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     Home > Religion and Dialogue  >  2013-06-24 17:05:25
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Jharkhand’s 'tribal' Madonna controversy

24 June, 2013 - A statue of Our Lady with the features of a tribal woman in a sari with red borders, holding her son Jesus in a white cloth, has gone from being a masterpiece of inculturation to a source of discord in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. Unveiled by Card Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi (the state capital), near a Catholic church in the village of Singpur, the statue has sparked criticism from some members of the Sarna tribe, who want the work of art removed. The Sarna worship Mother Nature as Mother Sarna. Bandhan Tigga, a local Sarna guru who is objecting against the statue, is alleging that "dressing up Mary with a red bordered white sari seems to be a tactic to convert tribal Sarnas to Christianity.” “It is absolutely wrong. We do not want conflict between our communities, but we do want the statue removed, or changed so that it no longer looks like a tribal woman. Otherwise, we shall step up our protests." Card Toppo, the first ethnic tribal Oraon cardinal in India, rejected the guru's accusations as a ploy to exploit the conflict between Christians and non-Christians for political gains in next year’s elections.
For Fr Augustine Kanjamala SVD (Society of the Divine Word), an expert in the sociology of religion, "The depiction of Our Lady in accordance with local usage is legitimate from a legal and theological standpoint. Around the world, tens of thousands of artists have depicted Mary adapting her to local sensitivities. Indianisation and inculturation are important issues today and are opposed by Hindu nationalists who use it for political purposes." "In India," the Verbite clergyman noted, "foreign Christian missionaries were the first to protect and promote the indigenous cultures of tribal people. They passionately defended indigenous rights. Culture is not a static thing, but a unifying factor. Although religious practices vary, most traditional customs and practice bind together. Culture includes many elements. Although important, dress is a small aspect of tribal identity." (Source: AsiaNews)


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