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2000-03-17 00:16
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India's church council makes radical change to its governing
body
ENI-00-0081

By Anto Akkara
Ranchi, India, 7 March (ENI)--The National Council of Churches
in India (NCCI) has amended its constitution, forcing member
churches to give one third representation each to women and youth
among their delegates for future NCCI meetings.

The NCCI introduced the changes after international ecumenical
bodies applied pressure to make India's leading inter-church
organisation more representative.

The quotas were approved by the NCCI quadrennial assembly that
began on 2 March in Ranchi, 1200 kilometres south-east of New
Delhi. The theme of the assembly was "Life in all its Fullness".

Depending on their size, the NCCI's 29 Protestant and Orthodox
member churches send between three and 18 delegates to the
assembly, which takes place every four years, and at which the
NCCI office-bearers are elected for the following four years.

The constitutional amendment - the first major decision taken at
the 2 to 6 March meeting attended by 350 church leaders and
representatives - also includes provision for the election of
three vice presidents - one representing women and another for
young people aged up to 30 years.

"This is a millennium gift to women and the youth," said Susy
Mathew, president of the All India Council of Christian Women
(AICCW), who was a delegate at the assembly. Pointing out that at
past NCCI assemblies there had been few women, Mathew told ENI
that the amendment guaranteed the participation of women. "So far
we were pleading," she said, commenting on the implications of
the NCCI ruling for women in India's churches. "But now, we are
assertive. This [the present level of women's participation in
churches' governing bodies] is not enough. Churches should open
their doors wide to women, and stop keeping us at the
periphery."

Dinesh Suna, secretary of the NCCI's youth commission, told ENI:
"We are happy that, finally, we [young people] are assured of
representation." Suna said that youth comprised 40 per cent of
church membership and were "the most vibrant and energetic group
in the church." However, he said, young people were virtually
excluded from churches' governing bodies.

He added that the new quota for youth in NCCI would help young
people to fight for "more say" in each member church.

(About 60 women and 80 young people attended the Ranchi
assembly, but not all of them were official delegates. They had
gathered here for a pre-assembly meeting of women and youth.)

Prasanna Kumari - executive secretary of the United Evangelical
Lutheran Church in India - said that the amendment introducing
quotas for women and youth had been made "under pressure" from
international church bodies. But Kumari told ENI that within the
churches themselves "the mindset is yet to change".

All the same, she said, "in the long run, the quota will bring
about positive results".

"This is only the beginning," K. Rajaratnam, NCCI's outgoing
president, said of the quota for women. "We need to prepare the
ground to go up from one third to 40 per cent and to 50 per
cent," he told ENI.

Earlier on 2 March the assembly opened with a rich display as
local tribal dancers led the delegates in procession to the
convention hall. Ranchi is located in the heart of Chota Nagpur,
India's biggest tribal region.

In the opening prayer Bishop Z. James Terom of Chota Nagpur,
deputy moderator of the Church of North India, welcomed delegates
"to this tribal land". Bishop Terom, himself a tribal, said it
was "appropriate" that the NCCI assembly to discuss "Life in all
its fullness" was being held in a region where "tribals are
losing out to outsiders in the struggle for survival of the
fittest".

He told delegates that the churches had a major role to play "to
prepare the unfit for survival". He pointed out that the
conference venue was built on land appropriated from tribals who
were now forced to eke out a living pedalling rickshaws.