Our Way Into The Future: Location search process in India for new cluster; by Transitional Support Team

After establishing the first cluster in Zambia (Luampa, Mongu, Limulunga, Senanga and Moyo) the TST started a new process to set up the second cluster, this time in the Province of India.

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PLT and TST members welcomed by the people of Patharlyndan Village (Meghalaya)

Overview of the Location search process during the year:

I. Jan 2016: Survey of individual Brothers of the Indian Province to identify states that most fulfil the criteria for setting up the new Cluster. These were later clubbed into zones because of the great variety of states that emerged out of the Province survey.

II. March 2016: Indian Social Institute, Delhi was commissioned to conduct a desktop study of the three Zones most prioritised by the Communities:
• Zone 1: Jharkhand and bordering areas of Chhattisgarh and Odisha
• Zone 2: Assam and bordering areas of Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh
• Zone 3: Bihar &West Bengal

III. April 2016: Two Zones that broadly met our criteria were selected for a more in-depth study of the districts. These were: Zone 1: Assam and Meghalaya & Zone 2: Jharkhand
6 Brothers (Griban, John P, Maurice, Lurshai, Ryan and Willie) divided themselves into two teams of 3 each and conducted on-site location visits of the villages/dioceses in these two selected zones in the months of April and May 2016. At the end of this process, Zone 1 comprising of Assam and Meghalaya, was chosen.

IV. July 2016: A detailed Baseline research by the Indian Social Institute was conducted over a month, of five Districts of Assam & Meghalaya, which most fit our criteria, and a Report presented to the PLT-TST for study and action.

V. August – September 2016: A site-study of the 3 selected districts (Sonitpur, Assam; Ri Bhoi & West Khasi Hills, Meghalaya) was conducted by Bipin, Lurshai, Sameer and Ruvan over 6 weeks. The team visited 24 villages and recommended 9 possible sites to the PLT-TST for the Indian Cluster.
VI. November 2016: 3 members of the PLT and 2 members of the TST visited the 9 recommended sites. A joint report was prepared and shared with both the PLT & the TST.

VII. December 2016: During a 3-day meeting of the PLT and the TST the Joint Report was discussed and 4 possible sites for the Cluster communities were identified and ranked in order of priority. The appropriate Bishops will be intimated, the Brothers in the Province informed and the village communities engaged in early 2017 to prepare for the arriving of the Brothers towards the end of the year.

It was after much discernment and with much heart-burn that first the Jharkhand Zone and then Assam needed to be dropped off our reckoning. The Jharkhand Zone has a predominance of Adivasi tribal people who have been systematically disenfranchised and hence the area ranked highest on the Indian Brothers survey prioritisation. Yet, both the ISI person and the Brothers ground study corroborated the dangers to any project involving foreign nationals in the backdrop of the presence of several armed groups. In comparison the north-eastern states (Zone 2) which also had a significant Christian population and a lesser influence of armed or right-wing Hindu groups seemed more suited to our purpose.

Among the North Eastern states, Arunachal Pradesh, a border state, has stringent restrictions for foreigners so it too had to be ruled out. Despite what was being advised about Assam (which for the first time has a BJP Government) the Second Location Search Team of 4 Brothers, interacted with Bishops, Priests, NGO personnel and others. Sonitpur district in Assam along with Ribhoi & West Khasi Hills Districts in Meghalaya, were the 3 districts identified as being most aligned with our location criteria. However, the Teams’ findings reinforced the security concerns for foreigners to stay in Assam. Hence, the decision of the PLT-TST to focus only on Meghalaya for the new Indian Cluster.