A group of students at St Ignatius’ College Riverview has re-established the school’s human rights advocacy group, naming their group after Indian Jesuit Fr A T Thomas, who was killed for his work among the oppressed in Hazaribag.
St Ignatius College Rector Fr Ross Jones says the group has called itself the A T Thomas Advocacy Group, ATTAG (pronounced ‘ay-tag’), and aims to increase the social awareness among students at the school.
‘A T Thomas, lived and died by the principle of a faith that does justice. He lived among the dalits - India’s lowest caste, comprising of the poor and illiterate and oppressed. They knew him as their teacher and their advocate. He made their causes his own’, says Fr Jones.
The story of A T Thomas is known to many in the Australian Jesuit community. He was part of the Hazaribag Mission in India, which was originally established by Australian Jesuits. In listening to the stories of the dalits he was moved to action on their behalf.
In one instance, he helped a group of dalits win back land they had lost to a group from a higher caste. Those who had taken the land were sent to jail. On 24 October, 1997, A T went to the aid of a man who was being beaten by men dressed in police uniforms. One of the men was among those who were sent to jail in the previous case, and the men led A T away at gunpoint. He was found dead three days later.
Perhaps appropriately, ATTAG’s first campaign will be on behalf of Australia’s own marginalised people – Indigenous communities.
‘The current government is stripping funds for essential services from traditional Aboriginal Homelands, viewing the program as unsustainable and effectively coercing families into larger towns and cities’, said Fr Jones.
‘Legislation once forcibly dispossessed Aboriginals of their traditional lands and moved them into major cities. With the failure of that policy it was pledged that such inhumanity could never happen again. And yet, through economic means, a similar situation threatens once again. So, several hundred boys gathered in the Memorial Hall to pen their protests to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and call for a change of policy and a change of heart.’
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