In Jagdalpur diocese, the population is 2,672,651. Some 68 percent of the population consist of tribals belonging to various tribes, such as Muria, Maria, Halba, Bhatra, Dorla, Gond, Oraon, Korava, Kol, etc.
Among others, most of them are dalits and from other backward communities.
Though Hindi is the official language, it is alien to most of the tribals. There are about 78 tribal dialects, such as Muria, Halbi, Dhatri, Gondi, Chhattisgarhi etc.
Under the Apostolic Prefecture of Raipur, the Society of the Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier (Pilar Fathers, SFX), had cared the region.
On March 23, 1972 the Exarchate of Jagdalpur was created by separating the civil districts of Bastar from the Apostolic Prefecture of Raipur, entrusting it to the Syro-Malabar rite Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI). Monsignor Paulinus Jeerakath, CMI, was appointed the first Exarch of Jagdalpur Mission.
On Feb. 26, 1977, Pope Paul VI raised the exarchate to a Syro-Malabar diocese, appointing Monsignor P. Jeerakath as its first bishop. After his demise on Aug. 6, 1990, at the age of 70, Father Simon Stock Palathra, CMI, one of the first pioneers, was appointed his successor.
Tribals populate this backward region of India. Since they are not receptive to the Christian faith, and due to the opposition of the local Hindus, the missioners are mostly engaged in social and economic development of the people, especially the tribal villagers.
The diocese does not have many local converts. The Catholics are mostly migrant Oraon tribals from the neighboring Raigarh diocese, who are employed in government and private sectors or have settled down due to availability of agricultural land.
This is the only Syro-Malabar diocese in Chhattisgarh state. The bishop, and most of the priests and nuns hail from the southern Kerala state. Most of the priests belong to the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate.
Monsignor Jeerakath started a diocesan woman's Religious Congregation, Deen Bandhu Samaj, in 1976 at Konta. In 1990, the diocese took in the first batch of diocesan seminarians who were trained with the aspirants of the CMI.
With a land area of 39,171 square kilometers, the diocesan territory covers southern most region of the newly formed Chhattisgarh state in central India. It has three districts of the 16 districts of the state. They are: Bastar, Dantewada, and Kanker. Since it had only one district until recently, Bastar, they are still known as Bastar region. The important towns are: Jagdalpur, Kondagaon, Dantewada, Kirandul (Bailadila), and Kanker.
The people are very poor and their livelihood depends on agriculture, fishing, collecting forest produce, employment by government and private agencies. Villagers depend on cultivation, mainly paddy, and forest produce. Iron ore is exported from Kirandul (Bailadila). Kirandul (Bailadila) in the south of the region is famous for the world-renowned iron ore mines. A large part of the iron ore is exported to Japan. The railway line from here to Waltair is the highest in Asia.
However this region is considered to be a very backward region of the country due to illiteracy and lack of development. Until recently, no government officials wished to be posted here.
The literacy rate in the diocesan territory is 36 percent for males and 16.2 percent for females.
Jagdalpur is situated 299 kilometers south of Raipur, the state capital. It is predominantly a forest area, home to many tribals.
The rich culture of the area is reflected in the numerous fairs, festivals, folk songs, dances and dramas. The folk music and dances are accompanied by folk musical instrumentals. Jagdalpur is known for its handicrafts and archeological museum.
The region is also known for its natural beauty, palaces, temples, caves, national parks, wild animals, waterfalls, fairs and festivals.
The Maoists are active in the region and pose a great challenge to the government. However, missioners say they are not a problem for them.