REPORT ON CHUKNAGAR MISSION FOR APRIL 2010 S. X. ASSEMBLY
It’s quite a few years that we did not give any report on our activities in Chuknagar. As far as I remember, the last report was done by Fr. Sergio and myself in 2002.
A SHORT HISTORY. Talking about history, I do not start from the beginning because I suppose that everybody knows how the mission started in Chuknagar, who started it and who were the fathers who spent years and energy for this mission. I just try to make a short memory of the last ten years. I was sent to Chuknagar on February 2001 by the then superior Fr. Lorenzo Valoti. The purpose was to start the catechumenate for those who wanted to become Christians. Fr. Luigi had already left and Fr. Sergio was in charge of the mission.
While staying at Fatima Hospital, Doctor Gildo used to come to Chuknagar by the weekend and take care of the sick people. When he left F. H., from Boyra he started coming for 3-4 days a week. This coming lasted 2-3 years and this was a very joyful period for our xaverian community in Chuknagar. At that time, joking among ourselves, we used to say that Sergio was the Shikha Mantry, Gildo the Shastho Mantry and myself the Dharma Mantry. But then Gildo left for Dinajpur and by the end of 2005 also Sergio left Chuknagar and so I remained alone for quite a few years. In February 2008, as you know, suddenly, I had to go to Italy for a surgery and the same happened in 2009.
On January 2009, after completing his Bengali Language course, Fr. Melecio came to Chuknagar to practice the language and, eventually, stay permanently with me. Last January 2010 Fr. Melecio got the appointment letter from the superior. So, after more than 4 years, the Xaverian Community in Chuknagar finally was reconstituted. After my coming back from Italy, the two of us live together, pray together, plan together and try to work together. From time to time Fr. Melecio goes also to Sattkhira and gives his pastoral service to the parish.
MISSION PERSONNEL. We have 4 employees, who are paid according the pay scale of the X. S. Region: Pobon Das, our cook; Ponchanondo Das, our krishok; Dilip Das, supervisor of the Tuition Program and Sudhangsho Das, who is catechist and keeps in touch with the local somaj and other organization of the area. On Friday morning, 4 girls from the para come for cleaning the house and washing our clothes. Each one of them gets tk. 300 per month.
ON THE MAIN STREAM OF THE TRADITION. Although we are different from those who worked at Chuknagar Mission before us, we are trying to keep alive the tradition that made Chuknagar a turning point on the struggle for the liberation of the Rishi people through education and conscientization.
THE TUITION PROGRAM. Fr. Melecio now is fully in charge of the program. The tuition program remains a structured program consolidated by its decades of history. The project is mainly meant for the Rishi people, although in almost every village we have a few Muslim boys and girls. We are present in 13 villages with 43 teachers and a total of 650 boys and girls from class IV up to class IX. Boys and girls of class X leave our program in order to prepare themselves to the SSC examination. With the teachers we meet twice a month. The first meeting is meant for their formation and the second one is a routine of the monthly evaluation and planning.
Twice a year we have also a gathering in every village with the students and their guardians. Usually we meet at the beginning and at the end of the year. We attach very great importance to this kind of meetings, because we see them as an opportunity to motivate our people so that they can perceive that the struggle we are now leading is their own struggle. Every year we stress an issue we consider crucial. So for the last few years we have been conducting a very hard battle against the ballo bibaho that we see as a curse for the Rishi community. In many cases we were successful, although we have to confess that it is not so easy to eradicate a mentality so deeply rooted in the culture of our people.
BARNA PRATHA. This issue always present since the beginning of the mission in Chuknagar is the core of the liberation movement among the Rishi of the area which has turned out to be unstoppable and irreversible. The real strength of this movement is education intended as global human promotion, of which alphabetization is just the starting point. In line with past, this year two initiatives, in which we were very much involved, have taken place. The first one has been the preparation phase of the “Art Installation Project”, that will take place at the Shilpakala Accademy in Dhaka by next May. As you know, this is a Xaverian project, mostly financed by the region, in which many of us working among the Rishi, were involved. It is the very first time that, through an art exhibition, the Bangladesh people, at the national level, will turn their attention to the situation of the untouchables in Bangladesh. We hope the initiative will be a success.
A second initiative took place last March 21st , on occasion of the Antarjatik Barnaboishommo Bilop Dibosh. It was the first time that representatives of the Rishi living in Khulna Division came together to join the manifestation which had place in Khulna. There was a rally joined by the Mayor of Khulna City that culminated in the gathering at Zia Hall. Almost 2 thousand Rishi were present and had the chance to cry aloud their right to be accepted as human beings. Fr. Melecio, Fr Sergio and myself were present at the manifestation and we have to confess that we were very much touched by the event, that appeared, at our eyes, a crowning achievement of what was done in the past.
SHOROSHI PROGRAM. This program started in the year 2005 and, as far as I know, was a joined venture between Fr. Riccardo, Fr. Sergio and the Director of Dalit, Sapon Das. The program was meant for theRishi girls of High School who were not reached by Chuknagar Tuition Program. Sapon would finance it and the fathers of Chuknagar with the help of two didimonis would look after the program. For almost 5 years the project went on nicely and every year more than one hundred girls were looked after with different kind of initiatives. Suddenly, by the end of last year, Sapon told us that he was not able anymore to finance the project. So the Shoroshi program was stopped.
ASSISTANCE TO THE SICK PEOPLE. There was always a considerable concern for the assistance to the sick people in Chuknagar mission. It is not a easy job to face this problem. When the Dalit constructed the nearby hospital, we hoped that the problem would finally find a solution. Instead the problem got more complicated. Sick people go to the Dalit hospital, where they get a very long prescription and then come to us asking for help.
REHABILITATION, SANITATION, HOUSING. In the past people were happy when they could get a three-cycle van. In Chuknagar there are almost 25 people who gain their means of subsistence by driving a van, which, indeed, is a very hard job. Most of the vans were given by the mission. When people get older, they are not any more able to drive the van. So some of them ask now for a motor van. Every year for this kind of rehabilitation, sanitation and housing, out of the budget, we submit a project to the Regional Superior for the approval.
THE CATECHUMENATE. In this matter, last September 2008, on the occasion of the annual aggiornamento in Dhaka, I wrote a detailed report. The report was also translated in Bangla and is available in Mongolbarta. Since then not so much is changed in the program. Since Easter 2006 when 51 people were baptized by the Bishop in St. Joseph Cathedral, no other people was baptized. Actually some catechumen were ready for the baptism by Easter 2008, but suddenly I had to leave for Italy. So everything has been postponed up to the inauguration of the new church, whose work construction will start very soon. At the beginning of the Lenten season, at the presence of our parish priest, Fr. Jacob Biswash we officially inaugurated the catechetical year. Fr. Melecio has joined me in the teaching. So, at present, we have 8 groups distributed as it follows: - Wednesday night from 8.00 PM to 9.00 PM: a mixed group of 15 adult people both baptized and catechumen. I lead the group and this year we read with them the Gospel of St. Mark.
- Thursday night from 8.00 PM to 9.00 PM: a group of 20 adult catechumen. I lead the group and also with them we read the Gospel according to St. Mark.
- Friday morning from 6.00 AM to 7.00 AM: a group of 18 college students, all of them baptized. I lead them and this year we started reading the Gospel of St. John.
- Friday morning from 7.00 AM to 8.00 AM: a group of 22 High School students. Four of them are baptized, the other are catechumen. Fr. Melecio leads the group and reads with them the Acts of the Apostles.
- Friday morning from 7.00 AM to 8.00 AM: a group of 16 students from class V-VI-VII. The catechist Martin Das leads the group and reads with them Nuton Manusher Abirbhab.
- Friday morning from 7.00 AM to 8.00 AM: the group of the little ones from class II-III-IV(almost 50 of them). A trained catechist, Biplob Das leads them by teaching them prayers, songs and using with them the catalets.
- Friday morning from 8.00 AM to 9.00 AM: a group of 15 college students. Except one, all of them are catechumen. I lead the group and with them we read the Gospel according to St. Luke.
- Saturday morning from 9.00 AM to 10.00 AM: a group 30 women. Some of them (10) are baptized, the others are catechumen. The catechist Martin Das leads the group and reads with them Nuton Manusher Abirbhab.
SUCCESS AND FAILURE. Certainly the growing awareness among the people and their will to overcome a situation of slavery and oppression are a clear achievement of the 30 years of the S. X. presence in Chuknagar. Also the increasing number of college and university students is in the same line. After completing their studies, many of them get jobs at public level and in the different NGOs present in the area. In a few occasions we experienced also a growing concern and solidarity with other people in difficulty. Last year, for instance, when the Aila cyclone struck the Munda Land, some of our people spontaneously went out and collected money and rice in order to help the affected ones. Also this year after the earthquake of Haiti, our people, as a sign of solidarity, went out and collected some money to help people far away.
Luigi used to say: Dilly bohu dur! Working among the Rishi requires from you a total commitment. You need patience; do not look for results; do not expect gratification and remember: the more they receive from the more they will create troubles to you. Gratuity will be the golden rule for you.
Fr. Antonio Germano Das S. X.