Of culture, conversion and clashes

[ Taba Ajum ]
Chief Minister Pema Khandu’s announcement to withdraw the anti-conversion law in the state has generated a lot of controversy. The indigenous faith groups see it as an act of appeasing the Christian community, while church leaders have welcomed the move, saying it would uphold the secular values of the state.
Truly speaking, the act was passed with a view to check conversion of tribal people into various religions, mainly Christianity. However, it was never truly implemented as successive state governments ignored it. Therefore the chief minister’s sudden and surprising decision to repeal the act caught everyone by surprise.
The Hindu right wing group RSS, which is the mentor of the ruling BJP, will not be happy with the announcement. It has always accused Christian missionaries of converting the tribals in Arunachal. Therefore Khandu has taken a huge gamble by risking the wrath of the RSS.
Considering the present situation in the country, where Hindu right wing politics is on the rise, the decision of the CM is quite brave and he needs to be congratulated for his boldness. Khandu has sent a stern message to the RSS not to meddle in the affairs of the state, and that he is the boss in his own backyard.
Even though religion is an individual choice, it has become a sensitive affair across the world, and Arunachal is no exception. The majority of the tribal people practiced animism for years before Christian missionaries started trickling into the state in the ’60s.
It is believed that former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was quite worried that Arunachal might turn into a Nagaland or a Mizoram, where rebellion broke out against India. He believed that insurgency in both the states was fueled by church leaders. Therefore, with the blessings of Nehru and, later, Indira Gandhi, the RSS started its operation in the state. Schools like VKV and RKM were some of the institutions established to counter the inroads being made by the missionaries. These schools had – and still have – the blessings of the central government. The missionaries who started their activities early on in the state used education as a tool to convert; therefore the RSS also used educational institutions to counter them.
In the turf war between Christian missionaries and Hindu organizations like the RSS, it is the tribal people who are caught in between. The tribal culture, beliefs, languages and way of life have degraded over the years due to the interference of outsiders. During the early years, church leaders pushed their believers away from the rich traditional festivals and rituals. However, better sense seems to have prevailed and people are returning to attending festivals with a lot of pride. Today, the young generation takes immense pride in attending the traditional festivals.
On the other hand, various RSS-backed indigenous faith groups have been trying hard to push the tribals towards Hinduism in order to counter Christianity. The animistic form of worshipping is being replaced by a new kind of practice which is similar to Hinduism. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the young generation of Arunachalees does not really trust the activities of the indigenous groups.
It is sad that in this battle for supremacy between the Church and the RSS, it is the original tribal customs and traditions that are being threatened. Sadly, nobody seems to be worried about it.