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A Fertile Nursery for Christianity

John Dayal

Chief Editor Roger E. Hedlund
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 762, Rs.2950.00


The Chhotanagpur region, in the news as the very heart of the Maoist movement, is arguably also at the epicentre of theChristian discourse in India, both by its protagonists, and by the Hindutva Parivar which challenges it and has launched its own political and religious proselytizing in the region that stretches over many states in Central and East India.The entry on Chhotanagpur in The Oxford Encyclopaedia of South Asian Christianity explains both the strengths and grey areas, if not the blind spots, of this otherwise pioneering and brave work on the subject. Brave and ambitious because it debuts even as the publishers of Encyclopaedia Brtiannica, the dowager empress of them all,announce they arenot going to print the next edition of its celebrated volumes, leaving them on the Internet to be looked up or downloaded by those who have paid the fees. These two hardbound volumes are comfortably tactile, even reassuring in their classical gold embossed format which beg to be opened and read even if one is not searching for any-thing in particular. That is where Chhotanagpur comes into the picture with its bland linear column and a half narrative of the place and the advent of the protestant church. The narrative remains comparatively sketchy considering the importance of the region. Though written by a Jesuit, the article makes no mention of the role of theJesuits and other Catholic orders in the 19thand 20thcentury, nor the region’s social and religious situation in contemporary times with government attempts to control the church and religious majoritarian persecution. But the entry also daringly documents the emergence of what can be called a Christian Tribal community which finds in itself the strength to challenge policies that encroach ontheir rights to the forest and to their identity. The Tribal Christian community is of course not yet a Church in the style or manner of the Syrian community ofCentral Kerala though it too is marked by a distinctive culture, language and rituals. Its swath through the heart of India across the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa makes it an important prospect both of intensive research and general knowledge by politicians, academics and civil society. The coverage of many subjects and issues remains tantalizingly brief. Perhaps the Editors left it to the authors to define the importance of their entry, and its length. Individuality, rather than academic rigour, therefore haunts several ...

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