India. Dhanwarkala: Hope for the Koraput tribals

It is one of the most amazing sights one can ever hope to see. After many kilometers of a winding mud road through dense forests of teak wood resplendent with glimmering yellow leaves, one reaches another ?private? road that climbs a series of hills and mountains before arriving at the elaborate, yet simple complex of the ?Catholic Ashram.? Here a series of long single-storeyed buildings provide boarding and schooling to almost 600 Koraput boys and girls, the first generation of this community to have access to the benefits of education. The Koraputs have always lived on top of this maze of hills and mountains, despised and oppressed by neighbouring non-tribals. The Ashram is isolated, there is no electricity, and one wonders in amazement how the cement, and the long metal beams and girders needed to build the new multi-purpose hall were hauled all the way up these steeps. This educational, social and pastoral centre is an excellent example of the new thrust of the Jesuit Province of Madhya Pradesh – reaching out to tribes hitherto neglected in the Northern part of what has become the new state of Chattisgarh. The work of education and social activities are carried out by Fr. Marcel Ekka in the middle of nowhere, and under extreme political conditions. The area seems to be under the control of a growing group of ?Naxalites?, a historical term used to describe various Marxist-oriented guerrilla groups expanding their activities in the Adivasi forests of central India. The Fathers have to deal with these groups as well as with the police who make frequent but apparently innocuous incursions into the area. Talking to the area commander of the guerrillas, the young Adivasi Superior of the community, Fr. Nirdosh Ekka told him: ?We too, like you, want the dignity of these tribals, but our Guru, Jesus, told us that violence will not bring them lasting results.? An amazing and truly committed effort by a group of Adivasi Jesuits who live out our vocation of proclaiming a faith that does justice, and that too, live it out at the ?cutting edge? of the forests. [HL40407] Marcel Ekka SJ, Catholic Ashram. St John Berchmans? Hr. S. School, Dhanwarkala, Lurgikala P.O. 497 118. Via Rajpur, Dt. Surguja (CG)