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Ethnicity and Tribal Theology

Problems and Prospects for Peaceful Co-existence in Northeast India

Series:

Songram Basumatary

The Church and wider society in Northeast India have witnessed a number of shifts in ethnic identity and the resultant inter-ethnic conflicts since the 1980s are threatening the peaceful co-existence of various ethnic groups. Caught up in the throes of such ethnic turmoil, people of the region are confronted with two options. On the one hand, there is a need to safeguard their respective ethnic identities against the dominant hegemony; on the other, there is a need to promote a peaceful co-existence amongst diverse ethnic groups. These twin challenges, in their turn, confront the Northeast Indian tribal theologies by posing a series of questions with serious implications: how is one to maintain a balance between these two conflicting identities? What should the priority be: preserved ethnic identity or ethnic blending? In all this, what is the role of tribal theology? Notwithstanding the importance of safeguarding ethnic identity, this book focuses on the urgent necessity of promoting a peaceful co-existence among diverse ethnic groups by exploring their various tribal theologies and cultural standpoints and finding a common base.
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Introduction

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The Problem and the Thesis

Over the past two decades, both Church1 and society in Northeast India (NEI) have been witnessing escalating inter-ethnic conflicts that threaten ‘tribal ecumenism’2 or at best debar them from ‘ethno-ecumenism’. There are a number of complex factors, both identified and unidentified, behind this, one offshoot of which is the spurt of separatist ethno-nationalistic movements.3 These movements often had their origin in the people’s aspiration for independent political existence and what they considered to be the assertion of their rightful demands against the hegemonic states. However, at times such movements have unfortunately tended to end up as fratricidal struggles.4 Looking at such conflictual ethnic trends, there ← 1 | 2 → have been scholars who have speculated that ‘if no alternative avenue for a peaceful co-existence is charted out, the destiny of the region could be disastrous.’5 Caught up in the throes of such a phenomenon, the ethnically diverse and culturally rich people of the region are confronted with a twin challenge: on the one hand there is a need to safeguard their respective ethnic identities, while on the other, there is an urgent requirement to promote peaceful co-existence among the various ethnic groups. These twin challenges, in turn, confront the Northeast Indian tribal theologies6 with a series of questions: how is one to maintain a balance between these two pressing necessities? which should have priority – ethnic identity or ethnic harmony? in all this, what should be the role of the tribal theologies?

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