Doctoral Thesis on Adivasi Liberation Theology

By Francis Hembrom, SDB

ROME, Italy – An Adivasi priest from Northeast India defended a doctoral thesis on Adivasi Liberation Theology at the Urban University on May 20, 2009. Fr. Hippoletus Toppo of Tezpur Diocese defended his thesis entitled “Towards an Adivasi Liberative Theology: A Critique of Liberative Praxis with Special Reference to S. Rayan, S. Kappen and M. M. Thomas.”

“The Thesis is hoped to be a major contribution to the growing consciousness of “setting themselves free from the age-old oppression,” says his guide, Professor Gronchi Maurizio. Following Christ the Liberator who came to liberate humanity from every form of oppression, Hippo dares to look at the plight of the Adivasis of Assam and proposes a theory of Liberation that could truly bring them the liberation they long for. It is a follow up of his Master level thesis (Human Promotion of Assam Adivasis in the Light of Ecclesia in Asia) from the same University. Some 60 Indians, especially from Northeast India, turned up for the defence held at the Urban University’s Newman Hall. The university is under the Prefect of the Pontifical Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples headed by Ivan Cardinal Dias, former Metropolitan Archbishop of Mumbai.

Liberative vision of the Magisterium
The thesis critically explores the relevance and the problems of liberative praxis particularly in the Latin American context and in the theological reflections of three prominent Indian theologians (S. Rayan, S. Kappen and M.M. Thomas). Fr. Toppo examines the two instructions Libertatis Nuntius and Libertatis Concientia, and identifies the relevance, the tasks and the challenges of the Christian praxis of liberation in the Adivasi context. Dr. Toppo further asks: How can the situations of marginalization, the prior experience of the transforming power of the Gospel in and through Lieven’s liberative missiological approach, the dynamism of the liberative spirit in the Adivasi antyodaya (awakening), the subaltern movements, the life-affirming traditional socio-religious and cultural values, become relevant points of departure for an Adivasi Liberative Theology? Answering such questions the thesis proposes creative critical interventions which would bring about an integral liberation to the Adivasis and a contribution towards religious harmony, eco-sensitivity, global solidarity and praxis-based interreligious and inter-ecclesial dialogue of collaboration.

The term ‘Adivasi’
In generic sense, the term ‘Adivasi’ in Hindi, means ‘tribal’. In Sanskrit adi means original and vasi means inhabitant – meaning the original inhabitants. However in course of time the term ‘Adivasi’ has gained specific popular connotation – signifying such tribes as Kharias, Mundas, Oraons, Santals and a few other tribes of North India, particularly centring on the Chotanagpur plateau, the original habitat of the Adivasis. Hence, they are also called Chotanagpuri Adivasis to distinguish them from other tribals in India.

The history of the socio-political liberation of Adivasis dates back to the times of the famous Belgian Jesuit, Fr. Constantine Lievens who spearheaded in Chotanagpur, a movement of liberation from the oppressive and enslaving zamindari (land lords) system under the British. The Adivasis of Assam migrated from the Chotanagpur region in the second half of the 19th century when the British tea planters brought them as cheap labour force in the Assam Tea Estates.

The community is in a state of flux with growing political consciousness, socio-cultural assertiveness and greater educational awareness. It is the right time for Church to take up a major leadership role in their liberation.

2 Responses

  1. The Doctoral thesis on Adivasi Liberation Theology is really an important document especially in the light of the recent events which happened in Assam. As a Tea Research Librarian – attached to the world’s oldest and largest Tea Research Institute, I shall be grateful is the full text of the thesis would be openly accessible to us and the public. There is no doubt that not only the Adivasi Tribals but also other tea tribes are the most exploited community in the industry even today. There is no doubt that the community is in a state of flux with growing political consciousness , socio-cultural assertiveness and greater educational awareness. The Government is doing its duty towards them in every sphere of activities. Church can take up leadership in their liberation.

  2. Hao! Your Article on Adivasis Liberation Theology is wonderful.

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