’ when before it was used by the gospel writers. According to Cardinal Thomas Williams, “It [evangelization] comes to us from ancient history, when kings and emperors did battle against their enemies. When one army overcame another on the battlefield, the victorious general would choose from the ranks a slave to carry the news…to the palace where the king would be waiting. The slave would literally dance for joy as he hurried with the news to the king, because he knew that as soon as he had relayed the good news, he would be a slave no longer. That was what the people of those times understood by evangelization: carrying the news of victory which brings freedom. When the gospel writers took over the….

word they knew that there is no greater victory than Christ’s victory. They knew there is no greater enemy than sin and death, which held us in servitude. Evangelization, then, is proclaiming the good news of Christ’s victory over sin and death, setting us free…liberating us.” Cf. Thomas Williams, “Mission and evangelization—a Pacific Experience,” in Michael A. Hayes, ed., Mission and Evangelization (London—New York: Burns & Oates, 2004), pp. 1-112. Hereafter referred to as, Mission and Evangelization.

[19] “Reductionism” here would mean an oversimplified approach to see people only in terms of either physical or spiritual needs. Certainly, eternal salvation is our highest priority, but we must bring it to the whole Gospel. Salvation, in the Biblical sense, has to do with all dimensions of our lives.

[20] The history of Israel shows that the Jewish people believed that God would overcome all the forces of evil in the world and would bring a total triumph of good. With the evolution of the political fortunes of Israel and their decision to adopt kingship as their form of government, the king became the symbol of God among the people. Therefore, the kingship of God is a common theme in the Old Testament. Cf. Ian Knox, Theology for Teachers (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 2003), pp. 145-148. Hereafter referred to as, Theology for Teachers.

[21] Miguel Marcelo Quatra, At the Side of the Multitudes: The Kingdom of God and the Mission of the Church in the FABC documents 1970 to 1995 (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 2000), p. 1. Hereafter referred to as, At the Side of the Multitudes.

[22] Cf. Leonardo N. Mercado, Inter-religious Explorations (Manila: Logos Publications, 2004, pp. 27-52. Hereafter referred to as, Inter-religious Exploration.

[23] From Blessed Trinity flows out the communion and communication and embraces the creation and the whole of human history. We only share or participate in the mission of the Trinity (cf. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio An Encyclical Letter on the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Mandate (Vatican City: Liberia Editrice Vaticana, January, 22, 1991), n. 1. Hereafter referred to as, RM.

[24] The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) is an association of Episcopal conferences of South, Southeast and East Asia, established with the approval of the Holy See. Its purpose is to foster among its members solidarity and co-responsibility for the welfare of the Church and society in Asia, and to promote and defend the greater good. The decisions of the Federation are without juridical binding force; their acceptance is an expression of collegial responsibility and in any of its functions, the FABC shall respect the autonomy of each bishop, of each member Episcopal conference of FABC regional assembly (cf. M. M. Quatra, At the Side of the Multitudes, ibid., p. 11).

[25] Cf. Teodoro C. Bacani, Jr., “The Need for a New Evangelization,” in C. R. Almario, Jr., ed., Evangelization in Asia: Proceedings of the Asian Congress, ibid., pp. 13-25.

[26] The term “Scheduled Castes” first appeared in the Government of India Act in April 1935. A year later in April, the British Government issued the Government of India (Scheduled Castes) Order 1936 specifying certain castes, races and tribes as Scheduled Castes. The test applied was the social, educational and economic backwardness. Cf. P. McNee, Crucial Issues, ibid., p. 8.

[27] Ibid., pp. 16-25.

[28] An analysis of the difference between the theology of mission in the ecclesio-centric and the regno-centric may clarify things that are essential to understand the pattern and the modes of the total mission of evangelization particularly in the context of Bangladesh. However, due to scope and limitation, the researcher will leave this issue with a comment and at the same time extending his invitation to the readers for a common search. The comment therefore is: a) It will be theologically inaccurate to subordinate the Kingdom of God to the Church; b) Church must be subordinated to and oriented toward the Kingdom, which is its goal; c) Church remains not in opposition to the Kingdom or vice versa; d) “Kingdom-centeredness” that leaves little room for Christ or for the Church cannot be accepted as authentic (RM 18). See also P. C. Phan, In Our Own Tongues: Perspectives from Asia on Mission and Inculturation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2003), pp. 39, and 42.

[29] Traditionally the Church in Bangladesh remains mostly in the pre-Vatican II model and there can be done very little to change such attitude because most members in the ecclesial community feel much more comfortable, which they don’t want to give up so easily. Hence, the new model of mission theology remains a challenge for the local churches in Bangladesh for the years ahead.

[30] Paul VI, EN. Cf. footnote 2.

[31] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio (cf. footnote n. 23). This Papal encyclical was released to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Vatican II’s decree Ad Gentes.

[32] The collection of FABC-Documents in three volumes: 1) Gaudencio B. Rosales and C. G. Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia: Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, Documents from 1970 to 1991, Vol. 1 (New York: Orbis Books, 1991); 2) Franz-Josef Eilers, ed., For All the Peoples of Asia: Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, Documents from 1992 to 1996, Vol. 2 (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1997); 3) Franz-Josef Eilers, ed., For All the Peoples of Asia: Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, Documents from 1997 to 2001, Vol. 3 (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 2002). Our interest in these books is on evangelization and the issues related to the subject matter of the thesis. All these three volumes will be referred to as For All the Peoples of Asia indicating the respective volume.

[33] Cf. Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh, Pastoral Plan for the Church in Bangladesh (Dhaka: CBCB, 1985). Hereafter referred to as, Pastoral Plan.

[34] Robert J. Schreiter, ed., Mission in the Third Millennium (New York: Orbis Books, 2001). Hereafter referred to as, Mission in the Third Millennium.

[35] Cf. P. C. Phan, In Our Own Tongues, ibid., cf. footnote 28.

[36] For example: E. G. Man (1867), L. O. Skrefsrud (1873), S. C. Roy (1912), J. M. Macphail (1922), S. M. Bhowmik (1928), P. O. Bodding (1942), W. W. Hunter (1948), T. Archer (1948), W. J. Culshaw (1949), P. C. Biswas (1956), D. N. Majumdar (1957), C. Mukharjea (1962), V. K. Kochar (1966), S. Sen Gupta (1973), C. K. Hembrom (1973), A. Sattar (1975), J. Troisi (1979), M. Ali (1980), U. K. Ray (1982), A. Chaudhuri (1985), S. Mahapatra (1986), A. Jalil (1991), Sen Suchibrata (1997), K. L. Bhowmik, G. A. Grierson, M. Chakraborti, D. Mukherji, J. Hoffmann, W. Crook, Bishop J. Obert, L. Pussetto PIME, & others.

[37] Cf. W. C. Archer, The Hill of Flutes: Life, Love and Poetry in Tribal India, A Portrait of the Santals (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1974). Hereafter referred to as, The Hill of Flutes.

[38] Luigi Pinos, Catholic Beginnings in North Bengal (Dhaka: Binimoy Printers, 1994), p. 2. Hereafter referred to as, Catholic Beginnings.

[39] Ibid., p. 67.

[40] Cf. Footnote, 16.


CHAPTER II (pag. 28-61)


This chapter highlights in brief, the situation of Bangladesh from the perspectives of the socio-political, economic, cultural, educational, and religious realities. It presents a short history of Santals and introduces them as an ethnic minority with their age-old traditions and cultural heritage of beliefs and ritual practices that are totally unique to them. Due to the rapid changes in situation the Santals are seen also as a nation in search of new identity. The researcher believes that any initiative of evangelization of the Santals will remain incomplete without having some knowledge about them. Thus, we present briefly such issues of concern and introduce Bangladesh as a fertile ground for Church’s mission of evangelization.

I. Overview of Bangladesh Realities

1. Brief Historical Background

Bangladesh is a country located in South Asia within the tropical area, bordering in the North with the Himalayas region of the greatest mountains of the world. The South is bordered by the Bay of Bengal; the West, East, and the Northeastern parts are surrounded by India. Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan after a devastating war of liberation in the year 1971, which left Bangladesh with political instability; socio-economic crisis; and a degradation of cultural, moral, and religious values. The ever-increasing tension caused by mass poverty, misery, oppression, divisions, injustice, illiteracy, overpopulation, indifference towards religion and moral values, killing etc., became the reality of the day. Hope and aspiration remain mere dreams and out of reach for the common people even today in this tiny nation. Bangladesh has a total population of 123.85 million with a density of 839 persons in per square km.[1]

2. Socio-Political and Economic Realities

Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries of the world where the per capita income remains at $ 411 annually with 80% of the population living without sufficient food intake, mostly in rural areas. The situation is equally grim with regard to the basic human needs of health, shelter and clothing.[2] Until today Bangladesh has no viable industry to provide enough job opportunities. There are very few natural resources that can be exported to the world markets and it is dependent on import for food grains, fuel, raw cotton, fertilizer and manufactured goods. Agriculture depends heavily on monsoon rain.

Socio-political problems also generate widespread poverty, compounded by a lack of community spirit and solidarity among the various groups of peoples in the country.[3] The political climate is often marked by tensions and power struggle among rival parties and leaders. These tensions produce violence, fanaticism and discrimination, especially against religious minorities and tribals. Fundamentalist Islamic elements continue to target minorities, their institutions and religious premises, with the explicit will to make the country a 100% Islamic state.

The upper classes, by reason of economic power, dominate the social system leaving the people in lower classes with no voice in shaping the socio-economic structures of the country. The gross domestic product is $203 billion dollars; and the nation’s foreign debt is $4.9 billion dollars. 90% of the people today rely on agriculture for their subsistence and 60% of them are landless.[4]

However, there is also a new hope—a chance for economic development in the rural area through the “Grameen Bank” (Rural Bank).[5] It is an effort for microcredit to empower financially the rural poor. Besides the government initiative, the NGO communities also play a positive role particularly in times of natural calamities. The Savings and Credit Union movement initiated by the Catholic Church in different parishes have been found rather encouraging. Yet, much needed to be done in order to ensure peoples’ participation and to enhance economic entrepreneurship.[6]

3. Socio-Cultural and Educational Realities

Bangladesh is a land of multi-cultural communities with a rich cultural and traditional heritage. Yet, the same cultural and religious traditions also create many situations of injustice and cultural discriminations especially for the tribals.

Illiteracy has been a curse in Bangladesh since vast majority of the population remains out of the educational facilities. Moreover, educational institutions create much more elite than that they spread real education for the progress of the nation. There are numerous religious-affiliated institutions like madrasa for Islamic education in Arabic. Literacy rate stands at 32% of the total population.[7] Government efforts to eradicate illiteracy through the “Universal Primary and Compulsory Education” (UPE) and the “Mass Education Program” (MEP), enacted on January 1st 1991, are unlikely to make much difference in the overall situation, due to inefficient management, corruption, lack of political will and commitment.[8] According to the “Daily Star” 33% student drop out has been reported at primary schools in eight northern districts alone.[9]

4. Religious Situation

Bangladesh is a land of all four major religions of the world: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. This reality is visibly expressed in and through the presence of huge number of mosques, temples, pagodas, churches and shrines of revered saints, which fill the cities, towns and the countryside. There are also tribals scattered in remote rural villages all over the country.

4.1 Islam is the most widely practiced religion in Bangladesh. Islam had spread in Bangladesh in the 11th century during the rule of the Mughal Emperors. Shia and Sunni are the two traditions in Islam. Majority of the Muslims in Bangladesh are Sunni. According to the recent estimate, 86.8% of the total population of Bangladesh belongs to Islam.[10]

4.2 Hinduism was the main religion in the then Indian sub-continent until Islam came in the eleventh century. It flourished under the Gupta dynasty and remained dominant till the eighth century. During the British rule the Hindus were the privileged group in every aspect. With the partition between India and Pakistan in 1947, many Hindus migrated to India for security reasons. At present 11.9% of the population in Bangladesh are Hindus.[11]

4.3 Buddhism is the most ancient religion present in Bangladesh since the fifth century B.C. The Buddhists live in the southern region with a population of 0.6%.

4.4 Christianity entered Bangladesh in the sixteenth century. At present the Christian population that includes all ecumenical denominations including tribal Christians,

comprises 0.3% of the total population of Bangladesh.

The Catholic Church in Bangladesh has been present over four hundred years. This period can be divided roughly into three epochs of inner development: Infant stage, Growing stage and Adult stage.[12] In the earlier periods there were many foreign missionaries but this situation is rapidly changing and the Church leadership across all denominations is now local. There are local Bishops in all six Dioceses of Dhaka (the Arch Diocese), Chittagong, Dinajpur, Khulna, Mymensing, and Rajshahi.

4.5 Tribals or the indigenous peoples that include the Santals have a population about one million in Bangladesh. However, they do not have organized religions similar to the Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and other members of the world religions. They have no scriptures, no founder, no hierarchy, and no religious organization. Instead, they have their “myths, proverbs, customs, and codes of conduct that have been handed down from the past generations”.[13] For them, religion is a part of life and not a set of doctrines. The tribals are often known as the people of Primal religions.

In Bangladesh the tribals are found mostly in the regions of Cittagong Hill Tract Districts, North Mymensing and Sylhet, and in the Northern Bangladesh in the then greater Districts of Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Rangpur and Bogra. To name a few, the tribal communities are: Santal, Oraon, Mahli, Mahatto, Munda, Pahariya, Garo, Hajong, Khasi, etc. [14]

II. Short History of the Santals in Bangladesh

1. Historical Background of the Santals

Since how long the Santals landed in the territory of present Bangladesh, is not precisely known. Some believe that the Kherwars[15] reached the land of Bengal immediately after the first clashes with the invading Aryan tribes (2500 B. C.). With every probability the Santals landed in Bangladesh with their actual ethnic identity, not after 1000 B. C. It is probable that the Santals scattered throughout Bengal at the time of the Muslim invasion of this region during the last decades of the twelfth century or at the beginning of thirteenth century. In the words of Fr. Luizi Pussetto: “The Santals retired progressively toward more calm regions or where it was more easy to defend [themselves] from the invaders...”[16]

In later times, with the historic Santal Revolution in 1855 under the British Colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent, when 30,000 thousand Santals are believed to have been killed,[17] it is beyond any doubt that many of the Santals were dispersed into distant lands and geographically isolated territories. Many of them even crossed the river Ganges and end up in the East, the part of present Bangladesh. Many think that the early Santals came to North Bengal in search for job opportunities, especially when the railway tracks were under construction during the British rule in the second half of the 19th century. This may be one of the reasons that most Santals in Bangladesh are found settling on both sides of the railway lines from North to South.

1.1 The Name “Santal”: Regarding the name Santal, opinions differ among the scholars. For Skrefsrud, the name Santal is a corruption of Saontar, and was adopted by the tribe after their sojourn for several generations in the country around Saont in Midnapur. W. B. Oldham opined that Santal is an abbreviation of Samantawala, which has its etymology from Sanskrit Samanta, another name given to the country around Saont. O’Malley is of the opinion that Santal is an English form adopted from Hindi which corresponds with the form Saotal used by the Bengali speaking people. Sir John Shore designated Santals as Soontars while for McPherson it is Saungtars. For P. O. Bodding it would derive from Sant or Sat or Sar, a region of the district of Midnapur, in India. Bishop J. Obert who had long experience working with the Santals looked at this from different perspective. According to him, Set would mean seven, number referred to the seven rivers of a region: Country of the seven rivers. [18]

Most Anthropologists agree that Santal is a name given to this tribe by non-Santals. However, Santals prefer to call themselves hoŗ meaning “human being or person.” For the Santals the concept hoŗ bears a rich connotation to mean a person with qualities of intellect, of knowledge, of wisdom; they refer themselves as a tribe with dignity and full human potentiality. The Santals are proud of their identity that defines the traits of solidarity and uniqueness as a group.

1.2 Origin, Race, and Language: As to the “origin” of the Santals, very little is known for certain. The Santals have no recorded history. Like other ancient societies, Santals have tried to explore the mysteries of creation, history and life by means of myths and legends. Following the anthropological data, some authors classify Santals as Pre-Dravidian and others as Proto-Austroloids; and others as aboriginals of the Northwest. Thus, the opinions in this respect are very discordant. The Santals do have their own mythology of creation and many believe that they all have come from Pilcu haŗam and Pilcu budhi, which is like Adam and Eve in the Bible.

Santali is the mother tongue spoken by the Santals. It is a munda language of the kherwar group that belongs to the munda-mon-Khmer or ‘Austro-Asiatic’[19] sub-family. But there are other different opinions on this too. According to N. Prasad, “Santali is the richest dialect among all the tribal dialects of Bihar.”[20]

1.3 Geographical Location: In Bangladesh, the Santals are found mostly in North Bengal (Northern part of Bangladesh) especially in the then greater districts of Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogra, and Rajshahi. According to the census of 1881, the Santals resulted present in the district of Khulna, Pabna and Chittagong in the south. Many say that the Santals, who are in Sylhet, are the ones who migrated from the districts mentioned above and came here mainly to work in the tea gardens as laborers. In short, the Santals of Bangladesh are almost all derived from those emigrated from the Santal Pargana in India and nothing distinguishes them from those who are still living there, with the exception, perhaps of the use of Bangla words that are Santalized. [21] In recent times some of the Bangladeshi Santals also started going abroad taking employment opportunities.

2. The Worldview

The Santals are simple and unsophisticated people. Like any other people, the Santals have developed their own worldview, a system suited to deal with the basic problems of life and its meaning. They have perceived the enigma and the basic dichotomy of human existence—life and death, good and evil from their own perspective. For the Santals, life, health, wealth, prosperity, happiness, tribal solidarity, religious belief, mores, etc., are “good”; and death, illness, poverty, misfortune, injury etc. are “evil”. Their religious experiences is mediated through their culture and are expressed in terms of symbols, metaphors, myth, legends, folklore, songs, cult, rituals and so on.[22] The Santals consider Thạkur Jiu (Life Giver) or Cando Baba (Sun Father) or Marang Buru (Great Mountain) as the source of all “good”; while it is the “evil eye”, the “evil mouth” and the bạŗic’ bonga or malevolent spirits who cause harms in human life. Therefore, while acknowledging the Supreme Being, they also propitiate the bonga in an attempt to solve the problems of suffering, sickness, and other crisis. All these quite often lead them to superstitious beliefs and give rise to prominence of the fear of the bonga.

For the Santals every newborn child coming from the invisible and shadowy world needs to be purified, identified and introduced to the Santal society. Much of such realities are expressed through the ritual ceremonies performed after a child is born. The ritual of the janam chạtiạr (birth purification and name-giving ritual) is one example where these aspects are enacted through bathing, shaving the head of the baby, divining of arwa rice (unboiled rice) grains and welcoming of the baby by the community.

The death purification ceremonies like funeral rites of Bhandan, or Mora Karam (after-death celebration) provide further details of the Santal-belief system that the dead person goes back to the same spirit-world of life from where he/she had come as a baby and remains defiled and defiling, for which reason not only the family that needs purification, but the very return of the deceased person to its original state or shadowy-world is already defiling because it is a tribeless-state, condemned and sinful state and because it has been created for the punishment of the sins of greed and pride. Hence, the deceased person needs to be brought back spiritually to his/her own family and is installed as an invisible member as hapŗam (ancestor). The deceased, although invisible, remain a permanent member of the family and are remembered and respected during all their family occasions.

The Santals believe that “when [a] human being becomes perfectly free from all greed and pride this state will be removed and that will be the New Creation,”[23] which in Christianity may be compared with the state of salvation.

For the Santals, there is no clear distinction between the sacred and the profane, religious and non-religious, spiritual and the material areas of life. Animals and the material world are at the disposal of human beings for their self-preservation and well-being. Moreover, Santal-life is closely related to nature and to the whole of creation. Land and forest remain united with Santal-identity and are very much reflected in their lives, love, poetry, songs, dance and music. The Santals, for example, address to the “supreme being” as Cando Baba (Sun Father) and the stars too have different names. According to Archer, “Although fields, houses, men and women seem to constitute a Santal village, Santals regard them as at most a portion of their total world.”[24]

3. The Santals in their Socio-Cultural Realities

3.1 The Santal-village: The Santal village is a pattern of Santal living and it is the most traditional and ancient institution, which crystallizes the whole system of social, political, and ritual structures. It comes into existence through the special dispensation of the bonga and is sanctified by their blessings. The presence of different clans in a village demonstrates the beauty of a community living and obviously the democratic character of the village administration itself is a sign of incredible richness of the Santal societal dealing and living. A Santal village is demarcated with an implicit boundary so that it may remain free from outside interference of evil spirits. The Santals believe that quarrels among families and groups in the village, natural calamities, sickness, epidemics, etc., are caused by lack of balance between the forces of good and evil.[25]

The Santal villages enjoy a large measure of internal autonomy and they are mainly governed by their own traditional laws and customs. Santals have their own method of dealing with various issues[26] of moral and religious nature. But, this situation is rapidly changing due to the introduction of the state laws. The application of Hindu laws to the Santals, especially with regard to the inheritance of property rights, created much disputes among them who have enjoyed their own customs and traditions since times immemorial.

3.2 Social structure of Santal village: The primary feature of every Santal village is the “Manjhi Council” or the village council headed by a manjhi (headman). The village council is the representative body of the community consisting of seven officials, namely: Manjhi, Paranik (a deputy headman), Jog Manjhi (an overseer of the village on moral issues), Jog Paranik (assistant to Jog Manjhi), Godet’ (a messenger), Naeke (a village priest), and his assistant is Kudạm Naeke.[27] These officials in fact are the servants, not the masters of the village and their role is purely functional. The Mạnjhi remains as the overall leader of the village council and presides over the village meeting but with the accepted principle that no one overrules any one else. The functions of the council on the other hand, are categorically divided among the members in order to avoid any overlapping. The council members perform their functions in accordance with their tribal customs and traditions. The pattern of the village governance of the Santals is mostly democratic in character like any other democratic institution. However in present time, with the introduction of the government-sponsored Union Parisad (local administrative council) the social control of the traditional mạnjhi council of the Santals is mostly undermined.

Following the patriarchal pattern, the Manjhi (leader) of the village for the Santals, is always a male. The title of the Manjhi is generally hereditary and it is passed on patrilineally. Now-a-days, the male members of the village may elect or even select their own headman upon common consensus. The term of office is indefinite but can be altered by general agreement according to the need. Although the office of the headman is voluntary and honorary in nature, the members of the Manjhi council are responsible to the community for the smooth running of the village particularly for social matters.

3.3 The Clans: Santals are endogamic as a people because they cannot get married outside their tribe, but they are exogamic as clan because they cannot be married between the same clan (pạris).[28] Traditionally the Santals used to have fostered a total of twelve clans but unfortunately in the course of history one has been missing. The clans are: 1) Baskey, 2) Besra, 3) Core, 4) Hasdak’, 5) Hembrom, 6) Kisku, 7) Marandi, 8) Murmu, 9) Pạuria, 10) Soren, 11) Tudu, and 12) Bedea (the lost one).

Major functions of the clans are to regulate marriage, inheritance, succession and affiliation (Ali 1988; also Hossain 2000). One becomes a clan member by birth. It is said that these clans are hierarchically ordered on the basis of occupation, like: Kisku raja (king), Marandi Kipisạr (wealthy or richer), Murmu Thạkur (priest), Soren Sipạhi (warrior), Tudu Mạndạŗiạ (musician), and so on and so forth. However, according to the researcher, these occupational hierarchies of status do not have any impact on the Santals in daily lives.

3.4 Family and Marriage: Family is the primary unit of human society. The family among the Santals can be termed as of biological, joint, and extended. A husband, his wife and their unmarried children form part of the biological or nuclear family.[29] A husband, his wife and his married and unmarried sons and daughters and sometimes his old parents, brother and his family form part of the joint family[30] or extended family[31] type.

According to the Santals, marriage is an union between a man and a woman, which is socially recognized; culturally and religiously it allows the couple to live in a family. A Santal marriage can be described also as a legal transfer of dependency of the bride, from her father’s family to the groom’s family. By this transfer, the groom’s family does not only assume guardianship but also assumes control over all her affairs. Through marriage the bride looses her paternal legal identity and acquires the identity of the groom’s family. In the institutional sense, marriage is the partnership between a man and a woman regulated by customary laws that enhance legal union between the sexes and define the procedures for establishing the husband-wife relation, the reciprocal obligations and the accepted restrictions upon its personnel.[32]

As to the origin and institution of marriage, the Santals believe that the Creator Himself has established marriage. That is, the Thakur Jiu who created the first human pair (Pilcu haŗam and Pilcu budhi) has also instituted marriage. Although there are some instances of polygamy,[33] monogamy is the nature of most Santal marriages. Besides serving sexual needs and procreation of heirs, a Santal marriage has also other purposes, such as companionship, formation of family, economic security, cooperation in the family enterprise, social and psychological security, etc. Thus, Santal marriage is not only between two persons of opposite sex but it also becomes a bond of union between two families, two villages, and also influences the circle of relationship among the relatives.

M. A. Jalil[34] mentions four types of marriage among the Santals in Bangladesh. These are: 1) Dangwa bapla (contact marriage), 2) Angir bapla (love marriage), 3) Or bapla (force marriage), and 4) Itut’ bapla (tactical marriage). C. Mukharji mentions several other forms of marriage among the Santals in Santal Parganas, in India. These are: Bạriạt bapla, Tanki dipil, Baha dor bapla, Jharipani bapla, Kiriń jawae, Sanga bapla, Nirbolok’ bapla, Ghạrdi jawae bapla, and Hiram cetan bapla. [35] Moreover, Santals do have exceptions especially in the case of marriage between candidates of the same clan. For example, when the marriage of a young couple of the same clan for a valid reason becomes necessary, and consanguinity or affinity does not prevent it, they apply a juridical pretense. In such case, an elderly couple of a different clan, adopts the bride as their daughter through a simple ritual ceremony and gives the proper name to her.[36]

Marriage among the Santals is usually arranged by the parents and by the close relatives of the couple. Yet, in present days, there is much relaxation on this traditional practice and the candidates do have their say for arranging their marriage.

3.5 Annual Festivals and Ceremonies: The Santal society is marked with feasts, festivals and ritual celebrations. One of the terms often used by the Santals is rạskạ meaning happiness, or joy, which is not only dear to their hearts but is part and parcel of their life. Thus, we find dancing and singing have a very important role at every festival occasion. It brings a Santal to forget worries and stresses of his or her day-to-day life. In the social life of the Santals, feasts and festivals have great significance for these are the living expression of the deep aspiration of joy and happiness, and also demonstrate the feeling of community and solidarity integrated as part of the nature of the Santals. Many of such characteristics are expressed in songs, music and in dance. In fact, the Santals don’t give any space to individualism and it is really during the feasts and festivals that an individual realizes himself or herself in the community and his or her future role in the life of the community. Although, most of these festivals seemingly appear as mere gathering of close friends and relatives, individuals of the same sub-clan or that concern only the inhabitants of a village; yet, there are also occasions that involve more villages, as it usually happens on the occasion of marriage when participation is mostly unanimous.

In any of these feasts and festivals, there are certain rites and rituals being followed often accompanied by simple offering at the center. Ablutions and unction of oil, the use of vermilion to mark the sacrificial victim and even being used by the participants, bears a greater significance. In fact, some of these festival performances consist of some sort of worship or folk cults. From the rites and festivals of the Santals, it is quite clear that their economic life, social organization and ritual performances are interwoven mainly around agriculture. The Santals believe that the aspects of material life must be protected and guarded by appropriate rites and festivals; and bonga (spirits) must be satisfied by giving their due shares.

Many of the socio-cultural festivals and ritualistic celebrations indicate that Santals have deeper insights that go beyond mere external celebrations. However, due to the scope and limitation of this study, we only mention some main annual festivals and ceremonies commonly observed like: Sohorae (harvest festival), Baha (flower festival), Erok’ (sowing of rice seeds in the field), Iri-Gundli Nạwai (offering of the first fruits of the millet iri), Janthar (offering of the first fruits of the winter rice crop).[37] Santals also have occasional rites and festivals, which are neither associated with agricultural operations nor performed annually. Some of these are: Jom Sim, Mak’ Moŗe and Karam.

4. Socio-Economic and Political Realities

4.1 Occupations and Living: Traditionally Santals are mainly agriculturists. They cling to their land as their principal occupation and means of subsistence. About 95% of the Santals are involved in agricultural operations. Industrious and hardworking as they are, unfortunately the scientific side of their knowledge about cultivation and managing their land has not been developed. In the past the majority of the Santals were landowners, but due to the increase in population, exploitation by moneylenders and landlords, illegal occupation of their land, poverty and illiteracy, natural calamities etc. the vast majority of the Santals in Bangladesh have lost their land properties. At present, nearly 80% of the Santals are land-less,[38] forcing them to earn their livelihood depending on the mercy and availability of work in the fields of their Muslim or Hindu neighbors for their mere subsistence. Yet, it is significant to note that traditionally there are no beggars among the Santals. Rather, the Santals in the time of dire poverty go to the jungle to collect wild plants, fruits, wild potatoes and roots of young shoots, flowers, mushrooms, etc.

Hunting and fishing that used to be part of Santal-living, have now become secondary importance due to the change of situation. Lack of employment opportunities in the village areas, also forced many Santals to flock to the nearby towns and cities in search of daily wages and jobs. The women in Santal society play an important role in maintaining their families but in reality they remain deprived of their equal right, which is reflected by the fact that women are not eligible for the inheritance of properties.

Santals have never been found to be interested in commerce or any such profession to avail of economic self-reliance. This is one of the reasons why they remain rather marginalized inviting poverty in their lives. Moreover, most Santals do not think about future, rather they are more concerned for the day; it’s a day-to-day living and they remain satisfied and happy with the little they can have for maintaining their family. However, due to some progress in education, a small number of Santals have been able to make little changes in their way of living. Some have taken up modern professions like teachings, technical assistance, judicial advocacy, nursing etc.

4.2 Political Reality: Santals, a peace loving people have never been found interested in politics. Yet, they have always reacted when things went severely painful and

they were pushed against the wall when they could not bear anymore. The historic Santal Revolution in 1855-56, the Tebhaga andolon (share croppers’ movement) in 1945, and the Nachol Bidroho (farmers’ revolution) in the year 1950, are the concrete examples of the past.[39] In fact, Santals have always been used by others in the forefront battle. Illiteracy, absence of organizational set up and lack of genuine leadership have kept the Santals far from achieving any end result. In recent years, some of the Santals have been found to take active role in the local politics by their participation in the local election.

4.3 Conflict management: Human society does not live in perfect harmony with one another. People often behave themselves in such a way that other people’s property rights and even their physical and psychic selves are violated; Santal society is not an exception to this. Beside the democratic pattern of the village governance, the Santals traditionally follow a tribal system of conflict management. In any case, the issue is always reported to the Manjhi (headman) who takes initiative to settle the matter by the village court that constitutes all the male members of the village community. A number of villages also form one local administrative unit under a Pargana Council, which consists of (usually) five mạńjhi from the neighboring Santal villages. Any issue that cannot be solved in a Mạńjhi Council is referred to Pargana court.[40]

The third judiciary procedure of the Santals is known as Des Manjhi Council. It consists of the representatives of: a) head of the Manjhi Councils, and b) the Parganas (head of the Pargana Councils). This juridical entity is superior to both the Manjhi Council and Pargana Council. The Des Manjhi Council acts as an appeal court to settle disputes that remain unresolved by the two inferior judiciary councils.

Traditionally, Santals also have the practice of Sendra Bạisi (hunting court) or Lo Bir Bạisi (forest court), which is the highest court for the Santals. This informal court, consisting of the elders belonging to the region, takes decisions on outstanding cases. It hears appeal made against the ruling of the Manjhi or the Pargana councils. The decision of this hunt or forest council comes into immediate effect. In extreme cases, when the community bond is in jeopardy, the forest court (Lo Bir Bạisi) can resort to physical punishment. The dihri (special priest) presides over this council. This court makes judgment on the basis of the principle of equality[41] that is, where human dignity is respected and all are considered equal in front of the law. With the change of situation, especially with the installation of the state law applicable to all the citizens, both Pargana Bạisi and Sendra Bạisi do not seem to be effective in Bangladesh anymore. The breakdown of these socio-juridical entities has created many social problems threatening the social integrity and identity of the Santals.

5. Beliefs and Ritual Practices

5.1 The Belief in One Supreme Being: As it has already been mentioned earlier, Santals do believe in one “supreme being” whom they call Thakur Jiu (Life Giver) or Marang buru (Great mountain) who is considered to be the “supreme” among all the “religious beings”. The most common Santal-term used for the Supreme Being these days is Cando Baba (Sun Father). According to the experience of the researcher the Santals here do not refer literally to the Sun itself rather, it is an expression of a divine activity: expression of divine love in relation to human beings. For the Santals, Cando Baba is a benevolent Deity[42] who organizes the days and nights and is responsible for heat and cold, rain and sunshine; and from a dwelling ‘somewhere in the sky’, allots each Santal a term of life here on earth. But, he stays far away, far above the sky and cannot be reached. It is underneath the sun, beneath the clouds, that Santal life is challenged. Here the bonga roam around and only by coming to terms with them can Santals be happy.[43]

5.2 The Belief in Bonga (spirits): The Santals believe in the existence of the spirits who are called bonga. The bonga have much repercussion on daily living of the Santals. To ensure their continuing care, beside annual sacrifices, the bonga are remembered in a daily basis. Whenever a meal is taken, a small portion of the food is dropped on the floor for the bonga, or at the time whenever rice-beer is drunk, a little is spilt on the ground for Marang Buru. Thus, the Santals live not only in their tribal society but in a greater society consisting of supernatural beings as well. [44]

In practice, the Santals often use the term bonga meaning “to incorporate” someone into the society by doing certain ritual. The phrase used in this case is: bonga tala kedeako meaning, he/she has been admitted into Santal society.

According to the Santal religious belief there are two types of bonga—the malevolent and the benevolent ones.[45] The bonga-worship is primarily to please and to invoke the powers of the benevolent bonga and to avert the ill will of the malevolent bonga. In the worship of Bonga we can distinguish analytically two interrelated aspects:

a) The objective aspect of the religious rites is to have an alliance with the benevolent Bonga and thereby controlling or even defeating the powers of the malevolent Bonga; and

b) The expressive aspect of the worship is manifested through various seasonal and religious rites, festivals and rites associated with various social rituals.

Santals have an innate relationship with their Bonga and consider themselves living with them. This relationship is mostly of dependence, submission, propitiation and reverential fear. The Santals do supplications; offer rice-beer; and animal sacrifices in the name of the Bonga. It is worth mentioning that there are instances among the Santals in the rural villages where persons even in time of serious sickness would not look for medical help instead leave it to the Bonga to be cured. [46]

5.3 Belief in witchcraft: Related to Santal belief-system, is also the existence of witches. The Santals believe that there are certain people, especially women, who possess special power and techniques to harm people, cattle, and crops. These so-called witches are involved in doing harmful activities like giving poisons, taking out human livers, sending troublesome spirits to certain families and changing themselves into black cats. Because of such belief in witchcraft practices, the Santals easily suspect one another, and are often led to fight. It is presumed that it is essential to have such a belief especially in the pagan world.[47] However, there is also a counter-belief among the Santals that there are certain people Ojha-janguru (specialists), mainly men, who possess special power and techniques for detecting witches and nullifying their spells. Thus, whenever Santals get into trouble, they seek the help of these people who, more often exploit the society.

Referring to the sickness and other problems, the Santals believe that they are caused by the evil spirits when they become dissatisfied with the sacrifices of the people or when they think that they are being manipulated by some evil-minded people (witches). Therefore, the Santals try to identify the agents of the trouble through the help of ojha–janguru and try to pacify each agent through various sacrifices.

5.4 The Ancestors: From the rites and rituals as practiced by the Santals, it is quite evident that ancestor-worship is a common feature among them. The dead ancestors are the real benefactors of the families or groups to which they belonged and that they are easily approachable by their living kinsmen. Hence, at all important occasions of birth, of marriage or of death the deceased ancestors are remembered and offered sacrifices.

5.5 The Jaherthan or the sacred grove is an essential part of a Santal village. It is a sacred place of special worship for the Santals. After a village has been set up, a Jaherthan is installed through ritual ceremony at the outskirt of the village. The main deity of the Jaherthan, is known as Jaher Era (the lady of the grove). According to the Santals, she resides there besides other important deities such as the Moŗeko-Turuiko [48] (literally means ”five-six”). The Jaher Era presides over the sacred grove, tends over other bonga in the Jaherthan and looks after the interests of the villagers especially for their physical needs. The spirits of the Jaherthan are worshipped during the principal festivals, like Sohorae (Harvest festival), Baha (Flower festival), Erok’ (Sowing festival), and so on for the general welfare of the village particularly for obtaining good crops and for the health of the villagers and their livestock. [49]

5.6 The Mạńjhithan or the altar of the headman is placed along side the kulhi (village road) or often at the central place of the village or in front the house of the Mạńjhi (the headman). It is believed that the Manjhi bonga (spirit of the headman) resides in this altar and acts as the spiritual adviser of the headman. Here the Mạńjhi offers sacrifice for the benefit of himself, his family and for the whole village.

5.7 The “House-altar”: In the inner side of a Santal house, there remains the bhitạr, a tiny compartment, which is the darkest space of the house. It is the abode of the oŗak bonga[50] (house spirits) or often known as abge bonga—the bonga of the sub-clan. The head of the family does the worship. In any occasion of the family and social festivals, food offering is made on this altar. The names of the oŗak bonga are not revealed to outsiders and even to the female members of the house rather, handed down from father to son. Usually the eldest son receives the name from his father.[51]

The bhitạr is also used as a secret place to germinate and to store hạndi (rice beer), which is not only used as normal drink but its use is significant and extended to socio-cultural ritualistic celebrations, and even that to be offered to satisfy the bonga.

5.8 The “After-life” is the continuation of life that is lived in this world. The Santals believe that the spirit of the deceased goes to a shadowy world where the person requires the materials of this world. This is well expressed with the ritual practices done at the time of burial and during the bhandan, the last ceremony done in honor of the dead. In the past, it was performed immediately after all the requirements had been fulfilled for the deceased person, but in present days such ceremony, in a rich family, is done within two or three months from the death and in a poor family, it is one year or two. For the Santals, the more numerous are the animal-victims offered in honor of the dead during the bhandan, the more would be the animals that the ancestor will have in the other world. Most animal-victims are donated by the relatives and none of them are to be spared for future use by the family concerned.

Traditionally every Santal, male and female, is supposed to bear undeletable scars on the body. For the male, it is the sikạ[52] that must be at least three scars representing jion (life), moron (death), and jion (life). The Santal women do not practice sikạ, but to escape to be devoured by the worms in the life-after, they have their chest tattooed, which is called by the Santals khoda. Fr. Pussetto, with his vast experience with the Santals testified:

I have not only seen Santal women tattooed on the chest but also on the back, on the face, on the arms and on the legs; the tattoo were enough complicated, but purely ornamental…The tattoo will serve to the women to be recognized from the respective husbands in the other life.[53]

In the present times the younger generation of the Santals in Bangladesh does not practice sikạ or khoda or rather these have become voluntary. However, every Santal child bears needle-eye wholes in his/her two ears to use ornaments when they grow up and especially at the time of his/her marriage.

6. Morality in Santal Conception

For the Santals, morality means rightful doing and living; and remaining true and loyal to their tribal identity. For the Santals, morality is intimately linked with the issues pertaining to sex. For them, sex is sacred and it is intimately related only with marriage and it can only be done in secret. The Santals never talk about sex in public; and they use metaphorical language to express sexual issues.

In most Mạńjhi Council meetings, sexual issues (kuŗi-koŗa dorbar) get priority to be resolved. The Santals often have marathon session to settle such issue even it takes more than a day. Since family and village community are the principal arena of moral education and formation, it is clear that Santal-morality is passed on from one generation to another in the living expression of the culture of the people.

7. The Santals in Search of “new identity”

Every ethnic group or society has its own unique characteristics, value-systems, language, religious belief, mores, life-attitudes, culture, customs and traditions. It has its own approach to life and death, disease and sickness, individual and community, and above all, a sense of identity. Anyone visiting a Santal village or an area with vast majority of Santal inhabitants will easily realize the difference and the identity that applies to the Santals. This sense of identity or cultural self-image defines the traits of solidarity, uniqueness, and also seeks differences with other groups in the larger society around.[54] Yet, in many ways, the Santals of Bangladesh today can be seen going through an identity crisis for a variety of reasons. They have not been able to make concerted efforts to face the rapid changing situation. Whatever changes seem to have taken place due to the outside pressure, promotion of education and some initiatives taken by the Church, do not reach out to the bulk of the Santals living in the rural villages scattered around the countryside. As the time passes, Santals are more and more becoming marginalized—struggling for survival without having proper direction to move forward to improve their life situation.

There is clearly a confrontation between the ritual-based sense of traditional culture and the forces of change and modernization represented by the socio-political and socio-economic factors allied to these changes. In fact, the Santals are badly caught up between the mythological past of glorious traditions and the present with its ever degrading and desperate poverty caused by ignorance, exploitation and oppression by their neighbors.

Moreover, Santals are found to be more divided than being united due to the fact that there are Santals who have already embraced the Christian faith belonging to different church denominations while the vast majority still remains following the old traditional pattern of culture and religious practices. The gap among these groups has been widening in the course of history. According to Kazi Tobarak Hossain, “The social solidarity and homogeneity of the ethnic minority of Santals are weakening and disintegrating. In effect, culturally they are in a transitional state.”[55] The Santals today face the transition from the sovereignty of the isolated village to the complexities of modern polity, bureaucracy and money economy.

At the time of the Liberation War in 1971 and in the post-war period, both Christians and the non-Christian Santals felt closely affiliated to the Catholic Church. Fr. Giacomelli, a PIME missionary who worked among the Santals during the period reported that he distributed thousands of medals and crucifixes to non-Christian and many were approaching him for security reason. But, this priest was not a missionary to take advantage to convert them. He never discriminated anybody on the ground of religion. The same could be mentioned with other missionaries who were engaged in other parishes in Bangladesh.

Presently, a little change, mostly among the Christian Santals has been noticed because of their contact with the local mission stations. The Legal Aid activities for the Tribals supported by Caritas-Bangladesh during the post-war period, Mạńjhi-dupuŗup’ (village leaders’ meeting), the Sida-Kanhu martyr’s day annual celebration, the Diocesan Credit Union movement, Educational and Health care facilities and services, pilgrimage to religious shrines, priestly ordination and Bishops’ pastoral visits to local parishes created a tremendous impact on the non-Christian Santals to know Christ. Yet, many of them remain closely attached to their traditional beliefs and many also fear the societal excommunication or they are even scared of the harmful consequence of displeasing the bonga.

Until now the Santals have not been converted to any other religion like: Islam or Hinduism, except Christianity. This issue is important for the reason that whether the Santals in the near future would be ready to accept Islam or to be converted to other religions as it happened in the past when many low caste Hindus were converted to Islam.

The fact that the Santals who remain artificially divided in two camps: a small number of Christians and the majority remaining out of reach—certainly cannot be a good sign for the Santal society and for its future. The prayer of Jesus for his disciples echoed in the Gospel is something that draws our attention “that they may all be one, as you Father, are in me and I in You, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John (17:21-22),

Thus, evangelization of the Santals in the proper sense would mean a new hope and a new beginning of realizing the dream that will bring the Good News of Jesus to the Santals. “The harvest is plentiful” (Mt. 9:37-38) and Bangladesh remains a “fertile ground” for the mission of evangelization. Hence, the local churches in Bangladesh have a greater - role to play in the field of the evangelization of the Santals. For “God has called us to be Christians not only so that we may be saved but that we may collaborate in the work of the world’s salvation, and invite those whom God draws to the Church to share in our faith.”[56]

Thus, the questions to be answered are: Where do the local churches in Bangladesh stand? Does evangelization carry any meaning for the Santals who look forward toward the Church in the silence of their hearts with great hope and who search for a direction of a way, the light, and the truth?

A brief summary of the chapter

This chapter has helped us to conclude:

a) Bangladesh is a small, newly independent country with much socio-economic-political-educational drawbacks. It presents diverse socio-cultural, multi-religious realities with a large human population. Human freedom, justice and peace, mitigation of poverty, eradication of illiteracy, and hope for better future have been found to be the motivating force for the people to move forward in their struggle for survival;

b) The presence of the all four major religions: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity is significant in the context of evangelization mostly if these religious groups can work together for a common goal of establishing the Kingdom of God in communion with the most neglected section of the tribal population. The Catholic Church and the Christian community, though a tiny minority, are to proclaim and witness the Good News through dialogue, compassion and redemptive service to the nation as a whole;

c) The Santals have been presented as the largest ethnic tribal minority by illustrating their historical, socio-cultural, economic, educational, moral and religious realities. We have seen that the Santals are a people with rich traditions and cultural heritage. They believe in one Supreme Being but their families are extended with the presence of the multiple bonga (spirits) including the spirits of the deceased members of the family. They also believe in witchcraft and Ojha-janguru (specialist). All these certainly require in-depth study before they are discarded as mere superstition or put in anathema.

d) The Santals are seen at the brink of “cultural disintegration” and identity crisis. The mythology of a glorious past, which the Santals dream of, has failed to correspond in reality to the present context. Moreover, the missionary endeavors and the proclamation of the Good News have had rather little impact on the Santals since the last century. The question is: Why? Yet, the Santals need to be seen in their own eyes, in their own socio-cultural context where “Truth and grace are found among the nations as a sort of secret presence of God” (AG 9). The challenge therefore, for the local churches in Bangladesh remains as an important factor at the dawn of the Third Millennium.

In the next chapter we will deal with proclamation and witness as the primary elements of evangelizing mission and further highlight their need and urgency in the context of the Santals in Bangladesh.

[1] Cf. Population Census 2001, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (Dhaka, 2003).

[2] CBCB, Pastoral Plan for the Church, p. 5.

[3] Ibid., p. 7.

[4] Cf. Jahanara Hug and Mahamuda Islam, Women, Development and Technology (Dhaka: Women for Women, 1988), p. 2.

[5] In Bangladesh, “Grameen Bank” was started by Prof. M. Yunus in 1976 with the hypothesis that “If the financial resources could be made available to the poor on reasonable terms and conditions, then they could generate productive self-employment and will need no further assistance.” Cf. FABC, Theological Advisory Commission, “Asian Christian Perspectives on Harmony,” in Franz-Joseph Eilers, ed., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 2, p. 251.

[6] See also further discussion on ‘economic development” in chapter V.

[7] Thomas C. Fox, Pentecost in Asia: A New Way of Being Church (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 2003), p. 212. Hereafter referred to as, Pentecost in Asia.

[8] Cf. Caritas Bangladesh, Annual Report, (Dhaka, 1991), pp. 105-106.

[9] Cf. “Daily Star,” Dhaka, February 12, 2005.

[10] Fox, Pentecost in Asia, p. 212.

[11] Ibid.

[12] CBCB, Pastoral Plan, pp. 2-3.

[13] Mercado, Inter-religious Explorations, p. 45.

[14] Cf. McNee, Crucial Issues in Bangladesh, pp. 16-25.

[15] The word Kherwar (or Kharwar) has multiple usages. It also refers to revivalist religious groups among the Santals but for all practical purposes they belong and form part and parcel of the Santal community. Cf. Narmadeshwar Prasad and associates, Land and People of Tribal Bihar (Ranchi: Bihar Tribal Reseach Institute, 1961), p. 123; hereafter referred to as, Land and People.

[16] L. Pussetto, “Santals of Bangladesh.” Internet derived article (website: http://www. A:\Santals_Of_Bangladesh.doc), accessed on 15th of December 2003, p. 2. Hereafter referred to as, “Santals of Bangladesh.”

[17] M. Hasdak, “Santalder Poriciti,” pp. 107-111.

[18] Cf. L. Pussetto, “Santals of Bangladesh,” p. 1. See also H. H. Risley, The Tribes and Castes of Bengal as cited in M. Murmu, “The Santals,” p. 4.

[19] “Austro-Asiatic” and “Austro-Nesian” are the two sub-families of Austric Family. The Austro-Nesian includes the languages of Madagascar, some parts of Indonesia and the islands of the Pacific. Austro-Asiatic on the other hand is divided into two language groups—Mon-Khmer and the Munda languages. The Mon-Khmer branch is spoken in Myanmar, Indo-China, Malacca, Sekoi, Semang, Khasi and Nicobar island. Munda languages are spoken in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and in Mewar. Moreover, the Munda languages are sub-grouped into two: Kherwari and others. SANTALI, Mundari, Ho, Bhumij, Korwa, etc., fall under the category of Kherwari, whereas Kharia, Savara, etc., under the other category (cf. N. Prasad, Land and People of Tribal Bihar, p. 295).

[20] Ibid., p. 296.

[21] L. Pussetto, “Santals of Bangladesh,” p. 2.

[22] Cf. Albert Lakra, “Christ and Traditional Religions,” in Cirilo R. Almario, ed., Evangelization in Asia, pp. 159-170.

[23] P. Kullu, “Theology in Tribal Religio-Cultural Context,” Severtham 28 (2003), pp. 65-79.

[24] Archer, The Hill of Flutes, pp. 25-26.

[25] Marcus Murmu, “The Santals: Their Traditions and Institutions in Bangladesh.” Internet derived article (website: http://members.xoom.virgilioit/bguizzi/bangladesh/adibasi/s…), accessed on July 2004. Hereafter referred to as, “The Santals.”

[26] Troisi, Tribal Religion, Religious Beliefs and Practice, in M. Murmu, “The Santals,” p. 19.

[27] “Kudạm naeke,” a ‘field” priest is mainly employed for placating bonga on the village outskirts as distinct from the main or “national” bonga. (Cf. Archer, The Hill of Flutes, pp. 362-363).

[28] Regarding the origin of the clans there are two separate versions: 1) to maintain exogamy (persons cannot be married within the same clan), and 2) foster unity among the Santals (cf. L. Pussetto, “Santals of Bangladesh,” p. 9).

[29] “Nuclear family” is defined as a group of persons united by ties of marriage and parenthood or adoption. It consists of a man, a wife, and their socially recognized offspring. The nuclear family is the most oldest and basic universal form of social organization. Cf. Murmu, “The Santals,” (Footnote, 79).

[30] “Joint family” is an extension of the nuclear family in which members of uni-lineal descent (either the male or female line) live together with their spouses and children in one homestead and under the authority of one of the members. Ibid., (Footnote, 80).

[31] “Extended family” is similar to the joint family except that it does not necessarily live in the same dwelling, but normally the members live close together and work in teams. The extended family system is resorted to in regions in which economic conditions make it difficult for the nuclear family to achieve self-sufficiency. Ibid., (Footnote, 81).

[32] See also M. Murmu, “The Santals”, ibid., p. 22.

[33] The Santal society can be characterized as an open society. Yet, the issue of polygamy is not regarded by Santals with much enthusiasm. Cf. Archer, The Hill of Flutes, pp. 348-349.

[34] M. A. Jalil, Bangladesher Saontal: Samaj O Sanskriti, A book on the Santals, a tribe in Bangladesh, their Society and Culture, (Dhaka: Bangla Academy Press, 1991), pp. 26-48. Hereafter referred to as, Bangladesher Saontal.

[35] Ibid., pp. 26-27.

[36] Cf. M. Murmu, “The Santals,” p. 9.

[37] M. Murmu, “The Santals,” p. 29.

[38] Ibid., p. 21.

[39] Jalil, Bangladesher Saontal, p. 102.

[40] For further reading cf. M. Murmu, “The Santals,” p. 20.

[41] Cf. L. O. Skrefsrud, Horkoren Mare Hapramko reak Katha (The Traditions and Institutions of the Santals), Milan: Mani Tese, 1983. pp. 149-56. Hereafter referred to as, Horkoren Mare Hapramko.

[42] Referring to the remarks of Kolean Haram (old Santal guru), P.O. Bodding (1925:1) writes that being a benevolent deity, the Santals do not worry about him (Cando Baba) much and there is no specific worship to appease him. However, he is remembered with the deepest honor and humility during the important ceremonies associated with marriage and death; he is also called upon as a witness to the solemn oath-takings and is invoked during natural calamities like draught and famines; in these occasions a white fowl is sacrificed to appease him. Some Santals think that Supreme Being is not a Bonga, he stands above. Ibid., (1932: 324).

[43] Cf. Archer, The Hill of Flutes, p. 26.

[44] Cf. Datta-Majumdar, The Santal: A Study in Culture-Change, in M. Murmu, “The Santals,” p. 24.

[45] Gausdal (1960) classified Santal Bongas into several broad categories depending upon their nature and functions. They are: a) Village tutelary spirits comprising Marang Buru, Moreko-turuiko, Jaher Era, Gosae Era, Pargana Bonga and Manjhi Haram Bonga; b) The sub-clan spirits—Abge bongas; c) House hold spirits—Orak’ bongas; d) Spirit of ancestors—Hapramko bongas; e) The Jom-Sim Bongas; f) Tutelary spirits of Santal Ojhas—Saket Bongas; g) Hindu deities—deko boga; h) Boundary Spirits—Sima bongas; i) Mountain and hillspirits—Rongo Ruji bongas; j) Village outskirts spirits—bahre bongas; k) Water Spirits—baghut bongas; and l) Spirit exorcised by Santal Ojhas to ward off mischiefs—naihar bongas, Kisar bongas, thapna bongas. The mischievous spirits that have to be scared away through exorcism are not worshipped.

[46] It is said that in the primeval period the Santals had no Bonga; the concept of Bongas and their worship entered in Santal religion during the later period when the Santal-ancestors were wandering and encountered difficult and critical situations like the tyranny of Mandho-Sin (son of Kisku Raja who believed to have been ostracized by the Santals for his immoral conduct), the ‘Sin duar’ and ‘Bahi duar’ (the stone gates), which they could not open forcefully and it was hard for them to cross the rivers and mountains. During this critical situation they acknowledged and invoked various powers, which they believed would have enabled them to overcome such difficulties. Thus, Bonga-worship was a necessary condition for them. This mythological story of the tragic “history” of the Santals is well known among the Santals in Bangladesh through the drama “Madho-Sin” often staged in different occasions.

[47] Cf. Archer, The Hill of Flutes, pp. 290-304.

[48] Moŗeko-Turuiko (five-six): There are varieties of stories related to this (these) bonga. For some, it refers to the five Santal brothers and the lovely Kamar girl (Gosae Era), who was not of their caste. She is the lonely figure who is a member of the company but is kept slightly apart (cf. W.G. Archer, The Hill of Flutes, p. 240); for C. L. Mukherjea, it is a single entity but addressed in the plural (cf. Ibid. pp. 28-29). For Archer the Five-Six are either five brothers with Jaher Era [Lady of the Grove] as their mother; or, five brothers plus Gosae Era, a girl making six, and finally “five or six brothers”. (Ibid., p. 29); for others, (moŗẽ, five in Santali) who were wedded to six (turui in Santali) sisters named: Dangi, Pungi, Hisi, Dumni, Chitạ and Kạprạ (cf. Ibid.).

[49] J. Troisi, Tribal Religion, Religious Beliefs and Practices among the Santals (New Delhi: Manohar Publications, 1979), pp. 80-83. Hereafter referred to as, Tribal Religion.

[50] Archer, The Hill of Flutes, p. 26.

[51] Prasad, Land and People, p. 70.

[52] Sikạ is the result of a scorching produced with an ignited rag that is applied on the arm of a Santal boy. Santals believe that Sikạ is essential to have success in life and to ensure the entrance in the kingdom of the ancestors (cf. L. Pussetto, “Santals of Bangladesh,” p. 22).

[53] Ibid.

[54] M. Murmu, “The Santals,” p. 2.

[55] T. Hossain, “The Santals of Bangladesh,” (cf. footnote 16).

[56] FABC V, “Journeying Together Toward the Third Millennium: Statement of the Fifth Plenary Assembly,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 280.



CHAPTER III (pag. 62-87)


I put this duty to you…proclaim the message… Do all with patience and with the intention of teaching. Make the preaching of the Good News your life’s work, in thoroughgoing service (2 Tim. 4:2-5).

Among many activities, proclamation and witness are the two special commitments of the Church. In this chapter, we will highlight proclamation and witness as the primary elements of the mission of evangelization in the context of the Santals in Bangladesh.

I. Proclamation and the Mission of Evangelization

1. Meaning and extent of Proclamation

The word “proclamation”[1] in English comes from the Latin proclamare meaning ‘to cry out’[2] or notifying people of a message so that they can respond. It means declaring the message and challenging people about its immediacy and relevance.

In evangelization, proclamation is not a mere handing down of doctrines or imparting of religious knowledge;[3] it is to proclaim the name of Jesus, the fullness of humanity and the mediator between God and human beings, and to invite people to accept salvation in the Kingdom of God. Paul VI declares: “There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the Kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, are not proclaimed” (EN 22). Thus, proclamation is the foundation, center and summit of evangelization (cf. EN 27; DP 10). It corresponds witness to our faith in Christ, by life, words and deeds. It includes acting in history to transform it.[4] Christ remains actively present in the proclamation of the Church.

2. Motivation of Proclamation

The question: Which motivation will spur the local churches in Bangladesh to invite others (especially the Santals) to become Jesus’ disciples? The motivation behind the Church’s proclamation of Jesus Christ certainly flows from obedience to the mandate received from the Risen Lord. However, Church’s mission in the context of Asian reality helps us to discover even deeper motivations because the members of other religions also in some way share in the mystery of salvation (cf. GS 22; NA 2; AG 11; LG 17).

3. Importance and Urgency of Proclamation

St. Peter in his letter, urges everyone: “Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you” (1 Pet 3:15). St. Paul, while stressing the urgency of proclamation, writes: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved… but how are they to hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:13-14).

Pope Paul VI while commenting on proclamation and evangelization states that proclamation is so important that people often think it is evangelization itself (EN 17). With regard to certain confusion about the nature of the Church’s mission of proclaiming the Gospel to non-Christians especially with regard to conversion, the Pope says that the Church, while respecting the non-Christian religions, wishes to point out:

No matter how much we respect and think highly of these religions; no matter how difficult the questions they raise, this does not mean that the Church should keep from these non-Christians the proclamation of Jesus Christ. Rather, the Church believes the opposite. These people have the right to know the Good News of the infinite riches of Christ (EN 53).

In this connection, the other questions asked by the Pope are equally important to assess the gravity of the issue of proclamation:

a) Who is to be sent to proclaim the mystery of Jesus?

b) In what way is this mystery to be proclaimed?

c) How can we make sure that the Good News will be heard and will reach all those people who should hear it? (cf. EN 22).

Considering the situation of Asia, Pope John Paul II reminds us that the Church lives and fulfills her mission (proclamation) in the actual circumstances of time and place.[5] For the Pope proclamation of the Gospel is essential not only because, a major part of the human family still does not acknowledge Christ (like many Santals in Bangladesh), but also because (EA 29 a):

a) The situation in which the Church and the world find themselves is particularly challenging for religious belief and the moral truths which spring from it;

b) The tendency to build progress and prosperity without reference to God, and to reduce the religious dimension of the human person to the private sphere;

c) We experience this violent century where truth and goodness are abandoned in favor of the lust for power and self-aggrandizement;

Therefore, the question is not whether the Church has something essential to say to the men and women of our time, but how she can say it clearly and convincingly. Hence, a critical awareness of the diverse and complex realities of Asia is essential.

The importance and urgency of proclamation for the Santals in Bangladesh is significant. For there are still people who never heard of Jesus, and the majority of the Santals in Bangladesh never had contact with the Good News, while there are also Santal Christians, many of them newly converted, who have not grown mature enough in their faith in Christ.

The Church feels the urge of sharing with others (Santals) the Good News and the gift of salvation that is Jesus of Nazareth, “the fullness of the benefits and means of salvation” (RM 18). Church’s proclamation meets the deepest longings and aspirations of the human heart for truth and fullness of life. Hence,

The Church, as the visible sign and sacrament of the mystery of salvation, is in a unique position to offer them the opportunity of sharing in this mystery in a fully human way. She alone can convey to them the explicit knowledge of Jesus Christ, their savior and Lord, and invite them to celebrate in joy and thanksgiving the mystery of his Passover at her Eucharistic table. [6]

4. Essentials of Proclamation

In proclamation, the three essential elements are: the message (the divine Word), the proclaimer (faith community), and the recipients. In the following stage we will highlight in brief these issues of primary importance.

4.1 The Message: In proclamation, kerugma in Greek “the message” remains the key point of consideration. Yet, what is this message? Or, what must be proclaimed? The answer to this question is that it is primarily the Word of God that needs to be proclaimed and communicated. The Word of God constitutes the message of salvation and it is absolutely necessary for the growth and development of the faith community as People of God (cf. Mt 4:4). Therefore, by proclaiming the Word of God, people are instructed in the truths of faith and an invitation is extended for the conversion of hearts toward God. To understand further, the Word of God is:

a) Divine Self-Communication: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). In the Biblical sense, “Word” means communication. God not only creates but also communicates from the beginning. In other words, God would not exist except in self-communication. This is the very heart of the Christian experience of God.

b) A divine Call: Word is also a divine Call, first to “existence” and then to “growth”. As St. John says, “All things came into being through him, and without him nothing came into being” (Jn. 1:3). Therefore, it is our task to listen and to store up the divine Words.

c) Within the nature and history of humanity: The Word of God does not come to us extrinsically, but it is within the human nature and it incorporates human history. God communicates himself through the language and culture of the people that are understood by them and in historical context of their living; it is a divine Word in history. The discernment of God’s presence and action in history is a part of the Christian tradition; it is the root of the prophetic function, a discernment of the Word of God operative in our history and calling us to act today in view of a better future.

Yet, the recent calamities of Asian Tsunami, the Katrina in USA, flood in Colombia and in Bangladesh, the dire poverty and hunger in Western Sudan and Niger, the slums in the outskirts of Manila and the recent landslide at Southern Lette, the devastating earthquake in Pakistan and other countries elsewhere raise questions: What is the Word? Is there a Word of God in this total event? How do we discern it? Is it a Word pronounced for us today? How can we convey it to the people in our situation?

As heralds of the Divine Word we cannot be certainly the messengers of doom. Rather, we carry with us the last Word of God: “I am with you always, to the ends of the age” (Mt. 28:20). We must seek this Word of hope and peace also in the events of history and in the scriptures of the world. For God’s revelation comes through multiple different ways that includes perhaps listening more carefully to the little ones, the poor, the villagers, and the simple tribal communities like the Santals in Bangladesh who tell us the real message. Indeed, they may well be the privileged media of the Divine Word.[7]

It is a fact that the Word, how good it may be by itself, cannot serve the purpose unless it is presented in a manner that is meaningful and appropriate for the listeners. Therefore, the Word in order to be more effective should contain the following essential characteristics:[8]

a) Memorial and Liberative: As far as the memory is concerned, it is the remembrance of the past that implies a conviction that the deeds, to which the Biblical message refers, belong to real history of real people. They are not mythical incidence or events of fairy tales, rather they are always fully human events which, when seen in the light of faith, demonstrate the liberating intervention of God in human history.

b) Interpellation: Reading the “signs of the times,”[9] the Word of God “acts as a critical interpellation searching out the inadequacy of human achievement but giving fresh impulse all the time to new and better efforts.”[10] Hence, when it is proclaimed, the Word of God speaks of the past but sheds light on the present. For God, in union with his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, is actively present in the world today and sustains the faith of the community who listens to his Word.

c) Promise: The Word of God also bears the element of promise where hope for the future is emphasized. This eschatological promise does not refer to some utopian, unattainable future, but to something that we can begin to achieve even now. In fact, this is the fundamental message of our faith: the promise of hope that is alive and helps us keep going and makes life ever meaningful.

4.2 Agent /Evangelizer

Evangelization is a divine act where God’s Spirit is the principal agent[11] and Jesus is the first evangelizer (EN 7). The presence and activity of the Holy Spirit affect individuals, peoples, society, history, cultures and religions (RM 28).

However, God always counts on human involvement to accomplish His plan. In evangelizing mission of proclamation, human agents: Bishops, priests, religious, laity, in a word, the whole local church in communion with the universal Church plays a mandatory role.. Paul VI makes explicit the obligation of the evangelizers by raising some basic questions:

a) Do you really believe what you are proclaiming?

b) Do you live what you believe?

c) Do you really preach what you live? (EN 76)

Referring to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, the pope reiterates that our evangelizing zeal must come from true holiness of life. Preaching must make the preacher grow in holiness, which becomes stronger by prayer and by love for the Eucharist (EN 76; PO 13). “Without this mark of holiness, our word will have difficulty in touching the heart of modern man. There is the danger that our message will be empty and useless” (EN 76).

As evangelizers, this should inspire and direct all our individual and communitarian activities, including our relations with people of other faiths or of people who claim to have no faith at all. We must offer an example of Christ’s faithfulness, to the “program of life” that Jesus proposes: a life transformed by the Good News, the faithfulness to the Kingdom (EN 23). The sign of unity among all Christians is the Gospel, the word of truth placed in our care. This truth makes us the instrument of proclamation and the “way and instruments of evangelization” (EN 77).

Thus, proclamation requires that the announcer (ho euangelistes in Greek) of the Good News must discern appropriate and possible means of scientific knowledge available[12] and takes extra care for preparation so that there will be no hindrance of Christ being truly present and active in his Word.[13]

4.3 Recipients

Mission in the evangelical sense is primarily directed to the world.[14] In this sense, proclamation should be for all the peoples of the world. Recalling the title of the thesis: Evangelization of the Santals: Fostering Communion and Integral Human Development in Bangladesh, our concern remains primarily focused on the Santals in Bangladesh. Thus, the Santals in this context are the recipients as: individuals, family or a group and society as a whole. Yet, the Santals are not hollow blocks placed together; each individual is a human being carrying a mystery; the Santal-society has its language, tradition and cultural heritage, and hope and aspirations. Most of all, the effects of God’s grace: “a ray of …Truth which enlightens all” (NA 2), the “seeds of the Word” (AG 11), and the good, which is “found sown” not only “in minds and hearts”, but also “in the rites and customs of peoples” (LG 17). If these statements are true, then our mission can no longer be what it was in the past, a one-way proclamation of the message of salvation to a world of “pagans” to “save souls” or it is no longer an issue to call the Santals bedin (pagan), or Santal religion be termed “irrational” and “devilish”. Rather,

It is first of all a search for and recognition of the presence and activities of the Holy Spirit among the peoples to be evangelized, and in this humble and attentive process of listening, the evangelizers become the evangelized, and the evangelized become the evangelizers.[15]

The recipients of proclamation therefore, are not useless individuals or in a sense barren grounds but active and potentially competent: “whose hearts when opened by the Holy Spirit, might, while believing, freely turn to the Lord who, …will satisfy all their inner hopes, or rather infinitely surpass them” (AG 13; also DP 70e). Proclamation must be both progressive and patient, keeping pace with those who hear the message, respecting their freedom and even their “slowness to believe” (EN 79; also DP 69).

In reaching out to the Santals, language and cultural aspects of the people are important. People need to be addressed in the way that is appropriate for them. So, evangelizers must learn the language, the history, and ethnic tribal character: the way of thinking, feelings, attitudes and behavior. For “Inculturated, incarnated in the culture and the spiritual tradition…the message is not only intelligible to them, but is conceived as respondent to their deepest aspirations, as truly the Good News they have been longing for” (DP 70f; also EN 20, 62). Missing this point means, “We hinder our witness by wrong attitudes and behavior even before we begin telling the message of salvation.” [16]

5. Method of Proclamation

The question: How to implement the proclamation of the Good News among the Santals in Bangladesh? In proclaiming the Word of God, the Church primarily follows “the lead of the Holy Spirit” (DP 68), and follows the “divine pedagogy” (DP 69) of the example of Jesus, her Lord and Master. For, Jesus only progressively revealed to his hearers the meaning of the Kingdom of God, and the plan of salvation realized in the mystery of his death and resurrection (DP 69). The other qualities that must also characterize the Church’s proclamation are:

a) Recognizing the Holy Spirit as the “principal agent of proclamation”;

b) Faithfulness in the transmission of the teaching received from Christ that is preserved in the Church;

c) Awareness that the fullness of revelation in Jesus Christ is a free gift (Eph. 3:2) and the messengers of the Word cannot claim to exhaust it;

d) Presence and action of the Spirit in the hearts of those who listen to the message is being respected;

e) The hearer of the Word is not expected to be a passive receiver;

f) The Word has to be incarnated in the culture of the respondent;

Further, present conditions urge us to consider other possible means of proclamation like catechetical instruction of children, adolescents and adults, under the form of catechumenate. Side-by-side with the collective proclamation of the Gospel, the person-to-person sharing of the Gospel is important. Through personal contact the conscience of the individual is reached and touched. The use of Mass media is important for people who mostly depend on oral tradition like the Santals. Most of all, the Christian communities in Bangladesh will proclaim Jesus Christ to their fellow humans in a dialogical manner where the proclamation of the Good News will bring both the proclaimer (faith community) and the hearers to grow into the fullness of the mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ.

6. Proclamation and Exegesis

Proclamation is not to give a class lecture, but since exegesis has for its purpose the clarification and elucidation of the meaning of the Word of God, proclamation needs exegesis. A scientifically oriented exegesis is part of the essential task of proclamation.

The proclamatory discourse must be understood by people of our time and should be oriented to the particular situation of the recipients. The Word, when it is proclaimed, speaks of the past but gives us light for the present; and the Word as promise leads us to the future, which is the eschatological promise of the Gospel message that refers to something we can begin to achieve even now; though still imperfect, unfinished, and therefore in need of constant improvement.[17] Thus, proclamation and exegesis go hand in hand.

7. Proclamation and Dialogue

Proclamation as we have already seen earlier aims at announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ to other peoples with the hope that both the proclaimer (Church community) and the hearers will grow into the fullness of the mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ. Dialogue on the other hand, aims at encounter, mutual listening and enrichment, harmony and collaboration among peoples of different religions, culture and traditions. This dimension consists mainly in the understanding that evangelization is not about bringing the people of other religious traditions and cultures a Christ from the outside; it is a simultaneous process of mutual growth in the context of a dialogue and thereby leading the partners to greater fullness and authenticity. In the words of J. B. Chethimattam, an Indian theologian:

The center of dialogue…shifts from metaphysics and questions of belief to the secular problems that affect human existence itself…. Human hearts will grow closer when men discuss not their differences and past grievances, but their common problems and common tasks towards building up a future.[18]

Proclamation and dialogue are different; they are not interchangeable and cannot be seen on the same level. Yet, they are interrelated and both are authentic elements of the Church’s evangelizing mission. Both are legitimate and necessary (DP 77); and constitute a double commitment for the Church. Moreover, at different times or in different circumstances, one of these elements can receive more emphasis than the other (DP 7). The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples jointly write:

Dialogue…does not constitute the whole mission of the Church…it cannot simply replace proclamation but remains oriented towards proclamation in so far as the dynamic process of the Church’s evangelizing mission reaches in its climax and fullness (DP 82; cf. RM 55).[19]

Finally, going back to the problem of the relationship between proclamation and dialogue, we cannot claim to resolve it overnight. For there are more questions than answers and our response remains tentative and open; they are open to new horizons. The initiative of the Church can be seen as a prophetic move toward such horizon. For it is in the systematic reflection on sustained praxis that we shall discover what God is saying to the churches.[20] Dialogue and proclamation are difficult tasks yet, absolutely necessary; all Christians are called to be personally involved in these two ways of carrying out the mission of the Church (DP 82, 89).

8. Catechesis

It is a form of teaching, which leads both communities and individual members of the faithful toward maturity of Faith. Catechesis is applicable to people of all ages including children and most importantly for catechumen. Among many methods of evangelization such as: proclamation, life witness, liturgy of the Word, and sacramental celebrations (cf. EN 41-48), catechetical instruction enables people to learn:

The fundamental teachings, the living content of the truth which God has wished to convey to us and which the Church has sought to express in an ever richer fashion during the course of her long history. No one will deny that this instruction must be given to form patterns of Christian living and not to remain only notional [theory] (EN 44).

Pope John Paul II writes: “Catechesis has always been a central care in my ministry as a priest and as a bishop” (CT 4). On the occasion of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), the pope urges the church’s pastors and the Christian faithful to “receive this catechism assiduously in fulfilling their mission of proclaiming the faith and calling people to the Gospel of life” (FD 3). The Pope affirms that the effort for evangelization will profit greatly if those who are giving catechetical instruction have suitable textbooks, updated with wisdom and competence, under the authority and the approval of the bishops (EN 44). This, points to the fact that every local church is encouraged to have its own local catechism. But it should not be a mere summary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) because the latter lacks genuine adaptations to the local conditions. The local catechism could be in the form of a booklet, appropriate to be used and presented to the beginners or for the catechumen.[21] It can be diocesan, or regional in character, which can be structured in different ways, e.g., according to a Trinitarian structure, the stages of salvation, Biblical themes, aspects of faith, or the liturgical year.[22] In a word, catechetical activity can take on forms and structures that are quite varied: systematic or occasional, for individuals or for communities (children, adults, men and women), organized or spontaneous. It should be in tribal languages that are understood by ordinary people like the Santals.

The richness of catechesis is linked with the other pastoral functions of the Church; it performs the functions of initiation, education, and formation (GCD 31). Yet, it does not lose its own specific character. Catechesis demands the witness of Faith, both from the catechists and from the ecclesial community, a witness that is joined to an authentic example of Christian life and to a readiness for sacrifice (GCD 35)

II. The Notion of Witness in Evangelization

1. Meaning of Witness

The term for “witness” in Greek is Martyria which can be understood from three different perspectives: i) “the act of witnessing;” ii) “testimony” or speaking on behalf or in favor of “giving witness,” and iii) “martyrdom” that is witness in blood and suffering.

In the Christian perspective Jesus is the prototype of martyrs. He freely accepted his sacrifice (passion and death) as supreme witness of his fidelity to the mission received from the Father. The Apostles were commissioned to preach the Gospel (Mt 24:14) and to become the “eyewitnesses” and “ear witnesses” of Jesus’ words and deeds, especially of his resurrection. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 5:32), the Holy Spirit is witness to them, giving them the strength and courage they needed to give testimony in times of persecution. The witness of community life (koinonia in Greek), love and unity; the witness of good conduct; the witness of charity, and the witness of faithfulness in persecution of the early Christian community remain a significant reference for the Church even today. Paul VI, defined witness as the first step in evangelization; it is a very powerful and “telling witness;” it is a “silent proclamation of the Good News” (EN 21). The remark made by John Paul II is no less significant that in Asia “people are more persuaded by holiness of life than by intellectual argument” (EA 42).

The Church in her very nature bears the marks of becoming prophetic witness to the Kingdom of God of which she is, on earth, the seed and beginning (LG 5). The individual believers are responsible by virtue of their baptism to witness the Good News of Jesus Christ in their lives. The local Church communities, for example, look for crossing or a point where the message of the Bible (the Word of God) and the meaning of lives intersect in possible moments of integration.[23] The following pieces of symbolic figures may help us to understand the very notion of witness in practical sense.

fig. 4 fig. 5

fig. 6

2. Importance of Witness

There is no doubt that the most important way to proclaim the Gospel is by giving witness. In the words of Paul VI, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses then to teachers. And if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (EN 41). St. Peter in his letter said, ”If any of them do not believe God’s word, your conduct will win them over to believe. It will not be necessary for you to say a word” (1 Peter 3:1).

In the multi-religious and diverse cultural context of Bangladesh, witness could be the most effective way to promote the mission of evangelization. Moreover, since the Christian population remains a small minority among people of other religions, and even the government often seems rather sensitive to the missionary activities, especially with regard to “conversion”, witness of life or witness through presence could be the most powerful means that the Christian community can render to reveal Christ to the people.

3. Forms of Witness

Witness can be direct and indirect, personal and collective depending on the situations. Pope John Paul II also speaks of the importance of the Church’s institutional testimony before the world.[24] However, the common ways to express witness are:

3.1 Silent Testimony of Life: Silent testimony is a powerful form of witnessing the Good News. In fact, people are more receptive when one shows goodness than teaches the truth. What people need is not so much convincing reasons but a healing presence.

In the context of Indian sub-continent, the life of a sanyashi in an “Ashram” or the contemplative life in the Church can become a silent testimony for people around. In other words, when values and attitudes of Christ direct and transform our pattern of thoughts and behavior, it becomes a form of “silent proclamation of the Gospel.”[25] The late mother Teresa of Calcutta for example, brings us into contact with human goodness and compassion for the most unfortunate of our brothers and sisters. She is an example of human goodness and love.

John Paul II while referring to the Asian situation where in some countries religious freedom is restricted, silent witness of life remains the only way of proclaiming God’s kingdom (EA 23). The Pope recognizes that there are multiple approaches to the proclamation of Jesus, provided that the faith itself is respected in all its integrity.

3.2 Involvement in people’s struggle: Witness in the form of involvement in people’s legitimate struggle is certainly one other significant approach toward ensuring evangelical witness. This struggle however, is not limited to economic, political or socio-structural reform or the like, but it should also aim at ensuring total liberation and integral human development where a human person is totally freed from his or her enslavement of ignorance as well as of enslavement of evil. The local churches in Bangladesh can make tremendous impact by reinstalling the Gospel values in the Bangladeshi societies where peoples’ struggle has always been found to be one-sided or being manipulated by opportunists and the interest groups. The Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 and its post-war situation can be the vivid example of such contrast between hope and despair. [26]

3.3 Sharing of God-experience: Any attempt for evangelical witness would fail without sharing of “God-experience”.[27] For, to be a Christian is more than being a good person. St. Paul asks, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God’s spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy and that temple is you” (Cor. 3:16).

However, God-experience may differ from person to person and even varied in different religious experiences. The new departure in reflecting upon God has led to a renewed attention to the traditional Biblical understanding of God. As a result, images and concepts of God have been changing and a Trinitarian understanding of God has been reinterpreted in a number of different ways. The feminist theology, for example, would prefer to attribute God as “mother” or for others God as parents: “father-mother”.

An evangelizer who preaches about Jesus Christ as “Liberator” cannot be well understood unless he or she experiences Jesus Christ as Liberator. Very often much of the information about Jesus is given to the people but not of Jesus himself. People fail to recognize Jesus Christ in any of such evangelical preaching. Sharing of God-experience and Jesus-experience are indispensable for meaningful inter-religious dialogue and in giving witness in the mission of evangelization.

3.4 Liturgy and Celebration: Pope John Paul II defines liturgy as the source and summit of all Christian life and mission. For the pope, liturgy is a decisive means of evangelization, especially in Asia, where the followers of different religions are so drawn to worship, religious festivals and popular devotions (EA 22). In fact, in liturgical celebration or in religious festivals, participation is extended to all and not to a selected few. It may be noted that for the Eastern Catholic churches liturgical celebration remains a center of Christian witness.

In Christian tradition prayer in the form of liturgy is an important aspect of human response to God. We reach out to God through prayer of liturgical celebrations. In the Church prayer is an obligation for us if we are to be truly Christians. Therefore, we celebrate the divine presence in our lives through the sacraments, through liturgical prayer and by celebrating the Eucharist. The researcher himself had several occasions where liturgical celebrations were performed not only in the presence of the Christians but also in the presence of the non-Christian Santals, especially during marriage or at the funeral Mass in the rural villages. Further, priestly ordination is another occasion where people of other religions seem much more interested to witness the event. With assurance of the sanctity of celebration, an invitation could be extended to these people and should not be denied by mere reason because they do not belong to the Christian community. [28]

3.5 Symbol : One way to define “symbol” is to say: any reality that has the capability to lead people to another deeper reality through the sharing of the dynamism that the symbol itself offers. This symbol may come from nature, human body and life, culture and social events etc. A symbol can offer two meanings: first, it can be seen, touched, or reached immediately; and second, the meaning may also remain hidden or often mysterious, and is not immediately known. Yet, there is an effective relationship that binds both.

Symbols are so important in human life that some anthropologists go as far as to define humans as “symbol-making beings.” We only have to think of what life would be without symbols like, language, national flags, wedding rings, art and many others used in everyday living. A symbol reaches deep down into our imagination and emotional level; it even enters in our dreams representing something “beyond” that cannot easily be defined or put into words rather it can only be explained by using metaphorical or symbolic language.

In our approach to the unseen God, symbols are absolutely essential (CCC 1146). The liturgy of the Eucharistic celebration, engages the whole person—body and mind, senses and emotions—in reaching out to God and making God present to us. The symbols used in liturgy provide further clarification, like: candles (that symbolize Christ, the light of life that burn themselves out in the service of God); vestments of different colors (symbolize the seasons of the year, dedicated to different aspects of our relationship with God); holy water (symbolizes the blessing of God in all our endeavors); the smoke of incense (symbolizes our prayer of worship rising to the unseen God).

The holy places or shrines as the venue of pilgrimage can also be considered as most effective symbols of witness or the indirect way of proclamation that has power of attraction. This is more powerful than direct proclamation because it respects the liberty or the freedom of the pilgrims. According to Brereton (1987:528) shrines or sacred places attract people first, because sacred space is a means of communication with the divinity; second, these are places of divine power; and third, these places serve as visible icons of the world and thereby impart a form and an organization to its inhabitants.[29] The shrines are symbols of divine contact often with healing power and serve as icons and as places of orientation of the world.

Symbolism among the Santals plays a significant role in the lives of the people. In fact, art (symbol) and culture are an integral part of Santal society. It reserves a rich cultural heritage. Santals are most remembered by their art and culture. The tiriạ (bamboo flute) with seven holes, which is favored by many Santals, is viewed as a symbol of love and seduction. For a Christian Santal, a rosary or wearing a small crucifix means a great deal to witness Christian faith.

Concluding Remarks

Proclamation and witness are not one-sided efforts directed to the recipient but it is a process where both agent and the recipient initiate a reciprocal communication that enriches one another in a dialogical encounter.

The symbolic expression “Burning the candle at both ends” as used by Griffin to pick up the candle-making imagery provides not only a process of melting, molding, and making hard—it also involves getting wax on our hands. In the Broadway musical My Fair Lady, Henry Higgins sets out to turn an ordinary street girl into a lady. He thought that he could change Liza Doolittle’s life without being affected himself. However, in a delightful fashion the audience is shown that this is impossible.[30] Moreover, there are many by-products of Christian influence that we can mention. One is the feeling of euphoria that comes from helping someone find life in Jesus Christ. In the words of St. John, “We tell you these things that our joy may be full” (I John 1:4). In fact, the very act of telling others about God can deepen our resolve to serve the Lord. Hence, the stress here is the fact of mutual involvement of the Church as evangelizing community and the people (the Santals) to whom we reach out.

Here the changes occur as if the candle burns at both ends. In like manner, proclamation and witness make possible a process of encounter between the partners, which ultimately results a reciprocal relationship where both become beneficiaries of a precise experience of the Spirit that “God delivers His people from the dominion of darkness and transfers them to the Kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13).

The next chapter will deal with “Dialogue and mission of evangelization” with particular reference to the Santals in Bangladesh.

[1] Several alternative choices of terms for proclamation are: to announce, to herald, to pronounce, to declare or to communicate. The Greek word for ‘proclamation’ is kerygma.

[2] It is told that in ancient times, before the benefit and privileges of various modern and sophisticated forms of communication were invented, many towns had an official “town-crier” (as it is still found among the Santals where each village community has a person known as godet or messenger who relates important massage from the Manjhi (headman) to the villagers by beating a drum and at the same time shouting in a loud voice). The town crier’s task was to travel around the town ringing a bell to attract people’s attention. As the people gathered to listen, the town-crier proclaimed (or cried out) the news or made the announcements; he notified them about important and relevant events and happenings; and delivered a definite and authoritative message. There was usually a sense of urgency to his message; yet, people could choose whether or not to respond. This was how people were informed of important news and local development activities. Cf. John Littleton, “Proclaiming the Word of God in Truth: A Challenge for Authentic Priestly Ministry,” Grace & Truth: A Journal of Catholic Reflection for Southern Africa Vol. 22 (2005), pp. 27-31.

[3] D. S. Amalorpavadass, Main Problems in Preaching the Gospel Today (Bangalore: NBCLC, 1973), p. 8. Henceforth referred to as, Main Problems in Preaching.

[4] D. S. Amalorpavadass, Theology of Development (Bangalore: NBCLC, 1972), p. 12. Henceforth referred to as, Theology of Development.

[5] The Pope refers to the Synod Fathers and reiterates that Church’s mission of love and service in Asia is conditioned by two factors: 1) Her self-understanding as a community of disciples of Jesus Christ gathered around her Pastors, and 2) The social, political, religious, cultural and economic realities of Asia (EA. n. 5). Further, Asia is the earth’s largest continent and is home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s population and the most striking feature of the continent is the variety of its people who are “heirs to ancient cultures, religions and traditions” (ibid., n. 6). Some countries are highly developed, others are developing, and others still find themselves in abject poverty, indeed among the poorest nations on earth. In the process of development, materialism and secularism are also gaining ground. These ideologies also undermine traditional, social and religious values especially in the urban area. Illiteracy, population growth, lack of health care facilities, organized crime, terrorism, prostitution, moral degradation, poverty, war and ethnic conflicts, exploitation of the weaker section, migration, denial of human rights and freedom with accompanying effect on family life and values, the negative aspects of media and entertainment industries, individualism and materialism, nuclear power plants with little regard to the safety of people and the integrity of the environment. There are also millions of indigenous or tribal people living in social, cultural and political isolation from the mainstream population. The presence of graft and corruption in all levels of society etc. (ibid., nos. 6-8).

[6] FABC Office of Evangelization, “Conclusions of the Theological Consultation,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 346.

[7] Cf. Most Rev. Vincent Michael Concessao (FABC Chairman, Archbishop of Delhi), “Inaugural Address,” in God’s Word: Living Hope and Lasting Peace 4th Asia-Oceania Biblical Congress 14-18 February, 2005, Episcopal Commission for the Biblical Apostolate (CBCP), 2005, pp. 11-22.

[8] Cf. Pedro C. Sevilla, “The Ministry of the Word in the Old and New Canon Law,” East Asian Pastoral Review Vol. 21 (1984), pp. 73-80. Henceforth referred to as, “The Ministry of the Word.”

[9] “Signs of the Times” is a concept that was much highlighted during the Second Vatican Council that refers to the changing situation of the world especially due to the advancement of science, invention of technology and the process of modernization. In the context of Asia, the situation is extremely complex characterized by social change, overwhelming poverty, cultural and religious pluralism etc. The “signs of the times” point to the necessity for the Church to respond to such changing situation. One of the questions therefore, would be to ask: What of the old value system can be saved, transformed and applied to the new pattern of society emerging? Cf. OTC, “The Spirit at Work in Asia Today,” in Franz-Josef Eilers, ed., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 3, p. 271.

[10] P. C. Sevilla, “The Ministry of the Word,” pp. 73-80.

[11] “Evangelization will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus also spoke of himself using the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” Pope Paul VI goes on further saying: “The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. It is the Holy Spirit who explains to the faithful the deep meaning of the teaching of Jesus and of his mystery. The Holy Spirit acts in every evangelizer who lets himself [herself] be possessed and led by him.” The Synod of Bishops of 1974 insisted strongly on the important place the Holy Spirit has in evangelization. The Holy Spirit is the Goal and Source of evangelization. The great beginning of evangelization was initiated in the morning of Pentecost, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Cf. Paul VI, EN 75.

[12] “Because of the rapid development in present-day culture, the catechetical movement will in no way be able to advance without scientific study…For example, the relations between catechesis and modern exegesis, between catechesis and anthropology, between catechesis and the mass media, and so on.” (Cf. General Catechetical Directory, n. 131. To be noted, there is no opposition between catechesis and evangelization; rather, they integrate and complement each other.

[13] John Littleton, “Proclaiming the Word of God in Truth: A Challenge for Authentic Priestly Ministry,” Cynthia Thompson, ed. Grace & Truth, Vol. 22, No. 1, (2005), pp. 27-31.

[14] P. C. Phan, In Our Own Tongues, p. 42.

[15] Ibid., p. 43.

[16] Jo Anne Dennett, Thriving in Another Culture: A Handbook for Cross-Cultural Missions (Melbourne: Acorn Press, 1998), p. 31. Henceforth referred to as, Thriving in Another Culture.

[17] Cf. P. C. Sevilla, “The Ministry of the Word,” pp. 73-80.

[18] John. B. Chethmattam, “Dialogue in Indian Tradition,” in Anto Karokaran, Evangelization and Diakonia (Bangalore: Dharmaram Publiations, 1978), p. 158.

[19] FABC Office of Evangelization, “Conclusions of the Theological Consultation,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 344.

[20] Ibid., pp. 346-47.

[21] Cf. Vatican II, Christus Dominus (Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church), nos. 11, 13; see also GCD 17.

[22] Cf. P. C. Phan, The Mission of God, p. 176.

[23] “Christian witnessing” is always based on one’s faith experience. The Bible (the Word of God) remains at the very center of giving witness. Cf. Outlines of Foundational Topics for Catechetical Formation (Archdiocese of Manila: Archdiocesan Secretariat for Catechetical Ministry, 1982), pp. 223-224. Henceforth referred to as, Outlines of Foundational Topics.

[24] John Paul II, “The Church’s Institutional Testimony,” in Origins, Vol. 34 (2004), p. 220.

[25] Cf. FABC Office of Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs and that of Mission, “Consultation on Christian presence among Muslins in Asia,” in EAPR, Vol. 21 (1984), pp. 32-40.

[26] The Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971 is a historic event that took away three million lives, millions homeless and marked devastating effect on the whole country. The people of Bangladesh irrespective of cult and creed took part in the war against the rulers of the then West Pakistan with the expectation that something good would come out as a result that would ensure not only an independent homeland but also progress and better life. But reality shows that something worse happened; the post-war situation deteriorated rapidly and the hope and aspiration of the people have never been realized. This situation still continues even after three decades of independence.

[27] “God-experience” can be a topic to write books in volumes. Once a disciple asked a saint, “Have you seen God?” He replied immediately, “I see God more clearly than I see you.” According to him the vision of God is infallible. Yet, the question is, “How the fallible, finite human beings can realize the infallible, infinite God?” Perhaps the best answer could be: “Here I am sitting next to you,” said God to his devotee, “and you keep reflecting about me in your head, talking about me with your tongue and reading about me in your books.” “When… you become silent and taste me?” (Taken from “The Song of the Bird” by Anthony de Mello). Cf. Joseph Puthenkulam, ed., God Experience (Buldana, Maharastra: A Fransalian Vidyaniketan Publication, 1984), pp. 4 and 7.

[28] There is often certain tension between using liturgy as “worship of God” and “celebration.” For some people worship and celebration just don’t mix. In other words, if we have celebration, it should be done outside liturgy. Celebration seems “secular,” “worldly,” while worship is “holy.” In this circumstance, the best approach would be to understand celebration and worship as different facets of human approach to God. They are not at antagonistic with each other but complementary. Therefore, good liturgy must be a delicate balance of celebration and worship.

[29] Cf. Leonardo N. Mercado, Inter-religious Explorations, p. 101.

[30] Cf. Emory A. Griffin, The Mind Changers, the Art of Christian Persuasion (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), pp. 213-14. Henceforth referred to as, The Mind Changers.


CHAPTER IV (pag. 88-130)

This chapter deals with “dialogue”, which remains an urgent priority for the Church as part of the evangelizing mission. Dialogue with its threefold dimension (dialogue with culture, with other religions, and with the poor) as advocated by the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) will be our main focus of consideration.[1] We will relate the issue to the context of Bangladesh with particular reference to the Santals.

I. Understanding of Dialogue

1. Notion of Dialogue

In general, the term “dialogue” means talking and listening to each other as individuals or groups in order to ease tensions and divisions among people and foster good relationship based on mutual respect and human dignity. According to Douglas Sturm, dialogue is about answering the question, “How do we live our lives together?”[2] Sturm opined that although material development can be the dominant objective for most people, equally true also is the “satisfaction of needs” on a much deeper level. Referring to a case study, the author suggests that living together has a more holistic reason than material needs only. Dialogue of life for example, is not a mechanism with only a material goal in mind. The value of community and “goodness” [3] in a person are also values to be recognized.

2. Dialogue in Christian Perspective

In the Christian perspective dialogue is not only a matter of talking and listening rather, it is a means of mutual knowledge; enrichment and communication of the saving message and life of Jesus Christ (cf. RM 55). Dialogue is “reaching out to people in the concrete reality of their daily lives, in their particular cultural context, their own religious traditions, their socio-economic conditions.”[4] In this sense, the partners in dialogue are persons and not representatives of a system of religious ideas.[5]

Dialogue expresses an important reality promoted by the Church since the Second Vatican Council, where the Church equally realizes that the power of the Kingdom of God is at work in all socio-political and religious traditions.[6] Dialogue is a part of Christian living, a part and parcel of the mission of evangelization. Dialogue can be characterized as:

2.1 Dialogue is a Journey: Michael De Gigord, a veteran French missionary in the Philippines, compared dialogue with the story of “The Little Prince.”[7] For him, it is the story of a journey; the journey away from the planet through various planets, then through the earth and, finally back to the own planet. It is a journey of searching and of discovery and, through discovery, of enrichment. When the little prince goes back home, he is a different person. To the author,

There is no possibility of dialogue unless there is a journey and this journey purifies and transforms the traveler. The very fact of moving away from your place and discovering new ways of thinking and of doing things purifies and transforms you; it forces you to realize that there are many other points of view than yours and that yours is not necessarily the best.[8]

Here the point is that if we want to meet and discover a person, we need to move. A journey means moving from point A to point B. Without making such a move there is no real search, no discovery, no enrichment, no making difference; most of all no dialogue.

2.2 Dialogue is a Risk: Dialogue is never smooth and easy. It requires patience and concerted efforts. There remains a high risk for any one who wants to enter into genuine dialogue. In an atmosphere of hostile situation dialogue means powerlessness and vulnerability. In the words of Father Gigord,

Dialogue is immersion and immersion is risky because rubbing shoulders with people is not always smooth. There are many people who can talk beautifully about dialogue but, in fact, have very little experience of it. They are very well protected… [they] only juggle with ideas. [9]

2.3 Dialogue is a Process: Dialogue is a process in the sense that it follows a certain pattern of action where people seek to maximize meaning and purpose in life. It invites persons to a deeper conversion of heart and to join together to build up the Kingdom of God where people of different religions, cultures and traditions will live together in peace and harmony as brothers and sisters in human solidarity and seeking the truth.

Dialogue demands an “encounter” with people that includes casual or un- expected meetings with peoples at market places or at the places of work. We encounter people who may not be well known to us. Yet, there will always be a temptation to enter into dialogue only with those who are open to it.

2.4 The “Third party” Presence: In the Christian vision, dialogue becomes a “trialogue”, a phenomenon that is not restricted to the affairs between the partners involved in dialogue but equally open to God. When peoples of diverse faiths interact to search for the divine will, God is in dialogue with these believers. Thus, dialogue is not only anthropological but primarily theological because, “God, in an age-long dialogue, has offered and continues to offer salvation to humankind.”[10]

3. Forms of Dialogue

The “Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples” stated important forms of Inter-religious dialogue (DP 42). In this sense, dialogue can be understood as:

3.1 Dialogue of life: Refers to mutual respect and peaceful co-existence where “people strive to live in an open and neighborly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations” (DP 42). It is expressed by one’s right attitude, manner of action, respect and hospitality toward others, interest and concern for neighbors, exchange of ideas, personal feelings and information. The primary importance of this stage of dialogue is the “practice of acts of true human neighborliness.”[11]

3.2 Dialogue of action: Refers to joint ventures like helping flood victims together with people of other cultures and religions. Here men and women, poor and rich are motivated to work together with genuine commitment for the common good of all citizens especially for the good of the needy and the oppressed. It is to promote love, justice, truth and harmony.

3.3 Dialogue of Spiritual experience: People, rooted in their own religious traditions, share the spiritual riches of each other’s religious-spiritual heritage: prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute.

3.4 Dialogue of theological exchange: Specialists seek to appreciate each other’s spiritual and moral values, and to deepen understanding of their respective religious beliefs.

These various forms of dialogue are inter-connected. Contacts in daily life and common commitment to action will enhance cooperation in promoting human and spiritual values; and may ultimately lead to the dialogue of religious experience that can inspire theological discussions and enlighten experiences and encourage close contacts (DP 43).

4. Motivation of Dialogue

The motivation for dialogue in Christian perspective is that our commitment to dialogue is not merely sociological but primarily theological in nature. To be more explicit,

First, the Trinitarian[12] nature of God reveals the dialogical character of the divine presence;

Secondly, in Christ God has entered into a dialogue with human beings, offering salvation;

Thirdly, Jesus’ command to love our neighbors induces us to dialogue.

Thus, it is in faithfulness to this divine initiative that the Church should be committed to a dialogue with others. The prophetic role of the local churches is an important factor that induces the faith communities at the village level to act as catalysts in facilitating dialogue with different socio-political forces, religions and cultures to foster greater communion and integral human development among peoples on the basis of the values of the Kingdom of God.[13]

5. Fruits of Dialogue

In his address to a group of leaders of other religions in Madras, India (5 February 1986), Pope John Paul II said:

The fruit of dialogue is union between people and union of people with God, who is the source and revealer of all truth. And whose spirit guides men in freedom only when they meet one another in all honesty and love. By dialogue we let God be present in our midst; for us we open ourselves in dialogue to one another, we also open ourselves to understanding and interior persuasion.[14]

In a concrete sense, the fruits or impacts of dialogue can be understood from different perspectives:

a) Freeing the Church from becoming a self-centered community;

b) Helping to create links among people in all dimensions of their lives;

c) Promoting openness, mutual trust, transparency, respectful listening, better understanding and friendly relationships and peace in society;

d) Helping reciprocally to understand each other’s mind and feelings;

e) Enriching partners, purify and deepen their faith and commitment;

f) Promoting wellbeing of the partners and their communities; wishing for each others’ growth, happiness, and good of the community;

g) Helping the partners to make a collective discernment in the search for truth, realizing that they are pilgrim toward the same final destiny;

h) Helping us to extend the concept of community (koinonia) to all God’s creatures and to believe that the transformation (metanoia) of people’s hearts happens according to God’s own time and style.[15]

Thus, dialogue can play an important role when it is accepted and carried out with confidence. The spirit of dialogue can allow us gradually to discover the hidden mystery to share in the richness of God’s own dialogue with whole of humanity. In difficult situations, the result of dialogue may not be seen but it is worth the effort because “God is dialogue”.

6. Importance of Dialogue in Bangladesh

Our experience of various tensions and divisions among peoples in today’s world leads us to conclude that the importance of dialogue can never be underestimated. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh (CBCB) realized the importance of dialogue in the multi-religious and multi-socio-cultural realities of Bangladesh society.[16] The tensions and divisions that prevail in the country also affect the Church in Bangladesh as a whole. The bishops, therefore, identified such issues of concern and made them into pastoral priorities:

a) Lack of community spirit and brotherhood among various groups of people; communalism and religious fanaticism; division among religions and within religious groups;

b) The gulf of difference between the literates and the illiterates; the few rich and the masses of the poor and destitute; those in power and the masses of the people who are powerless;

c) The generation gap and difference of value systems;

d) The small number of rich, educated and a larger number of poor and illiterate in the Church itself;

e) The division among ethnic tribal minorities; among the Santals who remain divided between Christians and non-Christians; and also they are divided in different church denominations.

The Church in Bangladesh is called to dialogue. Through dialogue that mutual respect, esteem, harmony and peace among peoples will enhance communion, and deeper spiritual experience. By accepting one another as brothers and sisters as part of the same humanity people will move towards achieving peace and harmony. Thus, dialogue becomes imperative in the common pilgrimage of all peoples toward the Kingdom of God. In this the Church should be a credible servant of God’s mission.[17]

II. Threefold Dialogue and the Mission of Evangelization

1. Concept of Mission and Dialogue

From our earlier discussion, it is quite clear that dialogue and mission are distinct; yet, they are closely related to each other. Mission has traditionally been defined as all activities of Christianity aimed at the planting of the Church among non-Christians or the establishment of the visible Church in those countries where it is not yet established. Both definitions limit the mission to the establishment of the Church and to the non-Christians.

Today, we have a new vision of mission. This new understanding of mission sees the Trinity as the source of mission. “For it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she [Church] takes her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father” (AG 2; cf. RM 1, 4, 32, 46). For we believe that God sent his Son into the world, to all of humanity, so that we may have fullness of life. The Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world to sanctify and strengthen, guide and empower the followers of Jesus Christ. Thus, mission today is not about persuading people to join the Church or a “soul-saving performance”. Mission is holistic and it directs our attention beyond the Church to the Kingdom of God. Mission is the responsibility of the whole Church. Therefore, every Christian is to be an evangelizer.

The Church in Asia dreams of a “new way of being Church” that is, a dream of becoming a servant-Church that is, servant of God, servant of Christ, servant of the Asian peoples, of their hopes, longings and aspirations, servant of the followers of other religions, cultures and traditions. The Church exists to serve and all Christians must commit themselves in living out the Good News to work on behalf of total human development, and to build a just and peaceful world. [18]

The “new” order of priority of the mission-theology today reversed from: Church, proclamation, and Kingdom of God to Kingdom of God, proclamation, and Church.[19] Thus, missionary activities today are less “church centered” and they are directed into the world: building the Kingdom of God that Jesus came to announce. [20]

Dialogue on the other hand, is more than mere conversation between the partners. Dialogue is a process, a journey, and a risk; it requires right attitude, openness of mind and heart, of ideas and feelings to understand each other’s respective views; it includes mutual listening. The third party presence that is, the presence of God is needed in this dialogical journey of the partners. It is a common search for truth in which no one can claim to know the whole truth once for all.[21]

Dialogue is one of the elements of Church’s evangelizing mission. It offers opportunities for witness and also influences the way the Church perceives and practices mission in the pluralistic world. Yet, dialogue is not the end but one of the ways of doing mission.[22] Mission integrates and it is done trough dialogue. Among the multiple ways of doing mission, some have particular importance in the present situation of the Church and the world (RM 41).

2. The FABC Vision of the Mission as Threefold Dialogue

The Asian Bishops’ Conferences recommend a dialogue with triple dimensions: with culture, other religions, and with the poor as one mission of evangelization.[23] Here, mission takes up dialogue as interrelated forms. The following diagram provides the vision of this threefold dialogue as mission for Asia:

fig. 6 Threefold Dialogue

The diagram gives us a vision to show how dialogue becomes one of the principal approaches in the Asian situation congenial to the multi-cultural and multi-religious reality and the mass poverty of our people. All these three realities are closely connected and they are inclusive of one another. Thus, we speak of one dialogical model of mission in the context of Asia. In the following stage we will present the three aspects of the dialogical model with reference to the evangelization of the Santals in Bangladesh.

2. 1 Dialogue with Culture: Dialogue with culture has become one of the great concerns in the Church today particularly in evangelization. In the first half of the past century, academic theology found its chief dialogical partner in philosophy. Today however, the worldview of believers is increasingly shaped by the categories of the social sciences, especially psychology, social anthropology, economics and politics. We no longer see Church and world in an antagonistic contrast rather, most religions recognize a rich interaction between faith and culture. Michael Cowan, a pastoral theologian writes:

The Christian community of faith will sometimes affirm the working of its surrounding culture and society; sometimes it will confront them. It is never unaffected by them; it never fails to affect them. Those including ministers and ministerial leaders, who do not understand the cultural worlds in which they act, act blindly and even worse, disrespectfully. [24]

The identification of culture as one of the fundamental components of the dialogical model for mission in Asia is significant. Yet, since “culture” itself is a vast subject, and a complex phenomenon, we will limit our search by responding to the questions: a) How do we understand culture? b) What is the relevance of culture? Or, why should the Church be concerned about culture? c) How is dialogue reflected in the socio-cultural realities of the Santals in Bangladesh?

2.1.1 Understanding the Notion of Culture: “Culture” is a complex phenomenon[25] and not easy to be bound by a single definition. E. B. Tylor (1832-1917), the father of modern anthropology defines culture as “that complex whole including knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs, and any other abilities and habits acquired by people as members of society.”[26] Luzbetak, a renowned theologian describes culture as “socially shared design for living.”[27]

A closer look at culture shows that culture is made up of several layers. Let us take Santal culture as an example,

- Observing Santal culture from outside, the more superficial layer we see in people is the behavior. This involves how Santals do things; for instance, using the right hand and eat in silence, or the use of traditional way of greetings;

- As we go deeper, we learn some of their values. This leads us to realize what the Santals think is “good”. For example, separation of gender in social life;

- Beliefs remain further in the deeper layer, which indicate what is “true”. For instance, belief in one Supreme being (Thạkur jiu life giver);

- The worldview for the Santals is the heart of the Santal culture. That is, what is real to them? For the Santals, the presence of many good and evil spirits is real; the presence of spirits of the deceased ancestors is real and important. For them, it is the spirits who influence everyday life.

Members of a society seldom question this last level of culture. So if the Gospel is to be truly contextualized in Santal society, which we commonly call inculturation, we refer practically to the deepest level (the layer of worldview or what others might call the level of psychological form) of culture.

2.1.2 Relevance of Culture: No human being is without culture nor do we live without culture. Culture is the matrix within which we live, move and exist. Indeed, every human person in the world receives the world’s meaning through culture and at the same time acts upon the world to humanize it. However, the question is: What is the relevance of culture; and how does culture play a role in communicating the Gospel in the dialogical model of the mission of evangelization?

Recognizing the contribution of culture as an essential element of dialogue and its usefulness in the mission of evangelization, the relevance of culture can be affirmed on the basis that:

a) God relates to Culture: In the Biblical vision, God is completely beyond any culture but so concerned with humans that he chooses the cultural milieu in which we are immersed as the arena of his interaction with us—God deals with human beings as cultural beings. God chooses to work in terms of human language and culture to interact with us. Luzbetak describes: “In fact, whenever God deals with human beings, whether it be in the Bible or in our own times, he deals with them as cultural beings.”[28]

Thus, in the Christian view, it makes us to conclude that there is a relationship between God and culture; and the relevance of culture in terms of the dialogical mission finds culmination on the basis of this relationship of God with humans as cultural beings.

b) Culture embraces Religion: Culture is wider than religion; and religion is a part of culture. Hence, culture and religion are not separated but influence each other and they are integrated. Religion is the dynamic element of culture; and together they form the religio-cultural system that interacts with the socio-economic-political system of society, influencing every sphere of human life. Thus, BISA VII (in which the researcher was privileged to participate) speaks of “religio-cultural heritage and human development” pointing to the contemplative dimension of human reality that enables us to discover God’s presence and activity within social reality.[29]

c) Culture relates to worship: This sub-heading indicates to the reality of the relationship between worship and culture. Here we can speak of four different modes in which Christian worship relates to culture.[30] Such as:

1) Trans-cultural or universal,

2) Contextual,

3) Counter-cultural, and

4) Cross-cultural.

These cultural dimensions are important as we consider the changing face of the Church in this new millennium.

For the Church it is a complex and rather challenging issue[31] but it is important because the credibility and future of the Church depends on its ability to be trans-cultural, contextual, counter-cultural, and to overcome the difference between and among cultures (cross-cultural). Failure to inculturate can be equated with death (Taft: 1998, pp. 43-5). However, inculturation is an ongoing process that never ends.[32]

d) Culture is society’s plan for living: Looking at culture as plan for living, we assume that culture: a) consists of norms, codes for action, b) associates notions and beliefs, c) copes up with demands of life shared by a social group, d) is learned from the society by individuals, and e) is organized into a dynamic system of control.

As a plan for living, culture is always in the process of formation and adjustment. A child born into the society, accepts and learns about his or her culture from the members of the community.

e) Culture helps in shaping human Experience: In anthropology the semiotic[33] perspective underscores that “reality” does not exist as “raw data” that all human persons interpret the same way. Instead, human experience always comes as part of a cultural stew of expectations and prohibitions, of significance and symbols that prevail in any cultural group. In this sense, we know the world only in culturally formed ways. Here culture shapes our experience.

f) Culture responds to the Felt Needs: No culture is perfectly adequate to provide answers to all the questions that people may ask. In fact, while a cultural system is designed to answer all of people’s questions there are always some questions left over that are not very well answered. [34] Yet, such questions remain in the hearts and minds of the people as felt needs, that is, the reality of the people in their socio-economic and political structures.

In Christianity, there are many ways of reaching-out to people with Christian message. One of the best ways is to find the questions people are asking for which their culture is not providing answer. In this case, if the people can see that the Christian approach answers some questions they have never before been able to answer, they may be attracted to it as a supplement to what they already partially know.

g) Culture is an adaptive system: Culture provides people with pattern and strategies by means of which they can adapt different situations: geographical and social conditions around them. That’s why cultures in the tropical areas are different from those in cold areas. People who have experienced colonial rule have been found to adapt themselves to the culture imposed upon them by the colonial powers but people who have never been under such conditions are much free to stick to their traditional cultures.

Culture as an adaptive system creates a space where the Gospel challenges and encounters with the felt needs of the people with regard to their relationship with God. In this sense culture opens window of opportunity for mission where dialogue comes into effect and plays a role.

h) Culture as source and resource for Mission: Culture is a means and not an end. It provides information and resources for mission and ministry. Culture is useful to understand mission theology and mission history and to facilitate the construction of local theologies. Through culture and creative activity, human beings have the capacity to surpass material reality and to “humanize” the world.[35] In the words of Luzbetak: “We are concerned about cultures so that the Church may be as perfect a channel of Grace as possible, as worthy an instrument in the hands of God as possible, as good, wise, and faithful a servant as is humanly possible.” [36]

i) Culture as element of the process of Evangelization: Culture is important to arrive at a Christianity that is truly inculturated. That is, the Gospel must be understood by the people with their own cultural context; and every culture needs to be transformed through its contact with the values of the Gospel. Thus, it is not only to emphasize the positive aspects of particular culture, but also to call for a purification of values within the same culture. For Jesus, who came to break down barriers between races and peoples, invites the Church to confront the same challenge. Church needs to open up herself to dialogue with the world in which she dwells and also with the many and diverse cultures of the world in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been incarnated. So, it is not a mere cursory adaptation of the Gospel or liturgical rites rather, the very “Gospel message necessitates a profound discernment whereby the seeds that have been planted in particular culture are allowed to grow to full stature”[37] to the extent that there is an interior transformation of cultural values through their integration into Christianity where the Church is enriched by the cultural contributions of different peoples. Thus, Pope John Paul II in different occasions spoke of the importance of the evangelization of culture.

2.1.3. Dialogue and Socio-Cultural reality of the Santals: Santals, an ethnic group in Bangladesh, are known for their rich cultural heritage. For the Santals, culture is part and parcel of their living—their identity as a whole. Unfortunately for different reasons, Santal culture, like many other tribal cultures in Bangladesh has come under severe pressure even from the very highest level of the national administration. One of such reasons is the principle of the “main stream” that has left Santals at the verge of “cultural disintegration” and identity crisis. Moreover, it is unfortunate that the Bangladesh government officially does not even recognize the presence of tribals in the country.[38]

One of the drawbacks of the missionary activities among the Santals in Bangladesh is the issue of culture. The local churches have made very little progress or even lack prioritization of such important issue of culture. Moreover, Santal culture has always been seen as “pagan culture.” The effect is very much reflected in the fact that the Santals who remain sensitive to their cultural heritage, failed to respond to the missionary endeavor not because they reject Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior but because of the fear that once they accept Christianity, they have to leave their society of origin, sometimes their families, friends and relatives and abide by Church laws and regulations. The most vivid example of such situation is the conversion experience of the researcher himself as mentioned in the paragraphs pertaining to the “Background of the study.”

Although Santal culture with its own characteristics of rich heritage has attracted many of the scholars and researchers throughout the centuries, dialogue with Santal culture remains nonetheless suffocated without finding a way that could have a flourishing effect towards building a new human community in the world at large. The Santal-culture having the characteristic of a tribal culture certainly needs further study in order to be understood in its totality. Yet, the Santals like any other groups have their rights and “vital needs to know, to comprehend the changing world, to be respected for their identity, to be able to affirm themselves and to develop within human cultures.”[39] The basic needs of humankind are not only of biological or material order; they are equally spiritual and cultural. “Humankind aspires with all its might to satisfy simultaneously the fundamental needs of justice and culture.”[40] Thus, the questions are: How can we defend human rights without struggling also for the cultural rights that are essential to the survival of persons and peoples? How can we promote cultural development without guaranteeing at the same time the indispensable conditions for a social and economic life worthy of a human being? John Paul Il in his encyclical Centesimus Annus said:

The first and most important task is accomplished within man’s heart. The way in which he is involved in building his own future depends on the understanding he has of himself and of his own destiny. It is on this level that the Church’s specific and decisive contribution to true culture is to be found” (CA 51).

In the vast field of socio-economic and cultural development, Catholics have been encouraged by Vatican II to work together with other Christians, other believers, and with people of good will for the betterment of the human conditions. In the dialogical mission of the local church in Bangladesh, culture is an important factor because evangelization can only happen when the Good News is presented in the “cultural key” of the people.

2.2 Dialogue with other Religions (Inter-religious dialogue)

2.2.1 Meaning of Dialogue with other Religions: Inter-religious dialogue practically means a dialogue with world religions like: Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. According to Francis Cardinal Arinze, “Interreligious dialogue is a meeting of heart and mind between followers of various religions.” [41] The joint FABC-CCA Consultation defines inter-religious dialogue as “an attitude, an openness to the neighbor, a sharing of spiritual resources as people stand before the great crises of life and death, as they struggle for justice and human dignity, as they yearn for peace.” [42] The late Cardinal Sin said: “to enter into dialogue with people of other faiths is more than an effort to learn about the religions of others, but to try to enter into their total world, their understanding of reality and worldview.”[43]

2.2.2 Importance of Inter-religious Dialogue: The Christians in Bangladesh are a tiny minority in a total population of over 123 millions.[44] They have to know their neighbors of other religions in order to love and serve them. The horror of communal riots often taking place in the Indian sub-continent is because people fail to know, trust and love each other. Moreover, Christians have always been seen as foreign agents. Through inter-religious dialogue Christians will come to know and grow in genuine love with people of other faiths and that the latter will learn to love their Christian neighbors. Thus, the importance of inter-religious dialogue is significant in the sense:

a) To promote mutual understanding among people of different religions;

b) To foster concerns for human person and society;

c) To enhance sharing on integral human development, prayer and spiritual experience;

d) To discover the seeds of the Word in other religions;

e) To be open and ready for a change and conversion of heart;

e) To realize that the local churches are committed to justice and peace;

f) That Christians deepen their faith and be more committed to witness to the values of the Kingdom;

Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the importance of dialogue with non-Christian religions, by saying:

We do not wish to turn a blind eye to the spiritual and moral values of the various non-Christian religions, for we desire to join with them in promoting and defending common ideals in the spheres of religious liberty, human brotherhood, education, culture, social welfare and civic order. Dialogue is possible in all these great projects, which are our concern as much as theirs and we will not fail to offer opportunities for discussion in the event of such an offer being favorably received in genuine mutual respect (ES 108).[45]

During his pastoral visit in Bangladesh, John Paul II told: “The Catholic Church is committed to a path of dialogue and collaboration with the men and women of good will of every religious tradition. We have many spiritual resources in common which we must share with one another as we work for a more human world.”[46] The Pope, however, not just taught the importance of religious dialogue but also showed how much peace and its necessary condition, the development of the whole person and of all peoples, is also a matter of religions. His call for a prayer meeting of different religious leaders in Assisi in October 1986 is one of the extraordinary events in the history of the dialogue with other religions.[47] The pastoral plan for the Church of Bangladesh states:

The vision of life in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and other religious traditions should be studied and reflected upon, both academically and through “dialogue of life,” so that we can understand the mind of the majority of the people here. This will help us to create greater harmony in our relationship with them, and indicate how Christ may be better presented to and contemplated by them. [48]

Michael Amaladoss, an Indian theologian sees other religions as players and collaborators in humanity’s movement toward God’s Kingdom and affirms, “In promoting the kingdom, then, our enemies are Satan and Mammon, not other religions.” [49] This perception is very much in tune with the voice of the Asian Synod held in Rome in 1998 that speaks about a dialogue with other religions in Asia with a “spirit of complementarity and harmony” (EA 6).” Thus, religions should not be barriers of separating people rather they can be seen as different paths leading to God.

The researcher himself has attended several Inter-religious prayer sessions organized by Caritas-Bangladesh in regional levels, where participants from different religions listen to the readings from the Holy Books, share thoughts and feelings, have meditation, sing common hymns, and live together with the group. It is an extraordinary experience, a precious moment to be in the presence of God, a moment to realize in depth our common humanity as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters of the same Creator of us all. Issues of common concern like human rights, justice and peace could be the theme for such initiatives.

2.2.3. Common Elements for Inter-religious Dialogue: Inter-religious dialogue cannot be initiated by using conflicting doctrinal issues, rather, we need to stress on commonly shared elements. Therefore, the question is: Where can the different religions have a common base for cooperation? The following are some of the suggestions that could be taken into consideration:

a) Common humanity: we all share the same humanity;

b) Peace: in the Biblical or holistic sense (shalom in Hebrew);

c) Value of the unseen: the visible is transitory; invisible is permanent and should be the goal of human desire;

d) The Divine indwelling: God-with-us;

e) We are pilgrims of this world;

f) Charity and Love: considered important;

Most of all, inter-religious dialogue cannot be confined to the religious sphere alone but should embrace all dimensions of life: economic, socio-political, cultural and religious; and that the people at all levels must be prepared for this dialogue.[50]

2.2.4. Dialogue with Tribal / Primal Religions: A pre-condition of any dialogue is an appreciation of the partner. There is no genuine dialogue if one looks down on the partner, considers the partner as inferior, immature and so on. If dialogue aims at mutual understanding, then one must first tune in. The final statement of the consultation BIRA IV/4 clearly states that “if dialogue is to remain a collaborative effort in our pilgrimage to God and in our struggle towards a just and peaceful society (AG 8), openness, sincerity, honesty, humility and mutual respect are indispensable.”[51]

As far as Santal religion is concerned, the early missionaries who were engaged in the evangelizing activities among the Santals in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in the part of present Bangladesh, totally rejected Santal religion as “pagan”, idolatry, and denigrated it as primitive. Such an attitude toward Santal religion was mostly due to the narrow interpretation of the Biblical teaching. [52] From the perspective of scientific theory of evolution further, primal religions were lowered down; they are regarded as primitive in the sense of inferior stages in the development of religion. Today, no scholar would consciously subscribe to such an extreme view. Thanks also to the Council of Vatican II that a paradigm shift occurred regarding the understanding and approach towards other religions. Vatican II stated about non-Christian religions: “Truth and grace are found among the nations as a sort of secret presence of God” (AG 9). They contain “contemplative traditions whose seeds were already planted by God in ancient cultures prior to the proclaiming of the Gospel” (AG 18).

The Church recognizes religious freedom and respects all religions, including tribal religion. Pope John Paul II states that the Church proclaims “an attitude of deep respect for their traditional religion and its values; this implies the need to help them to help themselves, so that they can work to improve their situation and become the evangelizers of their own culture and society” (EA 34). According to Francis. A. Sullivan, ‘mainstream’ Catholic theology today holds that both non-Christian religions and secular realities (devoting themselves to universal values such as, justice, peace, and humanity) serve as mediations of salvation for non-Christians.[53] Yet, it is still a fact that many Christians, priests and religious in Bangladesh find this reevaluation of truth and salvific value of non-Christian religions difficult to accept.

2.2.5 Dialogue and Santal Religion: Recalling the concept of Santal religion, it is clear that Santal religious belief does not rely on doctrines and creeds as a basis for faith rather it is a complex and open-ended search, a total dependence on the Thạkur Jiu (life giver or the “supreme being”). It is characterized by customs and traditions, socio-cultural events of rites and ritualistic celebrations related to life and the ultimate destiny of human beings. For the Santals, what matters most are the spirits (Bonga in the generic term) who rule over the whole of Santal life both inside the family and the in the Santal village society as a whole. The Bonga however, are categorized as benevolent and malevolent.

According to some experts, the benevolent Bonga (spirits) play a mediating role between the seen and unseen, between this world and the world of the “supreme being”. Yet, it is the malevolent Bonga who are to be satisfied by giving animal sacrifice in order to avoid any misfortune and to avail economic progress. The Santals also believe in the ancestral spirits of the deceased members of the family. The belief in witchcraft and black magic are other characteristics of the Santal religious belief system.

Considering the Santal religious belief, the researcher holds the opinion expressed by Ennio Mantovani with regard to the “Dialogue with Primal Religions” that perhaps it is better to use the term “encounter” rather than “dialogue” for the very reason that the term “dialogue” evokes a vision of spoken communication between the partners. On the other hand, “encounter” admits to the possibility of long stretches of silence, of reflection, of observation, etc., which are integral parts of the process. [54]

Such an encounter with people of primal religions, cannot be confined to the religious sphere alone but must embrace all dimensions of life: economic, socio-political, cultural and religious and that people of all levels must be prepared for this encounter, which is a crucial challenge to the local churches in Bangladesh in their growing commitment to the building of the Kingdom of God.

2.2.6 The Process of Encounter: In the process of encounter we can distinguish several steps, which are in a way logical but also can coincide. The steps are:

a) Rehabilitation: To make the encounter possible, a whole process of self-evaluation must take place within the partners. If the parties involved in such encounter are members of the same ethnic group, in this case, a Christian and non-Christian Santal, the whole element of cultural aspects must be taken into consideration. Granted that “there cannot be a Christianity which is not cultural”[55] nor will there be a primal religion without cultural context. Yet, culture uses symbols. These symbols however, are not absolute because they are cultural; and anything that is cultural is sometimes subjected to change or must be dropped in favor of other ones. Thus, the attitude and religious experiences they express often do surpass or go beyond the cultural boundaries, although they need to be expressed through cultural symbols. Therefore, through encounter both parties must acknowledge the fact that their respective religious beliefs are cultural and their symbols are not absolute. The Christian attitudes of love, forgiveness, obedience to God, etc., are absolute, but their expression is, and must be cultural. Thus, what looks like the expression of obedience in one culture might look entirely different in another culture.

Thus, rehabilitation has to start from the meeting point where both a Christian and non-Christian Santals will find their common ground in the cultural context that helps to open up new opportunity where unity is sought not in uniformity but in diversity.

b) Theology: The theology of primal religions (in this case Santal religion) and Christian religion is another aspect of our concern. It is important to note that religious experiences are always expressed through symbols. In this circumstance, one must distinguish between the ideal and the reality in order to assess the “virtues” and the “vices” within the given religion. The ideals that lie behind these symbols must be highlighted, and the abuses must be pinpointed. Many phenomena of the Santal religio-cultural tradition, which have been condemned, like the worship of the Bonga (supernatural spirits including the spirits of the deceased ancestors), belief in witchcraft, white and black magic practices etc., must be reassessed within the cultural symbolic system and put into the perspective of the process of encounter.

c) Renewal from Within: In the third stage the partners identify their problems and the hindrances of their respective religion, and renew themselves from within. This renewal will lead them to conversion, which may not be a conversion to Christianity but it can be a conversion to the “supreme being” (to God) who called them in the first place. However, if such conversion is to Christianity, it should consist in the form of the purification of the reality, the full realization of the ideal which has been hindered by human sinfulness. Further deepening of the ideal will be required in order that Christ be experienced as the highest cultural expression of that ideal. If this does not happen, Christ will be exterior to the culture; he will be a nice Sunday shirt, but not the very skin of the people. Therefore, at the stage of renewal from within, encounter continues, but the initiative is entirely in the hands of the partners (in this case the Christian and non-Christian Santals).

If the researcher were given a free hand on how to improve such encounter between Christianity and Santal religion, he would proceed through the traditional forum that already exists among the Santals: the village Manjhi Council. The revival of the Pargana Council (regional council) would be another important step in this regard. Moreover, the existing Diocesan Credit Union and small savings groups at the parish level could be utilized to ensure youth and women’s participation. Membership to these forums could be extended to all the Santals (Christians and non-Christians) without discrimination.[56]

2.2.7 Obstacles and Recommendations: In view of our discussion with regard to the dialogical encounter of the Santals, we can distinguish two major obstacles arising out of the partners and present our recommendations accordingly:

a) The partners who have been converted to Christianity may often be inclined to allow past judgment on the basis of the theory of evolution or decry the utter sinfulness of their primal religion believing that the religion of their ancestors was wrong, false, primitive and sinful, that they gave up long ago. Some others may even secretly hold on certain aspects of their past (offering sacrifice to the Oŗak’ bonga, the “house god”, or ancestral spirits etc.) due to “fear” of committing offense. Thus, they totally confuse the whole notion of “Christian encounter” with their brothers and sisters who are of the followers of primal religion.

Therefore, it is important that Christian partners be able to look at their own traditional religion without feeling guilty; and with a sense of gratitude and feeling of obedience to the “supreme being” whom their ancestors were able to address as Cando Baba (Sun Father) or Thạkur Jiu (Life giver). In other words, it is important to realize that Christian Santals can consider this new approach (rehabilitation, theology, and renewal from within), without necessarily denying their Christian faith.

b) Partners from the primal religion have very little confidence in their Christian counterparts because they are afraid of the reactions and possible misunderstandings. Therefore, they only share what they think their Christian partners want to hear, i.e., the reality of their religion, the fear, the oppression, etc. This way, the ideal and the reality remain always hidden and the real encounter fails to occur. The two ideals (Christianity and Primal religion) continue to be unchallenged.

People have the right to express their own religion. Encounter does not necessarily mean converting the partner to the religion of the other (to Christianity), but rather, to deepen the religious experience of the love of the “Supreme Being” (Thakur Jiu the Life Giver) and the human sinfulness that hinders that love. According to the experience of the researcher (who himself is a convert from primal religion), fear of the Bonga, the most oppressive reality in primal religion, can be overcome only by sharing the liberating love of the “Supreme Being” (God).

Further, “encounter” with people of primal religions, cannot be confined to the religious sphere but must embrace all dimensions of life: economic, socio-political, cultural and religious and that people of all levels must be prepared for this encounter.

2.3 Dialogue with the Poor

2.3.1 Meaning of Dialogue with the Poor: In the context of Asia and particularly in Bangladesh, dialogue with the poor means “a local church in dialogue with its people. For most of Asia is made up of multitudes of the poor.”[57] However, before we proceed with further discussion it is important to clarify what we understand when we refer to the word “poor”.

2.3.2 Notion of the Poor: There is no single passage of Scripture that is by itself tells us what the term poor means. The Old Testament in particular is rather ambiguous. Yet, many passages of the Old Testament urge compassion for the oppressed, the powerless, the hungry, the widow, the orphan, and even the exiled; all are regarded as “poor”.[58] The Hebrew word anawim[59] in this sense bears special significance. The Asian bishops recognize the poor as those who are materially deprived due to injustices and oppressive structures.

The New Testament affirms that Jesus is the Messiah of the poor. The poor are blessed and privileged heirs of his Kingdom; it is to them that the Messiah brings the Good News. The poor are the hungry, homeless, naked, the deprived of human rights and voiceless in the society—they are those who need healing.[60] In the Synoptic Gospel, the poor are divided into:

First, the economically poor: These are people who are hungry and thirsty, who are sick or in prison, who are weighed down by burdens; for whom life and survival are a hard task;

Second, the sociologically poor: They are the people who are despised by the ruling class in the society, who are considered sinners: the publicans and the prostitutes; the simple-minded, the least, and the marginalized. [61]

It may be noted that “poverty” can be applied equally to the people whom we call rich. For the rich are not morally better than the poor or the poor are better than the rich; they are human beings, they can be as sinful as the rest of humanity. Jesus also demands “poverty of spirit” from every disciple as fundamental virtue. A person cannot receive the Kingdom and remain in it without living out this virtue.[62] The poor can be: outside the Church, within the Church, and within ourselves.[63]

In Bangladesh society the poor as a class are: the landless agricultural laborers, marginal farmers, domestic servants, disabled, widows, divorced women, orphans, street beggars, etc.[64] But, what is also true with the Santals is that they suffer from cultural alienation because of language, lack of education and economic backwardness. Therefore, denial of human dignity remains the primary factor that reduces a person or a nation on the equal status of what we call here poor.

2.3.3 Asian Church’s “Option for the Poor”: Working for the liberation and development for the poor is a continuing priority of the evangelizing mission of the Church. Option for the poor for the Church is not only to be at the service to the poor, but also to be with them, to learn from them.[65] It means to advocate and to be engaged in genuine commitment to bring about social justice in the whole of societies; willing to listen, to discover their cultural values and expressions of symbols, and to stand together with them by supporting their just causes, in order to be truly a healing sign of God’s love for them. In a concrete sense, option for the poor means:

To be sensitive to the life of the poor, their problems, needs, aspirations, resources…to be open to them, to listen to them and to learn from them. To be in solidarity…in their burning issues. To be present with them in their struggles and to show that we stand with them. To place our material as well as human resources…our knowledge, education, abilities at the service of the poor and not to superimpose them on their own resources. It means…a deepening commitment to the poor flowing from continued sensitivity to their life.[66]

Most of all, option for the poor is God’s option not ours. For it is God who made this preferential option for the poor. He took their side and chose them as his favorite agents to accomplish his will with the world (Exd. 3:10). The poor are subjects not objects; the poor, evangelize the other poor, and together, they “evangelize the Church” by challenging the Church to conversion, service, and solidarity.[67] The very fact that the poor struggle to free themselves from deprivation and oppression and strive for genuine communion among people and nations, help us to realize the plan of God for humankind as a whole in which he leads us from bondage into freedom.

Preaching the Good News to the poor, to work for justice and peace, promotion of human development and liberation in the spirit and demand of the Gospel, are not opposed, but make up the integral preaching (mission in dialogue) of the Gospel. The Synod of Bishops in 1971 affirms: Action in behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, that is, of the mission of the Church for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.”[68] If it were not done, we would be, as St. Paul says, merely “tinkling cymbals.”

3. Obstacles to Dialogue

Dialogue as a model of evangelizing mission certainly is one of the idealistic, and perhaps most effective means to proceed on the road toward evangelization. However, dialogue is not free from obstacles and challenges; dialogue has become much more difficult particularly with the rapid changes taking place in all spheres especially in socio-cultural, economic, political and religious aspects. We will present some of such issues that are mostly applicable in the context of Bangladesh.

a) Religious “fundamentalism” and hardliners in all religions have become one of the great concerns posing both a theological and pastoral challenge for the Church;

b) Division based on cultures, language, economic disparity, level of education, gender, cults and clans among people of different faiths remains underground factors of barrier on the way to have meaningful dialogue;

c) The bulk of the Christian population at the “grass root” levels including priests, religious and catechists in Bangladesh are hardly aware of the threefold dialogue with: culture, other religions and the poor as mission of evangelization affirmed by FABC;

d) Lack of knowledge and prioritization on the part of the local Churches regarding dialogue with the people of tribal religions;

e) Dialogue with the Santals on the basis of religion does not lead toward a fruitful end because Santal religion fully relies on oral tradition. Moreover, for the Santals culture and religion are intrinsically related and cannot be seen as separated one from the other;

f) Dialogue with the poor is often difficult, because socio-culturally they are considered inferior and powerless. Moreover, often most of the poor themselves lack self-confidence and believe that it is the “will of God” to remain in poverty, which is rightly expressed in phrases like: Allar Iccha in Bangla or Bahalana in Filipino.

Concluding Reflections

Drawing from the above discussion it becomes clear that dialogue, though challenging, remains an important part of our Christian living. The Asian reality induces mission in the model of dialogue with: culture, other religions and the poor. However, mission is one and these three dimensions cannot be separated one from the other.

Dialogue with cultures and particularly with Santal culture, has suffered tremendous drawbacks since the beginning of the conversion of the Santals into Christianity. Whatever little has been done in the form of liturgy still remains limited to the level of translation and oral communication with little effect to the vast majority of the people who are illiterate and live in remote rural villages.

Dialogue with other religions remains special commitment for the Church in Bangladesh. However, because of the particular situation that prevails in the religio-socio-cultural realities of the people of primal religions like the Santals, there is a need that an alternative forum be initiated. The issue of “Christian encounter” on the basis of rehabilitation, theology and renewal from within as proposed by the researcher could be an appropriate option applicable with the Santals. Yet, we need to begin our encounter with them, in the places where we live among the Santals, in the language and culture that are understandable to the people. Most of all, either dialogue or encounter should rely on the admission of person as human being without discrimination of social status, gender, cult and culture.

History shows that the Church has always been concerned with the poor. However, “option for the poor” seems like a new phenomenon today because it has now taken a new form as a strategic option: to struggle and to work in solidarity with them, to build a better future by transforming society in its entirety.[69] Therefore, it is not the issue of establishing a network of charitable institutions rather, challenging the system that reduces people into poverty. The poor are not merely beneficiaries of paternal charity, subordinates and dependent subjects; they are protagonists of their future. The poor are partners in dialogue; we can learn from them. Commitment in dialogue with the poor requires a change in attitude, empathy and freedom from prejudice.

The “option for the poor” is not against the rich, but it is a challenge to them in the perspective of human solidarity. Jesus warns that it is harder for a rich person to get into God’s Kingdom than it is for a camel to get through the eye of a needle. How sad it would be if the rich become so fascinated with the “good things” while the God of good things is being forgotten. [70] It is dialogue between the poor and the rich that will liberate both from fear and hatred, giving them sense of dignity and a vision enabling them to experience the transforming power of the Spirit active in history. Here material and spiritual poverty merge in dynamism of prophetic force to be realized the common humanity where both remain the pilgrim toward the same destiny of union with the Creator. Thus, dialogue with the poor becomes an urgent reality of life.

Finally, it is befitting to reaffirm:

No evangelization will be lasting and fruitful if it does not travel the path of this threefold dialogue: with cultures, with other religions, and with the poor. Any approach, which does not interact deeply with cultures, other religions, and with the majority of population, who are poor, will remain foreign to Asian soil. It would be only a partial, fragmentary, superficial, and ineffectual vision of the task of mission in contemporary Asia. [71]

The following chapter presents the major theme of our research: “Promotion of Communion and Integral human development in Bangladesh” with special reference to the evangelization of the Santals.

[1] Cf. “Evangelization in Modern Day Asia: Statement and recommendations of the First Plenary Assembly,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, pp. 14-15.

[2] Douglas Sturm, “Crossing the Boundaries: On the Idea of Interreligious Dialogue and the Political Question,” in Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. 30 (1993), pp. 1-19.

[3] “Goodness” in a person can be seen as a moral quality. The people in the society always appreciate a good person. This in fact, enables people of different faith and communities to live together in a collaborative manner in spite of their cultural and religious differences. Cf. J. Mark Hensman, “The Dialogue of Life,” in EAPR, 36 (1999), pp. 356-378.

[4] BIMA I, “Letter of Participants of the First Bishops’ Institute for Missionary Apostolate,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 94.

[5] Cf. “Consultation on Christian Presence Among Muslims in Asia: Message and Recommendations of the Participants of the Consultation.” Ibid., p. 168.

[6] Cf. Vat. II, Nostra Aetate (Relationship of the Church to World Religions, 1965), n. 2; also Rosales and Arevalo, eds. For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 344.

[7] “The Little Prince” is one of the popular books written by Antoine De Saint Exupery. It is a remarkable commentary on the foibles of human social interaction. Fernando Capalla, the Archbishop of Davao and onetime Chairman of the Episcopal Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue made his remarks by saying, “Gentle satire and moral precepts are veiled under the device of a child and animals in dialogue—an effective literary genre.” (Cf. Michael De Gigord, The Parable of Dialogue: The Little Prince Revisited (Zamboanga City: Silsilah Publications, 1999), back cover page. Henceforth referred to as, The Parable of Dialogue.

[8] Ibid., p. 63.

[9] Ibid., pp. 72-73. Father De Gigord with personal experience and insights as priest, teacher, and a person of dialogue tried dialogue in many different ways with both Christians and Muslims. He was twice kidnapped in Mindanao in the years 1987 and 1989. In his words, “these kidnappings helped me to deepen my motivation for dialogue…” His words are worth pondering over and over again (cf. ibid., p. 9 and back cover page).

[10] Cf. Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations on Inter-religious Dialogue and Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Vatican City: PCID, May, 19, 1991), n. 38. Henceforth referred to as, DP.

[11] Joseph M. Tran Xuan Chieu, Inter-religious Dialogue: The Case of Buddhism and Christianity (Manila: Sta Monica Printing Press, 2001), p. 74. Henceforth, referred to as Inter-religious Dialogue.

[12] In Christianity, the Holy Trinity—God—is a community of persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This is the three ways of entering into a personal relationship with God, but only One God. Thus, we pray, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.” Further, God is not alone; God is “relationship”; God is dialogue (cf. Gigord, A Parable of Dialogue, pp. 88-89).

[13] “Kingdom values” (Gospel values) and “opposite values” can be understood in the form of comparison or contrasting each other. For example: give—take, love—lust, person—money, pain—gain, prayer—noise/chaos, etc. (The “opposite values” have a de-humanizing effect in society).

[14] Cf. John Gnanpiragasam and Wilfred Felix, eds., Being Church in Asia: Theological Advisory Commission Documents, 1986—92 (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1994), p. 11. Henceforth referred to as, Being Church in Asia.

[15] Sebastiano D’Ambra, “Interreligious Dialogue in Ecclesia in Asia” in James H. Kroeger and Peter C. Phan, eds., The Future of the Asian Churches: The Asian Synod & Ecclesia in Asia (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 2002), pp. 110-14.

[16] Cf. CBCB, Pastoral Plan, n. 15-16.

[17] Cf. M. Amaladoss, “Identity and Harmony: Challenges to Mission in South Asia,” in Robert J. Schreiter, ed., Mission in the Third Millennium, pp. 25-39.

[18] Donal Dorr makes helpful distinctions between two kinds of missionaries, those engaged primarily in the building up of the church both as a community and in its institutional aspects and those primarily engaged in the promotion of “kingdom values” such as health care, education, human rights, ecology, and so on. The second kind of activities is no less mission than the first (cf. Mission in Today’s World (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2000), pp. 193-201.

[19] Cf. Fox, Pentecost in Asia, pp. 70-71. See also Figure 2, “Vision of the Theology of Mission.”

[20] It seems opportune to raise the question posed by Bosch: “is everything mission?” (cf. D. J. Bosch, Transforming Mission…, 511ff.). As we have seen that in new theological and missionary vision, the Kingdom of God is placed at the center. Therefore, every effort by the Church whether it is the transformation of culture, inter-religious dialogue, the struggle for freedom, the secular movements, integrity of creation etc. falls under the category of “mission”. M. M. Quatra asks: “Do we not, in that way, arrive at a sort of ‘panmissionism’?” Quatra agrees with Bosch saying that because of the rapid change and the period of great transition in history, we are confronted suddenly and in rapid succession with new phenomena, new problems, new perspectives that have never before appeared on the horizon of humanity. This is particularly true of the Church in Asia where the impact of other religious world is becoming ever more real and crucial. And all of us are witnesses and agents in a paradigm shift, new way to perceive and understand the world, history, human beings, society, religion, nature, even God himself. So we speak of “new way of doing theology,” “new way of being Church,” and “new way of carrying out mission.”

“Mission through dialogue” therefore, oversteps the boundaries of traditional understanding of the idea of “mission”. Yet, the fact is that most of our theological terminologies in the past were used to express what distinguishes and separates us from the rest of the religious world and made us unique in the plan of salvation, must today express, especially in Asia, what unites us and relates us to others. Cf. Donal Dorr, Mission in Today’s World, pp. 186-92). The use of the term “dialogue” as “mission” is one of the efforts by the FABC documents to respond to the new paradigm that is emerging for the Church and for the Asia of the future. Cf. M. M. Quatra, At the Side of the Multitudes, pp. 207-8.

[21] Samuel H. Canilang, The Religious Community: A Guide to Community Living for Religious (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 2004), pp. 107-114. Hereafter referred to as, The Religious Community.

[22] BIRA IV/6, “Statement of the Sixth Bishops’ Institute for Inter-religious Affairs on the Theology of Dialogue,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 304.

[23] Cf. “International Congress on Mission,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, pp. 135-48. See also Bevans 1996:1-23 and Phan 1998:205-27.

[24] Cf. James D. Whitehead and Evelyn Eaton Whitehead, Method in Ministry: Theological Reflection and Christian Ministry (Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1995), p. 55. Henceforth referred to as, Method in Ministry.

[25] Kroeber and Kluckhohn in their attempt to bring order on the usage of the term “culture” uncovered almost three hundred definitions. Many of these definitions were but echoes of Tylor’s definition (cf. Luzbetak, The Church and Culture, P. 134). With the advent of the social sciences, we now recognize the multiplicity of cultures. Cf. Keith F. Pecklers, Worship: New Century Theology (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 2004), p. 118.

[26] Cf. Luis J. Luzbetak, The Church and Culture: New Perspectives in Missiological Anthropology (New York: Orbis Books, 1988), p. 134. Hereafter referred to as, The Church and Culture.

[27] Ibid., p. 156.

[28] Ibid., 134.

[29] Cf. BISA VII, “Final Reflections of the Seventh Bishops’ Institute for Social Action,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, pp. 230-31.

[30] K. F. Pecklers, Worship: New Century Theology (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 2004), p. 133. Hereafter referred to as, Worship.

[31] As early as in 1998 Vietnamese theologian P. C. Phan raised some interesting questions about the rapport between worship and culture (Phan: 1998, pp. 194-6). He provides critical examples of the importance of inculturation in the context of his native Vietnam among the Mon-Khmer tribe, a traditionally matriarchal society where the tribal head is always a woman. At the moment of marriage, it is the woman who proposes to the man, and when the children are born into the family they take the mother’s name rather than the father’s. The situation becomes rather complicated when one considers the community’s liturgical life. One could imagine the problem of comprehension within such a matriarchal society where if the worship leader is not a woman but a man. The rituals and gestures themselves appear equally strange; and the issue of genuflection is non-existent in that culture rather, people are accustomed to bowing or other bodily gestures. Moreover, in some parts of the world, Bishops and Diocesan liturgical commissions even inquire about substituting bread and wine for alternative materials like rice and hạndi (rice beer) for the Santals. These examples are perhaps too extreme, but they point to the complexity of the issue of the Church’s endeavor towards inculturation of the liturgy where the culture that is transformed and changed, not the Gospel.

[32] Cf. Pecklers, Worship, p. 137.

[33] “Semiotic” comes from the Greek and means “observant of signs”. Semiotic or symbolic anthropology is one of the newest directions gaining greater respect among the anthropologists today (cf. Luzbetak, The Church and Cultures, pp. 154-56).

[34] Cf. Charles H. Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1996), p. 45. Henceforth referred to as, Anthropology for Christian Witness.

[35] Cf. John Paul II, “Humanize the world through culture,” in Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, Culture and Faith, Vol. 13 (2005), pp. 1-2.

[36] Luzbetak, The Church and Cultures, p. 397.

[37] Cf. Pecklers, Worship, p. 124.

[38] In Bangladesh, the normal practice of the government policy is to bring all indigenous/tribal groups under the umbrella of the principle of “main stream” that is, to incorporate and identify ethnic minority communities with the majority population in “Bangladeshi Nationalism”. This is an example of how some governments can be involved in causing “cultural disintegration” and eliminating culturally the tribal population.

[39] H. Carrier, Evangelizing the Culture, p. 4.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Cf. Mercado, Inter-religious Explorations, p. 33.

[42] BIRA IV/6, “Statement of the Sixth Bishops’ Institute for Inter-religious Affairs on the Theology of Dialogue,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the People of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 303.

[43] Jaime L. Sin, Dealing with Ultimate Commitment, in Inter-religious Dialogue: A Paradox? (Zamboanga: Silsilah Publications, 1991), pp. 65-76.

[44] See footnote n. 41.

[45] Cf. Generoso M. Florez, An Appeal to the Church: The Mission of the Church in Asia, p. 171.

[46] “Pastoral visit in Bangladesh: Homily of John Paul II,” (Dhaka, Nov. 19, 1986), n, 6. Source: (…) derived on April 15th 2005.

[47] Inter-religious Assemblies organized by Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue held in different occasions could be considered as significant follow-up of such initiative. For example: the Interreligious Assembly held in the Vatican on 25–28 October 1999; the Day of Prayer for Peace at Assisi on 24th January 2002; “Spiritual Resources of the Religions on Peace” held between 16-18 January 2003 in Rome; and the colloquium on “The Resources for Peace in Traditional Religions” organized by the same office held from January 12-15, 2005 in Rome. All these underline the fact that following the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the Church, in full awareness of the need for peace in a divided world, encourages dialogue in view of better understanding and harmonious relations between believers of different religions. Cf. Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, Colloquium on The Resources for Peace in Traditional Religions, in Pontificium Concilium de Cultura, Vol. 13 (Vatican City, 2005), pp. 1-7.

The basic question of course is, how should Catholics look upon other religions in the context of evangelization? Relying on the expertise of scholars and current theological literature, we can find two basic trends of the Christian faith, namely: 1) the universal salvific will of God, and 2) the necessary mediation of Jesus Christ in the salvation of every individual. It is also the position that makes inter-religious dialogue possible, because it commits the partners in dialogue to their respective faith traditions, and also recognizes that truth and goodness may also be present in other religious traditions. Cf. Peter C. Phan, In Our Own Tongues, pp. 30-31.

[48] CBCB, Pastoral Plan for the Church, n. 50.

[49] Michael Amaladoss, “Identity and Harmony: Challenges to Mission in South Asia,” in Schreiter, Mission in the Third Millennium, p. 32. See also Phan, In Our Own Tongues, p. 145.

[50] Cf. BIRA III, “Statement and Recommendations of the Third Bishops’ Institute for Interreligious Affairs,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 120.

[51] “Statement of the Fourth Bishops’ Institute for Inter-religious Affairs on the Theology of Dialogue,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1. pp. 299-301.

[52] Cf. Augustine Kanjamala, “Unity and Universality as a Goal of Interreligious Dialogue,” in Leonardo N. Mercado and James J. Knight, eds., Mission & Dialogue: Theory and Practice (Manila: Divine Word Publications, 1989), pp. 174-185.

[53] Salvation Outside the Church? Tracing the History of the Catholic Response (New York: Paulist, 1992), p. 181. Cf. Thomas P. Rausch, Catholicism in the Third Millennium, p. 235.

[54] Cf. Ennio Mantovani, “Dialogue with Primal Religion,” in Leonardo N. Mercado & James J. Knight, eds., Dialogue and Mission, pp. 48-59.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Up until now almost all the Diocesan as well as parish level initiatives are geared to Christian communities and the non-Christian Santals remain out of reach only because “they do not belong to the Church.” The researcher believes that if the Church stands as a mission for the Kingdom of God, taking such challenge in the process of evangelization to unite all the Santals would be nonetheless worth doing.

[57] “Statement and Recommendations of the First Plenary Assembly,” in Rosales and Arevalo, For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 15.

[58] Cf. Luzbetak, The Church and Cultures, p. 387.

[59] The Hebrew word anawim gives double meaning: a) person who is dehumanized, reduced by oppression to a condition of diminished capacity or worth; and b) person who is “wholly dependent on God.” Second meaning developed particularly during “exile period” when Israel was called the anawim of Yahweh. The “poor of Yahweh” soon became a religious term meaning: those who lived in total openness to Yahweh, in humility and respect for his commandment (cf. Fuellenbach, Throw Fire, p. 178).

[60] Cf. Luzbetak, The Church and Cultures, p. 388.

[61] Cf. John Fuellenbach, Throw Fire (Manila: Logos Publications, 2000), p. 180.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Cf. Julio De Santa Ana, ed., Towards a Church of the Poor (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1979), pp. 14-17. Hereafter referred to as, Towards a Church of the poor.

[64] Cf. Timm, The Church and Development, p. 146.

[65] “Evangelization in Modern Day Asia,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 15

[66] R. W. Timm, The Church and Development, p. 152.

[67] Cf. The Puebla Conference Document, “The Third Meeting of the Latin American Episcopal Conference,” Puebla, 1979, n. 1147.

[68] “Justice in the World: Statement of the Synod of Bishops,” Vatican, Nov. 30, 1971, n. 22.

[69] The Bishops of Asia insist that: a) holistic vision of reality, a sense of harmony and especially contemplation should accompany our dialogue and identification with the poor; and b) action for justice and involvement for the liberation of the poor are tasks to be accomplished in collaboration with peoples of other faiths (cf. Felix Wilfed, “Orientations, Challenges and Impact,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the People of Asia, Vol. 1, pp. xxiii-xxx).

[70] John Powel, Through the Eyes of Faith (Texas: Tabor Publishing, 1992), p. 85.

[71] J. H. Kroeger, Living Mission: Challenge in Evangelization Today (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1994), p. 68. Hereafter referred to as, Living Mission.



CHAPTER V (pag. 131-167)

These days, the forces of divisiveness are powerfully at work in the world. The lust for power, aggression, wealth, individualism, misguided “isms” and ideologies of politics and religious fanaticism, injustice, hunger and poverty, terrorism and mass killing, mistrust and disunity touch not only societies but the very sacred space traditionally held by the nuclear families and homes. There is a need to reassert communion and integral human development by means of the mission of evangelization.

In this chapter we will discuss the importance and role of evangelization in fostering communion and integral human development in the context of the Santals in Bangladesh. A reflection will be made on issues like religious development, economic, educational and physical or health development to underline the fact that evangelization needs to respond to the very basic problems of human concern.

I. Understanding the Notion of Communion

1. The Idea of Communion

In a simple definition the term “communion” in its root means: “common unity”, “unity with” or “union with”. It refers a group of individuals and families who know each other, share common values and relate with one another. The members of this community interact with one another and realize that they are dependent upon one another. They worship together, grow in the faith together and face the crises of life together. They join in celebrating birth and marriage, and mark the occasion of funeral. There are multiple bonds among them.

2. Communion in the Christian Perspective

In Christianity “communion” is more than a mere group or gathering of people. It is not a mere feeling of empathy, a fellowship of like-minded individuals, or a simple sharing of common interests, which binds together the members of a voluntary association or a business corporation, although it may be necessary for the well-being of a society. But it is a critical solidarity that announces and promotes those elements, actions and structures that lead to the common good.[1] It is a community that works for a new society and takes a risk for the Kingdom of God. It is a communion of unity in diversity and not a communion in uniformity.

In the Christian tradition we believe that God is Trinity, three in one; God is many yet one; God is communion, i.e., God in community. The Bible reminds us that we are created in the image of God; we are many. However, our experience is that human persons are called, indeed gravitated toward further unity with others, with nature and God.[2] In other words, God’s plan for the human family is the relationship, oneness, common unity; and ultimate communion toward Original Wholeness.

In the New Testament the term used for communion is koinonia in Greek. It refers to the faith community born out of Jesus’ invitation and call “come follow me.” This call to follow Christ gives birth to a new identity, new community and new mission.[3] The community of Antioch can be an appropriate model for our times (Acts 4:32; also 11:19-30).

The key to communion is the firm and unreserved commitment of love. Christian community grows as this commitment of love grows. This love within Christian community however, cannot be confined to a few organized activities like prayer meetings, Bible service, and other social services, though these are important, but must extend to societal relationship of the members into daily fife. Here, “members of the community rely upon one another for daily support through frequent contact, informal socializing, and by sharing material resources.”[4]

The word communion is also a pastoral term, which is frequently used today. It sounds rather simple, but those who have been actively engaged in “community building” have discovered that there is much more to it than a mere setting up of a new structure. For one builds a house, but creates a home. A house is made of materials, while a home is built on an inspiration. This inspiration that builds a community for Christians is Christ himself. Christ is the center of the community because all strive to follow his example of relating to each other in a radically new way. In fact, none of us lives together with other people exactly the same way over many years. We grow not only in age or in intellect as individuals, but we also grow as family, society, nation, or human community as a whole. Yet, such is our reality; many of us are simple members of a family, village community or any of the socio-political and religious institutions. We carry a mystery in us of life and hope and growth, each of us has his/her own dreams that someday all will be beautiful.[5]

3. Importance of Communion

Needless to say, the widening gap between the poor and the rich, the violation of human rights, religious, ethnic and cultural conflicts, degradation of family and social values, are the negative signs that create challenging situation toward our commitment to community building. Yet, today more than ever, people are crying out for authentic communities to share their lives with others in a common vision, find support and mutual encouragement, give witness to their beliefs and work for greater peace and justice in the world. The importance of community has been reechoed time and again in such words:

Without a strong sense of community human beings will wilt and begin to die. Community is the foundation of human society, the zenith of interdependence, the epitome of wholeness….Without a continuing and enriching experience of community, as well as a vision of its glory to keep us moving forward, all of us eventually perish. [6]

Referring to the “Search for Unity,” Paul VI describes division as one of the “great sicknesses” of evangelization. For the pope, “The Gospel suffers from the different views of Christ and the Church that Christians have” (EN 77). The Pope exhorts: “We all have Baptism and faith. This can be the basis of our unity. By working together in this way, we can already give a greater common witness to Christ before the world in the actual work of evangelization” (EN 77).

4. Communion for the Mission of Evangelization

Communion and evangelization are the two elements of the same reality. They are inclusive and cannot be separated one from the other. Yet, they are different in the sense that evangelization is the means, and communion remains the goal. Communion in the context of evangelization reminds us of the secret of catching the beauty of people growing together as community.

In evangelization, communion may be understood from different perspectives: 1) of service, 2) of liberation and development, 3) of faith witness, 4) of celebrating faith and life, and 5) of common humanity. A brief discussion is done here to enhance our understanding on these issues in the context of the Santals in Bangladesh.

4.1 Communion of Service: In the Gospel of St. Luke, we find Jesus saying: “I am among you as the one who serves…and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me” (Lk. 22:27-29). In evangelization, the communion of the followers of Christ wishes to become a “serving community”[7] not for the Church but for the Kingdom of God. This service of the community therefore, is meant for all irrespective of caste and creed. The Second Vatican Council reminds us that “She [the Church] has no fiercer desire than that, in the pursuit of the welfare of all” (GS 42).

The Church in Bangladesh has been actively engaged in such services of providing education, health care for the sick and care for the orphans, shelter for the destitute and needy, legal aid for the tribals, and other services. These services certainly need to be continued but we must see them as part of a larger vision, the vision of a better world, a more human world—one transformed by the spirit of love. Building such human world is a part of our calling as Christians, an important part of our service to humanity. Our calling as local churches in Bangladesh is to be a sign of such salvation and liberation pointing to a world in which ‘all people are united in the way God wants them to be united’ (GS 42).

The Church in Bangladesh has also demonstrated social concern for welfare and development work by establishing an organization of “Caritas Bangladesh” (CB). But unfortunately, it remains as a sideline activity of the Church and not an essential part of its nature and mission. Such services are not an optional activity of the Church but a constitutive dimension. Separating social and pastoral ministry is no doubt the most effective way of remaining indifferent in the face of dire needs, poverty, injustice and sufferings. R. W. Timm, a devoted Holy Cross missionary in Bangladesh, writes:

The social ministry and the pastoral ministry need not and should not be separated from each other, because both are needed for fulfilling the Church’s role in the world. Both were present and skillfully blended in the life and work of Jesus. He was both a religious reformer and a social reformer. Therefore, in his Church also an integrated approach is necessary. [8]

The local churches of Bangladesh as entities of the communion of service must work towards such a world where people can grow in goodness and love even outside the circle of the Church. Thus, initiatives can be taken in the aspects of promotion of justice, peace, and human rights, poverty alleviation, restoration of family and tribal values, health care, pro-life option and so on. For “No community is a true community if within it needs are ignored.”[9] Therefore, the mission of service is to be taken in its totality and not so much one of doing things for people rather, striving to create a society in which human dignity is respected.

4.2 Communion for Liberation and Development: Communion, liberation and development have been abundantly proven to be the most useful means for evangelization. The rapid evangelization of aboriginals in many countries has been due in great measure because the Church has played the protective role, guarding them from exploitation by the oppressors. The historically rather peaceful conversion of lower caste Hindus to Islam in East Bengal and of low caste Hindus (mucis) to Christianity[10] are such examples. The conversion of the Santals and other tribal minorities to Christianity is not an exception to this. “For such people, liberation from social slavery to a life of human dignity as a child of God counts for much more than specific theological teachings or religious rituals.”[11] Thus, communion in relation to liberation and development cannot be overlooked in any pretext, especially in the context of the Santals and many more tribal populations in Bangladesh.

Yet, liberation and development cannot be achieved by individuals in isolation; they have to be carried out in cooperation and in solidarity among peoples. For ‘no man is an island’ and ‘no one builds alone’ nor anybody can bring real liberation and development without people being actively involved. The Church can be much more effective in her service only when it is done in partnership with the people.

4.3 Communion of Faith-witness: The communion of the followers of Christ is with a mission to communicate the love of Christ to others irrespective of caste and creed. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). This will be the sign that Jesus is living among us.

In the multi-ethnic, diverse cultural and religious realities of Bangladesh where in the past, many of the lives have been lost due to communal riots and sectarian violence, it is so important that we witness the higher value of universal brotherhood and sisterhood of all humankind. Faith witness should include the common humanity of all under the One and the same Creator, the Thạkur Jiu (life giver) of the Santals.

4.4 Community celebrating Faith and Life: Human person is created to praise and more explicitly of celebration. “The praise of God is the reason for man’s existence.” [12] C. G. Valles, a veteran Jesuit missionary in India goes further saying that a person “himself [is] a liturgy, a living psalm, a sacrament of thanksgiving…and what is true of man is true of the group.” According to him:

Praise is accepting things as they are, rejoicing in reality as it is, embracing the present, appreciating facts and reconciling oneself with life; praise is looking at persons, at things, at the world with the same eyes, with which God looked at his creation at the end of each day, and seeing and saying with him in genesiacal candour that it all is indeed very good.[13]

In Christianity celebration of faith and life finds its common ground in liturgy, one of the significant characteristics of communion. In this sense our service to the world must find expression in liturgies. Our liturgies should be planned and prepared with due concern for our task in society. No liturgy should give the impression of diverting our task in the world. In the words of Vatican II, “joy and hope, the grief and anguish” (GS 1) of the people should be reflected in the liturgies. The Christian communities in the local churches from their very grassroots level should feel inspired to engage themselves in the transformation of the whole of life as they take part in the Sunday liturgy or Eucharistic celebration. Yet, our celebration can be meaningful only when we are ready to share with others, sacrifice ourselves for others, as Christ sacrificed himself for us.

4.5 Communion of Humanity: In evangelization, we speak of and dream of a broader communion, which is a communion of humanity. It will be a society where people accept, love and value each other as brothers and sisters, not because they share a common nationality, or race or culture but because all are children of the same Father, loved by the same brother, Jesus Christ, in the power of the same Spirit. For proclamation of the Kingdom of God points to the gathering of all people and nations into one family as brothers and sisters under the fatherhood of God[14] that includes foes and friends alike; and the Santals are part and parcel of this broader communion. It is a community that works for total human development and not the salvation of few individuals but the salvation of the whole of humanity in which the Christian community should play a special role.

4.6 Communion among the Santals: For the Santals “communion” means to bring back their tribal identity and traditional solidarity where Santals will not be divided as Christians and “pagans”, believers and non-believers; they will not be scared of hell or losing their souls. It means liberation from cultural alienation and restoration of human dignity; and that Christianity is not imposed with multiple norms and statutes. Yet, Santals need opening up themselves with further receptivity to the greater human society. [15]

II. Integral Human Development

1. Meaning of Development

The word “development” normally entails: change, progress, growth, advancement, improvement or striving for something better and sustainable that also includes intellectual knowledge, ideas and maturation of thoughts.

The notion of development according to the teaching of the Church always means total or integral development. Development is the “transition from less human conditions to those which are more human” (PP 20); it is a progressive humanization, socialization and spiritualization, which aim to promote the good of every person and of the whole person (cf. PP 14). This “wholeness” of person, includes not only the individual personal fulfillment, but also the growth and blossoming of the whole human reality on earth.[16] Therefore, any definition of human development must necessarily include quality of life that includes spiritual as well as purely economic and material factors.[17]

2. Development Centers on the Human Person

Any effort for development must be directed and centered on the human person. Social progress defined as “maintenance and promotion of social justice” brings out even more explicitly the basic theological principle, i.e., the incarnation of Jesus Christ inspires and guides all Christian development activities. For Jesus is the human person with fullness of what it means to be human; and a person’s development derived from God, in the model of Jesus must lead back to God. Thus we speak of human development, which is the profound concept that translates sharply for us the fundamental command of the Gospel that “we love one another”. Development activities that alienate a person from his/her human dignity or from being human cannot be considered as legitimate and authentic.

3. Development as Integral

From the “definition and clarification of terms” as seen on page 15, “Integral human Development” takes into consideration all the elements of human concern of both exterior and interior, of secular and spiritual, of this world and otherworldly. In a sense, it affects the mind, the heart, the body, the existing and emerging human relationships, social responsibility of working for Justice, peace, development etc. in the situations of human reality of religious, psycho-spiritual, moral, socio-economic-political, cultural, educational, health, ecology etc. Hence, fidelity to the interior dimension of life and its openness to its transcendent vocation from and towards God are essential for development to be integral.[18] For, “God met human beings where they are, in their own world but a world of his making. Christ took on himself all that is human [except sin] in order that he might transform it from within.” [19]

An effort to integrate is to seek to transcend (to rise “above”), to bridge any dichotomy, tension or conflict and to see it as harmony; looking at dichotomies as a creative reality in view of community where unity is seen as unity-in-diversity and not unity in uniformity.[20] Here we speak of pluralism that takes into consideration the viewpoint emphasizing unity in diversity. This integration is based upon two principles, which are not mutually exclusive. These are:

a) One cannot choose between being personal and social, between focusing on this and the next world, or between contemplation and action;

b) One cannot choose the one that suits one’s personality and life situation; here one can be very inclusive.

Thus, our understanding of evangelization activities requires a vision that is Integral (considers all the aspects of human reality); Holistic (deals with the whole person as individual and collective); and contextualized (deeply rooted in Christ and the Word of God, Church’s teachings, sound tradition of evangelization, as well as socio-cultural, economic, educational, political, environmental and historical realities of the broader world.

4. Integral human development for the Santals

For the Santals in Bangladesh, integral human development would mean that the Santals strive for a new society that is a “move towards unity as their ultimate goal, transcending all divisions, conflicts and strifes caused by sin and reconciled in harmony among themselves, [with others], with God, and with the entire creation.”[21] However, such involvement cannot exclude what we call “secular” and “profane” because in “these spheres God and His Christ are active in the Spirit, expecting our partnership and collaboration in the shaping and reshaping of human history and human destiny,”[22] This is important for the Santals who believe in the “interrelatedness” and integrity of all realities.[23]

III. Dimensions of Integral Human Development

The human person who is to be evangelized does not live in isolation but is constantly barraged by socio-cultural, economic, educational, physical, mental, religious, spiritual, and environmental realities. In the vast field of socio-economic and cultural development, Catholics have been encouraged by the Second Vatican Council to work together with other Christians, other believers, and with all people of good will for the betterment of the human condition. Yet, in dealing such issues of the complexities of human concern, there is no reason that we can claim expertise in all these aspects. In other words, Church may not be an expert in economics, politics, or ecological matters but “it is the authoritative teacher in what, in God’s mind, it truly means to be human.”[24] The Church of Christ is both teacher and prophet—teacher in matters of faith and morals, and prophet when humans depart from the message of the Gospel. The Incarnate Word continues to have meaning in the world today through the teaching of the Church.[25] In this circumstance, the researcher dares to make a humble beginning by sharing certain rather brief insights on issues of our concern that are deeply related with evangelization of the Santals in Bangladesh.

1. Religious Development

1.1 Understanding the Notion of Religion: The term “religion” comes from the Latin religio, the etymology of which is uncertain and therefore is also disputed. One etymological explanation refers to the verb religare, which means: to unite, to bind things together; and its passive form religari means: to bind oneself or to be connected to one’s origin and destiny. This root word, especially when applied to persons being bound to “God” or to superior powers, has been the most common and classical understanding of religion because it draws attention to one of the most obvious and important features of religion that it binds people together in common beliefs and practices, it draws them together in a common enterprise of life. In a word, both these words stress the close tie between God and humankind.

It is important to note that most non-Western languages do not have a word that could be used with the same meaning as “religion”. Here the words most often used are like: submission, obedience, piety, fidelity, respect, devotion etc. Often the terms “the Way” or “the Path” is also used to indicate this reality.

1.2 The problem of defining Religion: Recalling the history of religion, it is quite clear that multiple attempts have been made to define religion by all kinds of peoples such as: philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, poets, as well as by theologians. But because of their diversity, the definition of religion also differs. Yet, what is clear is that most of them are either too exclusive, particularistic and narrow or too inclusive, broad and general. Moreover, “all definitions are products of human decision, they are rules laid down by people for the purpose of establishing clear and precise meaning.”[26] Keeping this in mind we seek here for a definition that is best and most useful for our purpose.

1.3 The working definition of Religion: J. Martin Velasco, professor of Phenomenology of Religion defines: “Religion is a specific human reality that has its origin in the recognition by the human person of a supreme reality that confers ultimate meaning to his/her own existence, to the whole of reality, and to the course of history.” This definition of religion by Velasco bears a particular richness in the sense that it:

a) recognizes the “specific human reality” (of “being human”);

b) also recognizes the “ultimate supernatural power”; and such a

c) “supreme reality” gives “ultimate meaning” to everything; to the human person (including his/her existential realities, events and history).

Yet, what is lacking in this definition is the social dimension of religion that is essential in every religious belief including the beliefs of the Santals.

1.4 The Santal conception of Religion: Recalling our discussion on chapter two, the religion of the Santals primarily refers to their belief in the “supreme being”, the Ultimate destiny of all and everything. The application of the name of “God” in transliterated foreign terms like: Iswar or Bhogoban used by the Hindus or the term Allah used by Muslims or “God” by Christians does not seem to be suited by the Santals. For the Santals, the concept of powerful God who conquers and wins all the time, just as imperial power, does not appeal to their hearts. Santals prefer to think of a God who is “fatherly” or a God who is “tenderly” or “motherly”. Therefore, the use of the terms, Thạkur Jiu (Life Giver), or Cando Baba (Sun Father), finds resonance with their own traditional expression.

The Santals also believe in the Bonga (spirits) who take care of and deal with human needs. This implies Santals’ religious experience of how human beings relate and share in a greater degree with the invisible world of the Thạkur Jiu. Thus, the Bonga (benevolent spirits) act as spiritual force to achieve this goal. They remain as intermediaries between God and humankind. On the other hand, the presence of the malevolent Bonga represent the sinfulness of this world.

In a brief recap we can say that for the Santals religion is:

a) an integral part of societal living; that

b) permeates all aspects of life: customs, social behavior, individual and group identity of Santal-nationality; a

c) living in the spontaneous awareness of the Bonga (spirits) as intermediary between noa puri (visible world) and the hana puri (the invisible reality of the world of the “supreme being”, the Creator); and

d) a moving force and a great contributing factor in binding the society through rituals and cultural celebrations.

1.5 Christianity among the Santals: According to G. Beckers, a Jesuit missionary who worked many years in India, the date of the first Santal-conversion to Christianity goes back to mid-nineteenth century.[27] It took place in a small village in the heart of the dense jungle somewhere on the borders of Bengal and Orissa where the first contact between Christianity and the Santals is said to have taken place in the then undivided India. It was Jeremiah Phillips, a “Free Will’ American Baptist missionary who settled at Jaleswar in 1840 and pioneered the actual evangelization work among the Santals. In 1845 he opened the first primary school for Santal children and printed the “first Santali primer” (elementary text book). In 1847 the first Santals were baptized: two young men from the school. It is told that before baptism, Phillips wanted to test the firmness of their intention. In his own words:

I called Daniel and Elias and after conversing with them for some time proposed that they should take some bread and eat before us…this startled [start led] them and they drew back…. This bread was brought, but Daniel’s heart almost failed him. Poor Daniel sat with the bread in his hand, swelled up, and seemed in an awful trial, and so for half an hour or more, it seemed doubtful whether they would taste the morsel which was to be the signal of a FINAL SEPA- RATION FROM ALL THEIR FORMER CONNECTIONS…. Daniel and Elias now appear very happy together and now occupy a separate apartment and cook for themselves.[28]

The Catholic missionaries however, initiated Christianity among the Santals in present Bangladesh later in the beginning of 20th century. Fr. Francesco Rocca, a PIME missionary can be called the pioneer and apostle of the Santals in Eastern Bengal. In 1906 he visited Dhanjuri at the request of Fagu Mistri Soren and paid a second visit in February 1909 and baptized Phudon Marandi and his eldest son Pitor Marandi. Fr. Luigi Pinos wrote:

Things were at this point when, during one of his travels by train, Railway chaplain Fr. Rocca was approached by a Santal who was on his way to court for a long drawn case. He was Fagu Mistri Soren, the village chief of Dhanjuri. The man was a no-good; he was always in trouble because of his weakness for women… So he said, “Sahib, I am from Dhanjuri. Why don’t you come to visit us?” Fr. Rocca accepted the invitation and one day in 1906 he arrived in Dhanjuri…Phudon took the arrival of the Father as an answer to his own letter. He was exultant in seeing the priest and gave him hospitality. Fr. Rocca, who was a very engaging personality, was invited to come again. He obliged, and on February 21, 1909 baptized Phudon and his eldest son Peter.[29]

However, for the first Santals to become Christian was a hard option. They made such option even at the cost of being abandoned by their villagers, families and friends; and often suffered for their decision by being deprived of their inheritance of property rights. Thus, to say that they become Christian because of the promise of heaven or to save their soul is not a persuasive argument. After all, within their traditional religion they also have the promise of heaven.

The story of Pitt Moore, an evangelical missionary who after he had made his evangelistic presentation in a village, a man (probably a Santal) came up to him with a question, “Where” he asked, “are my relatives and fellow villagers who have died?” Pitt Moore replied that they are in hell. “Then”, said the man, “that is where I want to go when I die.” Moore decided that thereafter he was not going to mention heaven or hell in his preaching, only the love of Christ. [30] Certainly, this is one of the examples of the early missionary approaches without differentiating the initiative taken by Catholic and the Protestant churches alike. .

Hence the question is: Why has Christianity not made greater headway in the evangelization of the Santals? The best answer perhaps is the one given by J. Troisi: “The most deep-rooted objection is the fact that the Christian method of evangelization often tended to draw the Santals out of their own milieu, consequently posing a serious problem of tribal solidarity and making the converts feel insecure.”[31]

According to the researcher, much of the work of religious development with the Santals in evangelization could be done:

a) When the evangelizers themselves are first familiar with the socio-religious-cultural context of the people. With due respect to their cultural values and religious freedom, it is imperative for the Church community “to help them to help themselves, so that they can work to improve their situation and become the evangelizers of their own culture and society“(EA 34);

b) When Christianity is presented in its totality without being fragmented into pieces relying on doctrinal issues or taking refuge in a vague, absolute spirituality, which is unrelated to the world and to the reality of life. Historical revelation, which culminated in Jesus Christ, can provide a fundamental orientation that takes into account the earthly values and human’s total vocation for the fullness of life. Here local catechism could be an important step toward such effect. [32]

c) In the process of evangelization the Santals have always been asked to forget their past and forbidden to take part in any traditional ritual practices because all these were seen as ‘pagan’. As a result, the new Santal converts whose hearts are so deeply rooted in the traditional ancestral practices are often found to be drawn back to such practices. According to the researcher, it is not by avoiding the past, rather the Santals should be helped to build up their future on the past.

d) Most of all, a critique of the errors may be useful, but it should be done only after a sympathetic study. Yet, the way is not to attack or to destroy the erroneous views and pointing to the mere “superstitious observances” [33] that may be found in the belief system and ritual practices of other religions (Santal religion), but to search out the commonalities shared by Christianity. .

2. Educational Development

Education is not simply the communication of knowledge or eradicating illiteracy but more importantly, it is the human formation in values leading to social transformation. Education is a basic human right of all citizens, which includes the transmission of culture to children;[34] it is to provide human civilization. In Christian perspective education remains one of the most providential and effective means to serve society by announcing and spreading the values of the Kingdom of God. According to Pope Paul VI, “education is a cultural mediation that leads to human development and liberation, and without it evangelization would be incomplete” (EN 31).

2.1 Education in the Reality of Bangladesh: In Bangladesh, the proverb that is commonly used in Bangla (National language) is the saying, sik-kha jatir merudondo meaning, education is the backbone of a nation. Yet, Bangladesh remains one of the lowest in literacy rate (36% percent) in the world. Looking at the present reality in the field of education, there is no certainty that we have one answer for the purpose of education. One of such examples is the poetic expression in Bangla: Lekha-pora kore je gari-ghora core se; lekha-pora je jane sob loke tare mane (meaning, one who does writing and reading will have the privilege to ride on bikes and carts; and one who is educated will be obeyed by all). No wonder this is the motivation given to the children by the teacher at the very elementary level. Many students even in higher education hold such views and many of the parents cherish this purpose of education for their sons and daughters. For many, academic learning has been valued only as far as it helps practical living or to get a job in future for better standard of living.

2.2 Education on the brink of identity crisis: Things have changed in today’s world and moved in multiple directions and so also the purpose of education. Educational institutions have been commercialized and they produce education to serve these purposes. Education now is on the brink of an “identity crisis”. In these circumstances, the purpose of education for communion and total human development and its responsibility for addressing social issues of our day is far more important. Any effort for education cannot deviate itself from the value that leads the society towards: pro-human, pro-life, pro-nation, and pro-God. [35]

2.3 Church’s contribution in Education: The Church’s contribution to the education of the people of Bangladesh by and large enjoys an excellent reputation especially in the battle against ignorance and illiteracy and it is very much appreciated by people as a whole. The Catholic Church in this respect has a significant role in promoting education through her nationwide network of educational institutions with much financial burden and involvement of personnels. The Church takes education as a priority opening up windows of opportunity for people.

2.4 The missing points: Today, however, it is also becoming clearer that education provided by the Catholic educational institutions in Bangladesh is not usually education for justice, respect for human dignity, community building and integral human development, generosity and dedication, and care for the earth. Very often Church also remains under suspicion and further pressurized by the bureaucratic educational policy of the government that creates more intellectual elites than persons who are ready to involve themselves in raising the standard of the disadvantaged classes, to the out of school youth— to serve the nation. Education without moral values and life-formation cannot bring real education for a nation. Educational development as sustainable progress is imperative for evangelization.

Educational institutions are indeed God-given instruments for evangelization and service. Without the Church having to go out to look for them, hundreds of boys and girls from different backgrounds come everyday to Christian schools and occupy the classrooms for the greater part of the day during several years. These boys and girls whose hearts are-

open, free from prejudice and ready to learn—would seem to be the ideal ground in which to sow the seed of the Good News. Moreover, by the very fact that their parents choose these mission schools for their children’s education shows that they are in favor of such education. This could be seen as social endorsement for the work of these educational institutions of the Church.

There is no denial that the early missionaries being themselves the children of their history and time, used education to attract new converts. However, it would be a great mistake to evaluate the evangelizing quality of the Christian educational center by the number of conversions or baptisms among the students during their school years. In fact, this is not the main goal of a mission school. In this context, it is important to recall the statement made by an unknown author:

Boys and girls in whose hearts the seed of the Word has been planted by the school will carry it in the most natural and spontaneous way to their homes, to their friends, to their relatives, wherever they go. The seed of the Word will accompany them throughout their lives and they will transmit it to their own children. And sooner or later the seed of the Word will fructify whenever and wherever a human heart is open to the breath of the Spirit.

2.5. Promotion of values and human attitudes: Christian education does not consist simply in preaching Christian values as a set of abstract objectives to be admired, rather these values must be presented as values generating human attitudes,[36] that is: a freedom, which includes respect for others, more responsibility, a constant search for truth, a spirit of communion and integral human development, solidarity with and service toward other persons, sensitivity for justice and peace, awareness of being called to be effective agents to build a just society, and to serve the poor and the oppressed in a society that is undergoing continuous change. The larger communities of our educational institutions: students, teachers, administration, parents and guardians, well-wishers and former students, are to be brought into this arena of moral and spiritual formation to become one in mind and heart through a process of inter-religious, inter-cultural, and inter-social dialogue.[37] Thus, knowledge, values, attitudes, and behavior when fully integrated with faith will eventually result in the student’s personal synthesis of real meaning of life and meaningful human living. Hence, there is an urgent need for the local churches of Bangladesh to reassess the significance of education in a new way that will be the way of evangelization.

2.6 Education for Evangelization: Education belongs to the very substance of the Church’s mission. John Paul II in his Post-synodal Exhortation urges consecrated men and women to be “especially effective in educational activities and to offer a specific contribution to work of other educators” (VC 96). For the Pope, they should do this not only in their own centers, their schools of all kinds and level, but also by preparing themselves to work in state institutes wherever possible. In this case laity can play an important role by availing themselves to teach in secular institutes of higher learning. With greatest respect for the conscience and beliefs of each student, Church educational institutions must open to the students a new horizon that Christian revelation brings to question about the ultimate meaning of the human person, of human life, of history, and of the world.

However, the question is: How do we define Church as the setting for education in the context of evangelization? The answer to this question certainly requires much discussion in deeper level yet, in a brief recap we can reaffirm that education to be effective must take into consideration all three levels of: a) Information (the objective level), b) Formation (the subjective level), and c) Transformation (the inter-subjective and conversion level. [38]

Therefore, education should take its shape in the knowledge of Asian religions and philosophies (that includes Santals), of the behavioral sciences, of the dynamics of national development, of new techniques in pastoral action[39] that will include working out effective ways of extending the benefits of education to the masses, which may even require community based non-institutional forms of educational apostolate.[40] A life devoted to education is not a life devoted to an educational institution as such, but to what the institution aims at, that is, the goal that without the institution could not be attained at all or could not be attained to the same extent or with the same efficiency. “Institutions in this world are means, not goals indeed, but means that are necessary.” [41]

2.7 Education and Tribal minorities: Traditionally, education (formal education) has never been the priority to the tribal minorities, especially for the Santals. Santal life is very much centered on and around natural upbringing and growth in the family and in the society as a whole. A Santal child learns the language, the social behavior, religious belief, art, cult and culture in the family and from the village community where he/she lives. The child learns everything possible and necessary for human living from nature in his or her societal atmosphere. Very often, such learning was orally transmitted by the society in a non-formal basis.

Since Santal-life was very much centered on its society, people did not even think of learning other languages. In the context of Bangladesh, learning Bangla was never their interest not because it is difficult to learn but because it is a language of the diku.[42] So, after the War of Independence (1971), although Bangla became the national language of Bangladesh, it still is the language of the diku. For the Santals the entire Hindu or Muslim world in the Indian subcontinent was known as the world of the dikus (foreigners) who threaten the socio-economic and cultural security of the tribals. Yet, in order to carry out primary communication in the market places or at the places of their work, only limited numbers of male members of the village were able to speak Bangla with limited terminology. Women were traditionally restricted by the society to communicate with any male individual outside their own society. Santal girls are not sent to school because of the taboo in the minds of the parents that they (girls) are meant to be married to their husbands and they are not responsible to take care of their parents in their old age.

The Santal parents are often reluctant to send their children to the government schools because these are run by the dikus. For the Santals these schools are also known as diku-school where the Santal students have to learn a new alphabet, and the new language, which has no use at home. Thus, education for the Santals means starting from scratch; and going to school for education means joining a totally alien environment. It’s a great challenge for Santal children to make a breakthrough at their early age.

According to the missionary experience bringing Santal children to the mission schools is a hard thing to do. The missionaries often go house to house to motivate the parents and to force the children to come to school. Some of the Santal children who are brought to the boarding house at the parish centers, even run away from the boarding because for them boarding is like a prison cell where they have to follow rules and regulations, whereas, remaining at home in their village they are more free.

However, with the change of situations, many Santals now find themselves out of context. In the remote rural areas where government effort has been limited and often out -

of reach, the Church initiated educational institutions, boarding houses and centers for other learning are the only hope the tribal minority communities can rely on. But, syllabus, methods of learning,[43] medium of education (language), poverty, illiteracy, lack of facilities to study at home and lack of parental encouragement and guidance, all these have been found as factors influencing their education as a whole. In these circumstances, evangelization for the Santals cannot be thought of without education: awareness building and intellectual empowerment. “Especially in rural areas and small communities where there is a lack of means and concern for education and thereby the growth of advancement of the community is impeded, there is urgent need for education regarding basic needs to better life and human conditions.”[44]

3. Economic Development

In a country like Bangladesh with immense socio-economic problems, there is certainly no easy solution to be realized. However, the recent initiative of Credit Union Movement in different parishes and the nationwide programs taken up by Caritas Bangladesh have been seen as a positive move toward economic self-reliance among the people. The economic development program initiated through “Grameen Bank” (rural bank) is an example that the poor have the potentiality to change their socio-economic situation when they are empowered.[45]

3.1 The Unjust Social Order: There is no denial of the fact that most of the models of economic development operative in Bangladesh have been found to widen the gap between the few rich and the many poor and to strengthen unjust social structures. Thus, following such model for the Church would mean running into the trap. Any development project in this case would mean helping to maintain an unjust social order and its welfare project would mean rescuing the victims of social oppression without doing anything to remove the root causes[46] that produce the oppression itself. It is imperative therefore, to design and create alternative models of development that will place economic growth in the context of total human development. [47] Therefore, the question to be asked is: What is the place of economic justice in our definition of mission? How do we address the issue of poverty, which is so pervasive that it becomes the inseparable context of our mission of evangelization? Continuing failure to speak to people’s needs, and the failure to discern the prophetic role in bringing God’s message to this particular people at this particular time would bring about a much harder situation in our commitment to the mission of evangelization.

3.2 Money and work (labor): Money as wealth and work or labor remains a fundamental elements of the factors of production in any economic enterprise. Unfortunately, in practice, work is often considered something as worldly or secular with no religious meaning. As it is often said, “Prayer and spirituality seem to begin only when work ends.” This certainly brings us face-to-face with the challenge of evangelization in the world of work: to rediscover the religious meaning of work as an expression of human creativity and a participation in the work of the Creator. [48] The local churches in Bangladesh need to clarify this Biblical vision of work so that the poor Santals are not accused of committing sin by waging labor on Sundays.

Money, on the other hand, has been identified as a medium of exchange and distribution of goods and services. In the Christian sense, money should be at the service of justice, facilitating equal distribution of wealth. But unfortunately the meaning of money has been perverted in our world of ownership, production, and profit— competition is the only possible action. Facts show how money has become a great source of injustice and inequality. Money has acquired value in itself—it has become “master.” Hence, it has lost its identity of becoming a token of the earthly goods, which belong to all humankind without exception. Money has become power, means of exploitation and division, means of corruption in the society; money has become dehumanized; [49] It can no longer connect itself to the noble and hard work of ordinary farmers, or the creative exhausting work of intellectuals. In such a situation the Church cannot just pretend keeping her hands clean and wait with hope something good to happen automatically.

3.3 Dignity of labor and Just wage: Dignity of labor indicates that the human person cannot remain as victim of economic progress. The “proper subject of work continues to be the human person” and the one who works is a free human person “a subject that decides about himself.” Thus, the value of work does not depend on the type of work but on the fact that it is done by a human person. This, in fact, is the basis of the dignity of work because it is the will of the Creator. The fundamental axiom therefore, is: “Work is for man and not man for work.” The Church’s social teaching reminds us that “New meanings of human work” have to be discovered and “new tasks” have to be formulated in order to arrive at a just and peaceful development with the dignity of labor being ensured.

The issue of just wages on the other hand, arises out of the fact that historically there has always been a conflict between capital and labor. For instance, entrepreneurs strive for maximum profit through the lowest possible wages. Moreover, surplus labor in the developing countries or a well controlled labor force at slave wages remains the common phenomena that determine the fortune of working class population. This picture is very much vivid among the agricultural labors of the rural poor and the workers of the teagarden in the Third World countries like Bangladesh. Therefore, a radical and urgent change is needed to restore to people their just wages “as the basis for a healthy economy.” Yet, the most difficult question remains to be asked time and again: “What is just wage?”

3.4 The Santals and economic development: The Santals always give importance to work. It is a sign of disrespect to the family when one family member does not work. For the Santals, work is not only the means that supports and brings economic progress for the family but also fosters harmony and solidarity in the family. Yet, lack of employment opportunity has left many Santals to live in dire poverty. Moreover, the concept of “just wage” remains out of the vocabulary of the Santals. Santals remain to the category of “cheap labor”.

For the Santals, money is considered as precious and scarce as gold. Their dependency on physical labor for earnings, socio-cultural realities, and lack of knowledge on business entrepreneurship remain stumbling block for economic development.

4. Physical (health) Development

The term “health” commonly implies an absence of physical signs and symptoms of sickness. There is no denial that sickness threatens human being in every moment of his/her life. On the account of Jesus’ ministry it is clear that the Church has the duty to be not only present but to be actively involved in the world of health, sickness and suffering. Health development therefore, means:

4.1 Caring for the whole person: The proverb in Bangla goes on saying sasthoi sompod (health is wealth). The wisdom of this statement cannot be overlooked. Recent studies of medical and other researchers are increasingly showing that there is a clear mind- body-spirit relationship in disease and health. Others opined that health in its total aspect includes the social perspective and even goes beyond it to describe a maximum quality of life called “wellness.” This reminds us about a certain woman in the Gospel of Mark 5:25-30, who had an issue of blood for twelve years, and had suffered with much complication in spite of the treatment she received from different physicians. The evangelist Luke, who himself was a physician, while referring to our Lord’s development as a child says that Jesus grew mentally in “wisdom,” physically “became strong,” spiritually “the favor of God was upon him” (Lk 20:40). This gives us clear insights that the issue of health cannot be restricted to physical structure and a concession to mental well being alone. Anthony E. Allen in his book Caring for the Whole Person cites, “Health ought to mean wholeness, which is an integration or harmony between body, mind and spirit; between the individual and others; between the individual and nature, and between the individual and God.”[50] The person who is to be healed is thus seen as an active participant in the process, in terms of expectation, cooperation and self-help.

4.2 Healing relationship: In the Christian perspective, a health professional is a person who seeks to establish healing relationship with the patient, and in that relationship facilitates the latter’s own relationship with Christ—the ultimate relationship that leads to such wholeness what we may call health development.[51]

4.3 Healing and mission of evangelization: Mission of evangelization and healing go hand in hand. St. Mathew reminds us: “He [Jesus] went around the cities and the villages proclaiming the Good News of God’s reign and curing every kind of sickness and disease” (Mt 9:18). Christ wants us to continue His ministry of healing.

John Paul II provides a direction for evangelical mission in the face of human suffering by saying: “the Church has to try to meet man in a special way on the path of his suffering. In this meeting man becomes the way for the Church, and this way is one of the most important ones.” (SD p. 5). The Second Plenary Council of the Philippine states: “Diocesan and parochial commissions for the pastoral care of the sick, aged and disabled must be created and these commissions should be functional and effective.” [52] Serving the sick and the needy is the surest way to win the blessing of Christ himself: “Come, you who are blessed of My Father… For I was ill…and you cared for me” (Mt 25:34-36).

4.4 Need for preventive healthcare: In the context of Bangladesh health care service of the Church carried out through hospital and parish dispensary has always been realized with greater significance. Yet, an effective program of health promotion and disease prevention especially in the rural areas where the people remain mostly vulnerable, and an extension of self-supportive community based initiative in this regard would be nonetheless important.

Concluding Remark

The notion of “communion” envisioned in this chapter is a communion and community built precisely on differences, plurality and diversity, rather than a communion of uniformity. The necessity of such communion is a challenge for the Church demanding a constant listening to the Word of God and humble disposition to overcome differences and conflicts in society. This communion is participatory, open to dialogue, respectful of differences; ready to share experiences and considers equality of all persons. It fosters the evangelical value of mutual service, relationships, respect and acceptance of the plurality of cultures, races, beliefs and opinions, recognizing them as gifts of the Spirit.

In evangelization development must always be integral and holistic that considers all elements of human concern in all dimensions of interior and exterior, secular and spiritual, of this world and the “other world” alike. It considers the dignity of human person and relates to the realities of life, that is, his or her involvement with religious, educational, economic, and physical or health etc. Yet, in so doing Church community must overcome its historical and theological barriers and abide with the plan endowed with the signs of the Kingdom of God in this world. Here Christians are not the only laborers on this effort rather, together with other sons and daughters of God of other religions, culture and traditions, must find themselves under the same Light that enlightens every human being who comes into the world and travels the road that leads to the Father. Here the Santals are not aliens but part and parcel of the same reality.

The following chapter will serve the summary, conclusion, and recommendations.

[1] Cf. Miguel Marcelo Quatra, At the Sides of the Multitudes, p. 164.

[2] Cf. Frederick, R. Wilson, ed., The San Antonio Report, “Report of Section II: Participating in Suffering and Struggle” (Geneva: WCC Publication, 1990), p. 39.

[3] Cf. Samuel H. Canilang, The Religious Community: A Guide to Community Living for Religious (Quzon City: Claretian Publications, 2004), pp. 28-29. Henceforth referred to as, The Religious Community.

[4] Ann Arbor, Basic Christian Maturity: The Foundations of Christian Living (Michigan: Servant Books, 1975), p. 75.

[5] Mensa Domini, Growing up Towards a New Community (San Jose, Antique, Philippines: Catechetical Institute, 1977), p. 1.

[6] David Clark, Yes to Life in Jean Vanier, Community and Growth (London: Darton, Longnam and Todd, 1989), p. 3.

[7] Cf. South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Community Serving Humanity: Pastoral Plan of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa (Delmenville: Lumko Institute, 1989), n. 18.

[8] R. W. Timm, The Church and Development, p. 77.

[9] South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Community Serving Humanity, n. 20.

[10] R. W. Timm, The Church and Development, p. 72.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Carlos G. Valles, Living Together (Gujrat, India: Gujrat Sahitya Prakash, 1984), p. 115. Henceforth referred to as, Living Together.

[13] Ibid., pp. 115-116.

[14] BIRA IV/11, “Final Statement of the Eleventh Bishops’ Institute for Inter-religious Affairs on the Theology of Dialogue,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 319

[15] Cf. BIRA IV/11, ibid., nos. 4 -5.

[16] Cf. BISA III, “Final Reflections of the Third Bishops’ Institute for Social Action,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 208.

[17] R. W. Timm, The Church and Development in Bangladesh, p. 53.

[18] PCP II, The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, 1991, n. 294.

[19] R. W. Timm, The Church and Development, p. 54.

[20] Cf. Michael Amaladoss, Towards Fullness: Searching for an Integral Spirituality, pp. 1-8.

[21] BIRA IV/11, “Final Statement of the Eleventh Bishops’ Institute for Inter-religious Affairs on the Theology of Dialogue,” in Rosales and Arevalo, For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 319.

[22] Office for Human Development, “Discovering the Face of Jesus in Asia Today.” Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, Manila, 1998, p. 23.

[23] Cf. A. Wati, Lonchar, Encounter Between Gospel and Tribal Culture, p. 115.

[24] Luzbetak, The Church and Cultures, p. 385.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Cf. Edward Luc Mees, “The Systematic Study of religion,” (Course handout), East Asian Pastoral Institute, Manila, 2003, p. 38.

[27] G. Beckers, “A Short History of the Evangelization of the Santals,” (Handout for “Santal Colloquium,” (Dumka, India, 1995). Henceforth referred to as, A Short History of the Evangelization.

[28] Ibid., pp. 4-5.

[29] Pinos, Catholic Beginnings, p. 10.

[30] Frederick S. Downs, “Vision or Tribal Churches in North East India: Historical Perspective,” in Wati, A. Longchar, ed., Encounter between Gospel and Tribal Culture, pp. 116-126.

[31] Troisi, Tribal Religion, p. 226.

[32] “Catechesis” defined as “education in the faith of children, young people, and adults” (CCC 5), is a privileged sharing in the work of proclaiming the gospel. Yet, catechesis is not merely to put people in touch, but in communion, intimacy, with Jesus Christ; for “only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity” (cf. John Paul II, Catechesi tradendae, n. 5).

[33] The principle, for example, that “the veneration of ancestors is not religious” is in total contradiction with what can be seen every single day. For the Santals, the ancestors continue to be part of the family and the cult rendered to them is purely religious.

[34] “Asian Christian Perspectives on Harmony: A Document of the Theological Advisory Commission of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences,” in Eilers, ed., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 2, p. 253.

[35] Cf. The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II), n. 251 in Vitaliano R. Gorospe, Forming the Filipino Social Conscience (Makati City: Bookmark, 1997), p. 275.

[36] Cf. Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith. The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Rome, 1982, No. 28 as cited in Generoso M. Florez, An Appeal to the Church: The Mission of the Church in Asia (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1986), p. 115.

[37] Cf. SABIM, “Christian Response to the Phenomenon of Violence in South Asia,” in Eilers, ed., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 2, p. 16.

[38] Cf. Ian Knox, Theology for Teachers, p. 356.

[39] Cf. “Evangelization in Modern Day Asia: Statement and Recommendations of the First Plenary Assembly,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 24.

[40] BISA I, “Final Reflections of the First Bishops’ Institute for Social Action.” Ibid., p. 202. The FABC Colloquium on Ministries in the Church recognized the importance of “non-formal-education” in context of Asia and defines it as “any intentional, systematic educational enterprise in which all its different components are selected and adapted to particular students and situations.” Non-formal education, with its flexibility and adaptability, can offer multiple possibilities for the educational strategies necessary to respond to the needs in the places where vast majority of the people remain illiterate. Cf. International Congress on Mission (Workshop VIII: Mission and Education). Ibid., p. 159.

[41] Generoso M. Florez, An Appeal to the Church: The Mission of the Church in Asia (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1986), p. 116. Henceforth referred to as, An Appeal to the Church.

[42] Diku in the Santal mind is generally refers to non-tribals (Muslims and Hindus) who are the “looters, trouble makers, deceivers, exploiters, cheats, unreliable, those who have a sense of superiority and inspire fears,” (cf. Sinha, S. Sen, and S. Panchbhai, “The concept of Diku among the Tribals of Chotanagpur,” in Man in India, Vol. 49 (1969), p. 127.

[43] Experience shows that tribals are basically right brain learners. They prefer description rather than definition, the concrete rather than abstract. These classifications however, are preferences, strengths—not either/or options, and does not necessarily mean that one cannot learn in the less preferential way. Yet, those who are not comfortable with this approach do not learn so well and are termed slow, or even stupid (cf. R. Slattery, “Tribal Learning Styles,” New Frontiers in Education, Vol. 26 (1996), p. 356; see also Agapit Tirkey, “Understanding Tribal Culture for more Effective Education: Chotonagpur Scenario,” SEVARTHAM, Vol. 28 (2003), pp. 53-64.

[44] “Asian Colloquium on Ministries in the Church,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 80.

[45] Cf. Footnote 45.

[46] “Root Cause” refers to the fundamental and most basic reasons or elements; it means asking the hard question: What is the root cause of the particular problem? As Dom Helder Camara complained, “When we help the poor we are called saints; when we ask why they are poor, we are called communists.” Thus, asking such root causes of hard questions means to aim at structural reform—these in fact, must always be the ultimate aim of a Servant Church (cf. Luzbetak, The Church and Cultures, p. 391).

[47] Cf. BISA I, “Final Reflections of the First Bishops’ Institute for Social Action,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, pp. 201-202.

[48] Cf. Statement of the Fourth Plenary Assembly, “The Vocation and Mission of the Laity in the Church and in the World of Asia,” in Rosales and Arevalo, eds., For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 1, p. 188.

[49] Cf. Segundo Galilea, The Spirituality of Evangelization According to the Beatitudes (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1983), p. 24.

[50] Anthony E. Allen, Caring for the Whole Person (Monrovia, California: MARC Publications, 1995), pp. 13-14. Henceforth referred to as, Caring for the Whole Person.

[51] Ibid., p. 16.

[52] Cf. Diosdado Talamayan, “Evangelization and Health Services,” in Cirilo R. Almario, ed., Evangelization in Asia, pp. 111-114.



CHAPTER VI (pag. 168-182)

Our efforts in this section are first of all to summarize and to synchronize the contents and the proceedings of the thesis that ran through the research in general. Secondly, to draw a conclusion on the basis of our findings; and thirdly, suggesting tentative recommendations on the face of the new challenges of the days present and future ahead in the context of evangelization. And finally to put forward some relevant and important questions for future study and research.

1. Summary

The major questions of the statement of the problem of this thesis were:

1. How do we assess the realities of Bangladesh and the Santals in relation to the mission of evangelization?

2. How do we explain the importance and the role of Proclamation and Witness in the context of the mission of evangelization?

3. How does dialogue become an unique approach to the evangelizing mission in Asia particularly with regard to culture, other religions and the poor, and how does it affect the Santals in Bangladesh?

4. In what way can evangelization play a role to foster communion and integral human development in Bangladesh?

5. What recommendations can be made to make evangelization “real good news” for the Santals in Bangladesh at the dawn of the Third Millennium?

Chapter II of this thesis answered question No. 1 by focusing on the contextualization of the study. It dealt with a brief review of the realities of Bangladesh that provided a scenario characterized by multiplicity of cultures and religions; a nation full of challenges of socio-economic, educational, and political drawbacks. Yet, the spirit of freedom and Bangladeshi nationalism has inspired people as a whole to move forward as a developing nation with much courage and determination for a better future.

The researcher also presented a glimpse on the Santals, an ethnic tribal community with their history, socio-cultural realities, moral values, religious beliefs and ritual practices. This presented Santal society as an elaborate system of checks and balance through which they can express their tribal nature and thus attain happiness. The Santals have been found as a growing community with steady rise in their population. However, in the course of history, the Santals have also been found rather divided due to the fact that a good number of them have been converted to Christianity while a vast majority of the Santals still follows their traditional religion (the Sonaton dharma). The missionary endeavor in this case has little or a rather slow effect.

In the face of the changing situations the Santals have been found as a nation standing at the brink of a new beginning looking forward for a new birth, new identity, and a new meaning in the world of change. Numerous in numbers, the Santals have been identified as the “fertile ground” for the mission of evangelization of the local Churches in Bangladesh.

Chapter III dealt with question No. 2, which clarified Church’s teaching on the fundamentals of the mission of evangelization describing in certain depth the concept of proclamation and witness. Though the two are different, proclamation and witness complement each other in bringing the Good News and cannot be understood one apart from the other. We also saw how the Church understands proclamation and witness today and that the whole community of the followers of Christ has a special role to play in this field. Witness by individual and community experience of Christ could be a very effective means to impart the Christian message to members of other religions, including the Santals.

Chapter IV focused on question No. 3 and reviewed the issue of dialogue as:

a) The dialogue of life: People in their diverse life situations mix freely with each other and share their joys and sorrows;

b) The dialogue of action: People of different religions, culture and traditions work together for common good;

c) The dialogue of heart or dialogue with religious experience and cultures;

d) The dialogue of head: Dialogue of discourse or theological exchange mostly among the experts;

Highlighted further, is the issue of dialogue recommended by the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) as a model for the mission of evangelization for Asia. This task should be fulfilled through dialogue with a threefold dimension: with culture, with other religions, and with the poor. This acknowledges the richness of Asian cultures and religions as well as the need for Catholics to learn from them; and also to realize that in Asian situation a genuine experience and understanding of poverty, deprivation and oppression of so many of our peoples remain part and parcel of the unique commitment of the local Churches in Asia. Dialogue therefore, “is not simply a technique. It is a way of life; it is the means of inculturation, the means to the reign of God, the means to harmony, and the means to understanding the will of God.”[1] In other words, dialogue here is understood not merely in metaphysical or doctrinal sense, but rather, to relate it to the entire fabric of human life.

Chapter V has covered question No. 4, the major point of the research of “naming” evangelization as a process of “Fostering communion and integral human development” and thus, to understand evangelization as integral, holistic in its meaning and approach. Therefore, the focus was on issues like: communion, and development in the totality of human reality, that is, in relation to religious, psycho-spiritual, moral, socio-cultural, economic, educational, physical (health), political, and environmental, which are common and basic concerns of all human beings. Yet, for practical reasons our search in this regard was limited to the issues of religious, educational, economic, and physical or health development. However, this development cannot happen without total transformation of persons, and society as a whole. The concept of Integral human development thus gives us a new sense of human worth, and preserves human values and dignity.

Further, “social transformation to become a reality, needs not only conversion to Gospel values but also transformation of social structures“[2] and certainly the ideology by which these are guided. Pope Paul VI therefore, could rightly say: “Evangelization should affect human judgment, values, interests, thought, and way of life” (EN 19). In other words, the end does not justify the means. How noble our intention may be, we need to have right means to achieve such a goal. Without claiming the expertise and the magical solutions to the enormous problems of the post–modern world, the Church can play a prophetic role in the sense of service through her teaching authority granted by her Lord and Master on faith and morals and can become a living witness to the world of the Truth, the Way, and the Life (Jn 14:6) that is Jesus Christ. Our dealings with the issues of religious, educational, economic, and physical or health development is a part of this intention.

Chapter VI deals with question No. 5, which presents the concluding part of the research covering the summary, conclusion, and recommendations with an invitation of a call for renewal and commitment for an evangelization that brings ”good news” for the Santals at the dawn of the Third Millennium. Further, certain questioners related to the subject matter are also posed for future study and research.

2. Conclusion

The sub-title of this concluding chapter is “A Call to Renewal and Commitment,” for the very reason that the topic “evangelization” as presented in the title of the thesis is not an issue that can be set aside and perhaps be kept as research document for future consultation rather, the theme itself commends a greater urgency for us today. Therefore, the author‘s invitation for a call to renewal and commitment is a resounding voice to lead everyone to a further realization that evangelization is directed in greater response to the plan of God towards: total salvation, and the ultimate building up of the Kingdom of God.

Yet, evangelization would be incomplete unless it addresses the people in their context of varied circumstances (chapter II); it will lose its legitimacy if the proclamation of the Good News is not done and similarly accompanied by living witness of a Christian life (chapter III). Furthermore, evangelization is not without mission. Dialogue as threefold dimension: with culture, other religions, and the poor remain one mission for Asia. Nevertheless, an alternative views like the “Christian encounter” as proposed by the researcher, could be best suited for the people of primal religions, especially for the Santals (chapter IV). Again, evangelization is a complex phenomenon, a process with varied elements. It takes into consideration human person in its totality: both spiritual and temporal, this worldly and the afterlife. Thus, evangelization can be meaningful only when it is integral. Therefore, it considers all aspects of human reality: religious, psycho-spiritual, educational, economical, physical (health), political, and ecological concerns of development and social transformation. Most of all, evangelization is not an isolated scenario; it happens in communion: among humankind, with whole of creation, and with God, the Creator (chapter V).

The researcher’s evaluation of the significance of the theme of the research in the first place, has been treated based on the contextualization of the thesis in the context of Bangladesh and in the realities of the Santals living here for generations looking toward the guidance of the Church present in this part of the globe. However, historically the missionary endeavor among the Santals has never been as effective as it was with other communities elsewhere in the country like the Garos in the Diocese of Mymensing. “Why the Santals could not be reached out?” can remain an open question. Yet, for the researcher “Evangelization loses much of its force and effectiveness if it does not take into consideration the actual people to whom it is addressed, if it does not use their language, their signs, their symbols, if it does not answer the questions they ask, and if it does not have an impact on their concrete life” (EN 63).

The new trends of Vatican II on evangelization engage the Church as a whole. It is an involvement in her commitment to the total mission for the whole person, and at the same time realizes her responsibility in building up a new human community of universal brotherhood and sisterhood of unity in diversity that will incorporate Santals on a pilgrimage toward the Kingdom of God.

2.1 Problems and difficulties:

a) To the outsiders, Christianity in Bangladesh is considered as a foreign religion;

b) Traditionally, the term “mission” has been so much in use to mean venue or parish centers rather than mission as the very activities and nature of the Church itself;

c) There is still a gulf of difference of opinion among Bishops, priests and religious regarding the relationship between evangelization and development. There are those who opine that evangelization has nothing to do with development and those who feel that evangelization and development are deeply integrated. There is an urgent need to bridge such a gap and help to dissipate some of the misunderstandings regarding this relationship so that we do not belong and work for two churches but for one and the same established by Jesus Christ our Lord.

d) Many in the ecclesial communities see dialogue as an obstacle for proclamation and new conversion, while “the Asian Bishops deny that dialogue somehow contradicts the need to proclaim Jesus as Savior.”[3]

e) The high illiteracy rate is one of the major obstacles to reach out to the common people especially the Santals who remain scattered in vast rural villages and because of the language problem most children cannot avail access to formal education from the very early stage of their childhood.

f) Because of the clerical domination in the Church in Bangladesh, the role of the ordinary faithful remains silent in daily evangelical activities. Moreover, the faithful also think that evangelization is the work and responsibility of priests, religious, catechists, and bishops and the laities have nothing to do with it.

g) Without judging the merits and demerits of the different approaches of the early missionaries, Christianity brought about the division among the Santals rather than unity at the very start of conversion to Christianity. For any one willing to embrace Christian religion unfortunately had to abandon his or her traditional affiliation to the family and society as a whole. This has not only weakened the bond of solidarity among the Santals but has caused much of hatred among them who never would like to be divided as Christian and non-Christian. Santal nationality is very important for them for their identity and it precede any such efforts of division.

2.2 Achievements:

The Santals in different parts of Bangladesh have embraced Christianity in a sizeable number. Prior to this event their belief in the Supreme Being, in Bonga (supernatural spirits), ancestral spirits, survival of atma (soul), presence of witchcraft, ‘black magic’ and ‘white magic’ etc. formed a complex religious belief system.

Christianity met their certain needs in a meaningful way. These needs are social and religious, temporal and spiritual, never one or the other alone. [4] Christianity met their deepest felt needs and brought hope for a better social, cultural, economic, educational, political and religious life for them. It is important to remember that the Santals have been suffering persecution of various kinds in the hands of their opponents at different points of their history.

The Santals, traditionally who are so used to keep themselves aloof from the mainstream societies, at least some have begun to open. The outlook of the Santals is widening though rather slow, and their behavioral patterns also beginning to change. The women, in particular, have the freedom for education and are determined to go forward. In short, the Christian Santals because of their extra-privilege of the support and service from the Church seem to be enlightened and stronger in their identity and selfhood more than their non-Christian counterpart. This new identity is no more the old one and yet maintained many of its features. In this identity, the Santals are beginning to cross the social boundary of their own collective tribal community while becoming further a part of the larger human world. Through modern education, this identity has helped them to get adjusted to the post-modern world confronted with fast social, economic and political changes taking place in the country and the world at large.[5]

3. Recommendations

Based on the research, the researcher presents the following recommendations for effective evangelization of the Santals:

a) To address the people in their context, of life situation, language, and cultural settings; in the socio-political, economic, educational, and religious realities;

b) That a dialogue/encounter with the Santal traditional religion be initiated without prejudice among the leaders, youth and women of Christian and non-Christian Santals in the parish level.

c) That the traditional forum of Mạńjhi Council and Pargana System be revitalized and utilized for the good of the society. The Sidạ-Kanu maha[6] (martyr’s day celebration) be updated leading into a movement to foster justice and peace, communion and integral human development.

d) That evangelization is the particular responsibility of the laity, catechists, teachers, and grassroots ecclesial communities.

e) The Christian families, women and youth have a special role to play in evangelizing mission of the Church since they can have access to social groups which often times professional missionaries cannot approach. Therefore, catechetical training facilities be extended to serve this purpose.

f) Reconciliation is initiated to overcome historical difficulties and vicissitudes with Muslims, Hindus and other groups with whom the Santals live in their nationhood.

g) Church based institutions must be easily accessible to the Santals and to peoples in general. They should be open for the celebration of the local festivals and public gatherings and as centers of service to the local communities;

h) Programs and educational sessions be undertaken to help sensitize laity, religious, priests and seminarians to the fact that the Spirit of God moves through all peoples (and among the Santals) in view of an evangelization that is based on building communion and integral human development;

i) An Office at national level within the existing Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh (CBCB) may be created to promote genuine evangelization among the Santals (Tribals) and their concerns in the Church circles and within its structure.

j) That the Church communities adopt a more welcoming attitude in all Catholic homes and institutions towards peoples irrespective of religions, cultures, and traditions.

In a brief recapitulation we can say that there are several good as well as unhealthy practices in the socio-cultural and religious life of the Santals. The good things that the Santals hold would certainly be praised and encouraged, to name a few: the witness of simplicity, sincerity, honesty, truthfulness, tribal solidarity and sense of equality, joyfulness, dependence on divine providence, hard work, sense of hospitality and generosity. On the other hand, some of the negative elements like: mutual jealousy, fear of

Bonga (spirits) as agents of sickness and agricultural non-productivity, lack of farsighted vision and involvement in creativity in life; the belief in witchcraft and discrimination of women in society. Moreover, with so much stress on private property and individual rights, individualism, competition etc., many of the good elements in Santal society are slowly disappearing. Santals today are at the cross-road of civilization.

Yet, the task of evangelization among the santals is not proselytism of bringing new converts for the extension of the Church or to multiply Christian population but, the task here would be to make the Santal society a “progressive community” without cutting them off from their tribal roots. The Santals must know the strength and weaknesses of their culture. The Gospel must be brought to the Santals to challenge and to transform them from within like the yeast and the salt so that the Santals in Bangladesh may promote communion and integral human development in the process of evangelization.

No doubt there are things that we regret for some of the mistakes and misunderstandings of the missionary work of the past mainly because of the lack of the knowledge we have today about religions in general and about Christianity in particular. The entrance of the Third Millennium and the forty years of Vatican II, overshadow our reality. There is an urgent need to be more responsive to the “signs of the times,”[7] lest the Church be out-dated and irrelevant. Thus, a call to renewal and commitment for the Church community is a direct appeal to such initiative, characterized with a greater understanding of Christ’s call to live as disciples at home, at places of work, and in today’s world of pluralistic cultural and religious settings where Church community will remain not only as agent of evangelization but also as companion on a journey that is slowly but surely leading to the transformation of our world into the form of the Kingdom of God: with the Santals and with the peoples of Bangladesh as a whole.

Further Questions:

The issue of evangelization has become a significant concern for the Church in the post-modern era. In effect, it has brought the Church face to face not only with new challenges but also with dynamism of new opportunities—a new Pentecost on the face of the earth. It has brought us to reset our vision and indeed, to renew our mission to work for the Kingdom of God in the broader perspective to bring Good News to all humanity “in all strata of life” (EN 18).

The researcher’s initiative of presenting the thesis on the “Evangelization of the Santals” is certainly a small beginning toward such goal. However, because of the vastness of the topic the researcher acknowledges with regret that answers to many of the valid questions remain unattended. Hence, the questions are:

a. Did the Santals really know about God prior to the introduction of Christianity or did they merely worship their ancestors and the bonga (spirits)?

b. Are there any authentic values that the Santals share with the Christian community or the world at large?

c. How does the Church in Bangladesh understand the “indigenous knowledge system,” which the tribal peoples take pride as a natural heritage through which they can identify themselves?

d. How do we respond in concrete terms to fast-changing ‘signs of the times’ wherein the Santals (and other tribal minorities) are swamped and sinking, culturally alienated, educationally backward, and live in desperate economic poverty?

Certainly, the answer to these questions will not come from an armchair or an academic perspective of scientific research but rather, to be sought in the socio-cultural and religious context in which the people live and identify themselves.

[1] Fox, Pentecost in Asia, pp. 207-208.

[2] Arnel F. Lagarejos, The Church of the Poor: A New Perspective on the Church, the State, and the Poor (Pasig City: Educational Resources Development Center, 1999), p. 168.

[3] Fox, Pentecost in Asia, p. 208.

[4] Cf. Agapit Tirkey, “Understanding Tribal Cultures for more Effective Education: Chotanagpur Scenario,” in Sevartham 28 (2003), pp. 53-64.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Sidạ-Kanu are the two names of the veterans who led the Santal Revolution in 1855 against the injustice, oppression and torture by the local landlords under the then British Colonial rule in the Indian sub-continent. The Santals in Bangladesh celebrate this historic event every year on 30th June.

[7] The expression signs of the times is based on the Gospels (Mt. 16:3; Luk. 12:54-56). It was used by John XXIII in the Humanae Salutis and in Pacem in Terris. It is a basic Christian belief that God continues to speak in and through human history. Council of Vatican II reaffirmed this truth. Hence, the Church has “the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the gospel” (GS 4). This statement in effect introduced a new method of “doing” theology and indeed, our response to the mission of evangelization.

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