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Religious Youth Service

Religious Youth Service Inspires Youth in Tripura, India

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Tripura, India - In a society that implicitly accept and live with clear-cut polarization and 'ours versus theirs' behavior patterns, the concept and praxis of the recently held RYS came as a welcome jolt. The social context of Tripura provides a revolutionary edge to the simple idea that common space, common endeavor, common ideals and companionship are still possibilities in this conflict-ridden land of Tripura.

The RYS 'Neutral Space' was a pointer that peace and wholeness become reality only when people of different backgrounds and affiliations can transcend the barriers that divide and engage in mutually enriching exercises for the common good. The service experience, the educational segments and the exceptionally cordial atmosphere of the RYS camp provided the much-needed atmosphere for inspiration and resolution to become ambassadors for peace wherever conflict exists.

The RYS that took place at St. Xavier's Bishramganj was the first of its kind in this northeastern state of Tripura and unique in many ways. Despite being one of the smallest states of the Indian Union, Tripura has an appreciable 3.1 million population, among whom 70% are Bengali and the remaining 30% indigenous tribes.

From very ancient times, Tripura had a percentage of Bengali population thanks to the tribal kings who for the sake of imparting education to the tribal community brought the better educated Bengali priests and Pandits from the neighboring areas that would later become Bangladesh. However, the post-independent decades and especially the years following the Bangladesh war proved to be very decisive for this northeastern state as large-scale immigration from Bangladesh resulted in a demographic reversal in Tripura.

The polarization of society on ethnic lines triggered by a sense of 'loss' on the part of the indigenous people found expression in armed combat against the state and the 'settlers.' Thus, Tripura in the 1980s and at the turn of the millennium was a hotbed of ethnic conflict, violence, and unrest. Although in recent years, violent incidents in the state have diminished, much remains to be done in terms of reconciliation and ensuring justice, equal opportunity, and dignity to all people.

The project, which took place in such a social backdrop, was a significant step towards bridging the differences among people of various ethnic/religious/linguistic identities.

RYS North East India India 2008 received participants from Bhutan, Nepal, Peru, Netherlands, USA and others parts of India including Tripura, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Bihar, and Kerala. Dr. Prof. N.R. Menon & Fr. P. Joseph were the educators and trainers who inspired all the participants with their lectures, workshops, and morning meditations.

The project achieved construction of a 1500 sq. ft. community center for the indigenous tribal people to stage their cultural programs, watch TV, play indoor games, and spend time together. RYS participants worked hard with local help to complete this great hall of friendship and goodwill in a record time of seven days.

The visits made to fisheries, rubber farms, and local places of worship, especially the very famous Hindu temple "Tripura Sundari" (one of the 50 most important sites in India), were enriching learning and worship experiences.

RYS participants purchased bamboo products made by the tribal people and showed a spirit of camaraderie and kinship. Fr. K.J. Joseph, Director of St. Xavier's, gifted bamboo products to each RYS members as mementos in the ceremony where participation certificates were given.

The camp was among trees! It was on earth and sand, and living in humble rooms created a closeness with the touch and smell of soil and raw nature. It was a delightfully different set up altogether, away from the dirt and din of urban life, close to the real people of northeast India.

In concrete terms, the RYS Tripura paved the way for greater understanding, collaboration, and reconciliation between the communities in conflict (not only Bengali-tribal, but also intra-tribal, different religions) that are found in Tripura. It has sown the seeds of peace in a very innovative and effective manner, and will hopefully be the starting point of greater things to come.

Mr. Jyothi, a medical student from Nepal, added, "During this RYS I celebrated the happiness of giving, make every day a holiday and celebrate just living! I enjoyed myself a lot by committing myself for the sake of others."

Mr. Rahul, RYS participant from Andhra Pradesh, commented, "I am so excited here. What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal. The RYS had given me such a wonderful experience in my life."

Participant Experiences

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