Cardinal Toppo: A Champion for Tribal Rights
In 2003, Pope John Paul II bestowed the title of cardinal upon Cardinal Toppo.
This significant recognition by the Pope was seen as an acknowledgment of Toppo’s unwavering support for the creation of Jharkhand state, a region comprising the tribal heartland, which was carved out of the eastern Bihar state in 2000.
A Tribute to Cardinal Toppo’s Advocacy
At the funeral service for Cardinal Toppo, Shilpi Neha Tirkey, a Catholic woman legislator in the Jharkhand Assembly, highlighted his pivotal role in bringing global attention to Jharkhand.
She celebrated his efforts to ensure that Pope John Paul II visited Ranchi during his 1986 trip to India.
Championing Tribal Rights in Jharkhand
The tribal heartland of Jharkhand, meaning “land of forests,” witnessed a decline in the tribal population from 38% at the time of India’s independence in 1947 to 26% of the state’s more than 32 million people, according to the 2011 national census.
Although Christians, primarily Catholics, constitute only about 5% of the tribal population, Toppo was a prominent advocate against the marginalization and exploitation of impoverished tribal migrant laborers by the industrial interests in the mineral-rich region.
A Legacy of Leadership
During his tenure as the archbishop of Ranchi from 1985, Toppo oversaw the appointment of two dozen tribal bishops.
His leadership was instrumental in addressing the concerns of the tribal population in the region.
A Voice for the Marginalized
Cardinal Toppo’s commitment to addressing the suffering of the marginalized was evident in his response to the Christmas violence in 2007.
Following the widespread attacks that saw over 100 churches and Christian institutions destroyed, Toppo, serving as the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), journeyed to the remote Kandhamal jungles in eastern Odisha.
His compassionate response to the violence and his symbolic act of kneeling before a broken cross left a lasting impression.
A Cherished Legacy
Bishop Theodore Masceranhas of Ranchi’s auxiliary diocese reflected on Toppo’s legacy, considering it the end of an era.
He emphasized the importance of preserving this legacy, fulfilling dreams, and honoring promises.
A Life Marked by Compassion and Advocacy
Cardinal Toppo’s life was marked by his unwavering compassion for the suffering and his tireless advocacy for tribal rights. His memory remains an enduring testament to his commitment to justice and equality.