Sadly, because of serious problems caused by the actions of the rebel group of FBHC pastors in Tamil Nadu, the Fellowship of Blessed Hope Churches has had to temporarily withdraw Pastor Lawrence from ministry at the FBHC church at Mannivakkam. He continues to live in the manse at Mannivakkam.
He has commenced ministry to two groups of people in the Kanchipuram district – to a tribal group known as the Irula people and to Hindi speaking Indian people who have migrated from northern India to the area, generally in search of work.
Below is a recent report from Pastor Lawrence, along with some of the pictures which accompanied the report.
Please pray for Lawrence and his wife Ruth and their two children (pictured with one of their children) – for a resolution to the problems at Mannivakkam and for his new ministries. As you will see from his report, there is much that can be done for the Irula folk. (Ernie Schache)
“Greetings to you in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s my privilege to share my ministry report to you. For the past six months I am ministering to the tribal community named IRULAS which is an oppressed and marginalised community in society of India. Regarding this, some information is given below for your concern.
India is a pluralistic country, which has many tribal groups. Those groups are functioning within their own tradition and concepts. Among these groups IRULAS is a vast and Pre-Dravidian tribe. They live in southern part of India, Particularly in Northern Tamil Nadu districts KANCHIPURAM, THIRUVALLUR, THIRUVANAMALAI, VILUPURAM and CUDDALORE, then in PONDICHERRY union territory.
The Irulas are the Pre-Dravidians inhabitants of the scrub jungles of southern India. They are living in every region as a group. Their main basic profession is snake and rat catching; rat is a favorite protein meat and snake is the economical source. They were exporting the python, cobra and Russell’s viper snakes’ skin without knowing the value.
Later on the Indian wildlife protection act of 1972 brought a strong action against the Irulas without providing the fundamental replacement sources of income for them. Following the forest protection bill of 1976, the traditional homes, livelihood and life style of the Irulas had become illegal. The Irulas started moving to neighboring villages in hope of rebuilding their lives. The Indian government banned the snake catching and treated them as trespassers.
ORIGIN AND BACKGROUND
The origin of the name IRULAS derived from Tamil language, IRUL which means DARKNESS – the people who are living in innocent and illiteracy. There are about 40 adhivas (indigenous) communities in Tamil Nadu state, but the anthropological literature says that Irulas belong to the Negrito (or Negroid) race, which is one of the six main ethnic groups that add to the racial mosaic of India. Negroids from Africa were the oldest people to have come to India. Of these one of the most unique was the Irulas (or Irular). Irulas are master hunter gatherers whose forest skills include tracking fishing and the collection and processing of medicines plants.
Irulas were the main suppliers in the south, and hunting mostly rats, snakes, mongoose, civets and monitor lizards, all of which were part of the Irulas diet which came to an end in 1972, because of wildlife protection act.
POPULATION OF IRULAS AND ACCOMMODATION FACILITIES
Irulas are living in every region as groups. Particularly they select the bank of pond or lake or seashore, because they that is where they have found their livelihood. The literacy rate of the Irula population, roughly estimated to be 150,000, was just four percent in the year of 2004. When they faced the tsunami disaster in 2004 they lost 12,000 people who were living in east coast region. Recently our volunteer brought Information regarding their population – we found more than 250,000 people in Kanchipuram district alone.
Irula people are living as joint families. Thus three or four families are living together in one hut. Even they don’t like to stay in house, because lack of pavement. Night time they like to sleep on roadside or in front of house. During the rainy season only, they stay together in house for a while.
Most Irula people don’t have any proper houses, because they live in thatched house on unauthorized government land. Therefore no proper lavatory and water facilities. Even they are using open place for lavatory and using pond water for their cleansing and bathing.
According to their name Irula which means “darkness” they are living in darkness in night time as they don’t have proper electricity because they are landless. They use only kerosene lamps.
FOOD AND NUTRITION
Rice is the common food for the Indians. Irulas tribe are also Indians but they are adding their favorite meats with rice. Irulas are traditionally called as rat eaters; Rats are the favorite protein food. Also whatever they found in forest they are to eat either flesh or herbs like rabbit, Indian monitor lizard, locust, birds, forest yam, etc. Sometimes they are depending upon the water foods of pond and lake – like lake fish, crab and snail. They train their children to eat these kinds of foods from childhood. Mostly these people like to eat grilled meat.
The Irula people don’t have a definite god for them. They are pantheists who make provision for the presence of spirits in humans and objects. In addition, a recurrent stimulation in their religious belief is the significance of the male and female principles as symbols of the enduring creative process.
Presently, they don’t have any proper idea for worshiping, although they have a huge oral tradition about their goddess. Unfortunately they are lacking oral tradition of the origin of the goddess in this civilization.
The Irulas worship a female goddess named Kanniyammal, also called Mariyammal, which means virgin god If they get a snake bite they pray to Kanniyammal to cure them. Then they give a kind of herbal medicine. Thyey secure Mari and the accompanying ritual paraphernalia in a rock shelter. They do this because they believe that the objects are too sacred to store in any structure made by humans. This practice perhaps may be prompted by the need to make Mari a part of the universal spirit that is everywhere. By dint of the accompanying bloody sacrifice, Mari is also related to earth and the fertility of plants springing from it. As Mari is the common goddess of smallpox in Tamil Nadu, the Irula have also worshiped her in that capacity. For the chickenpox, they use to lay the neem leaves on the patient then pray to Mari the goddess to cure. Irulas are very expert to find the natural herbal medicines in the forest.
Their belief is that the goddess Kanniyammal exists in several places or in several images like snake, cow, stone, etc. Moreover she helps them in hunting and feeding their life. The annual one-week festival veneration of Mari at every region, with chicken, goat, and sheep sacrifices, climaxes on the full moon day of the Tamil month of Adi, on or close to 15 August. An Irula priest, wearing the “thread of the twice-born” (a loop of sacred thread hung over the right shoulder), are specially arranges ritual activities every month on dark moon nights and they are involving a female priest to giving sacrifice like hen, goat, rat…etc. Also they bow down before the puthu (anthills – ants are building; snakes will often occupy them) and stone. They believe there is a supernatural power in all their ritual and idolatry activities.
The Irulas are mostly illiterate, because of lack of remuneration they used to send their children to work in the landlord’s field. Therefore, they are not interested to send them for studies. Habitually the irulas are teaching their children for hunting. Even if they studied our sophisticated society adjourned the Irulas. No one can give proper attention for their job. Because they are considered as untouchable in society.
When we analysed the Irulas education we found a nursery school near Anumanthapuram in Kanchipuram District. Merely a few children are studying in that school. Because of the poverty and very small wages, the whole family including children above six year old are involving to work in fields. Also schools are not admitting the Irulas for studies because they lacks of basic knowledge.
As the Irula people do not own the land on which they build their small flimsy huts, they are often disqualified and face being evicted; this is one reason why their children are often cut off from the education system.
In other case, Irulas become bonded labourers by loans given by the paddy peelers in rice mills. The loan carried from one generation to another. Thus even children are made to work to return the liabilities incurred by parents. Therefore the children are unable to go school. The children are not allowed to go to school. Indian society has been neglecting the Irulas as other tribal community over the years. They belong to one of the most marginalized factions of the rigidly stratified Indian society. The poverty and resulting disempowerment makes them particularly susceptible to all types of prejudice and injustice.
In these situations we are stimulating the child education through Sunday class and VBS.
SOURCES OF INCOME
Hunting is their traditional duty. Irulas have significant knowledge of medical plants. Medical plants, which have medicinal and nutritional utility are known in their culture and specific programs are used to treat a variety of illness and promote general good health in their communities. This kind of medical work helps them to cover their income. The primary sources of income is snake catching and venom, they earn very few by the snake skin selling because, they don’t know the value of skin. Obviously they are cheated by the buyers. After the Indian wildlife protection act of 1972, they suffered a lot through loss of income.
They adapted themselves as a bonded labourers to recover the scarcity, then to escape from famine. Still many Irulas are bonded labourers in rice mills and brick manufacturing units; some Irulas are the self employed as fire-wood cutters, charcoal making, fishing work, daily wages (coolie) workers, etc. sometimes they are working 18 hours continually in mills. Charcoal making is one of the self-supporting wages for the Irulas – they bury and burn certain types of wood to produce charcoal.
Alcohol is one of the customary beverages in their day today life. After they came from hunting or other hard works they drink alohol drinks. But their pathetic condition means sometimes they revile against their own family. Here we can see the tears of wives, and they are treated vigorously by their husbands. Even they are not taking care of their own family; they earn very little and spend money for alcohol. Through this alcohol addiction unknowingly they are committing anti-social activities, sometimes they vigorously fighting with their own families and neighbors. Also they are addicted with natural intoxicating herbal things.
Among these situations we are concentrating on helping to improve the IRULAS community. Thus we conduct VBS to the IRULA children this year 2013
This Irulas colony’s name is Tandarai which is 40 kms from my residential area .This village in between Thiruporur and Thirukuzukundram. Of course this ministry is very challenging and difficult to us because this summer season we suffer a lot to travel to this village. But by grace of God, there was a brother named Aaron who helped us to success the VBS in Tandarai village.
Eventually, we found the Irula community is too innocent and fearful nature people. But they are hard workers in society. If we give any self-help project like tailoring to women, tuition centers for children etc. their posterity will come up in society.
The above stated facts are only a tip of the iceberg of the kind of life that the Irulas lead. It would suffice to say that this community needs a lot more attention from the efforts of tribal ministry and the society at large.
Dear prayer partners in Christ, the Irulas community still are not developed in socially, economically, culturally, politically and religiously. In this situation who will concern about the welfare of this tribal community of Irulas?
We the minister of God doing some sort of evangelism and empowerment through the biblical thoughts. We can sustain the Irulas from such kind of anti-social or bad activities through the richness of living Scriptures.
In mean time ,according to the vision of God, we started the highway evening ministry among the Hindi speaking people who are staying beside the road in between Pallavaram Radial Road to Thorapakkam OMR.
Then OMR to Kovilmapakkam town we are doing tracts ministry twice weekly. Many Hindi people are interested to hear the gospel. This people migrated from north India to south India particularly to Chennai city for employment.
Thus Chennai metropolitan city has become a cosmopolitan city because many other people are migrating from their native place to Chennai city and its surrounding area. The Hindi speaking Hindu people and Islamic people do not worry about worshiping place. Because if Muslims go to mosque they can worship in their own language Urdu, Hindu idol worshippers also gets the ancient Sanskrit language in temple. But the Christians are hesitating to go church because of language problem. Wherever they go, they found the vernacular language. Therefore, we started in new ministry among the Hindi speaking people because I know Hindi very well to speak. If it is God’s will we hope a new Hindi church will be established in the days to come. Please pray for this Hindi ministry
- Pray for Irulas people and their welfare
- Pray for Irulas education and employment
- Pray for fundamental needs of housing, lavatory and water for Irulas
- Pray for Hindi ministry also the other language ministry
- Pray for my family and my children
Yours in Lord’s ministry
Fellowship of Blessed Hope Church