ITANAGAR, Jul 5: The Indigenous Faith and Cultural Society of Arunachal Pradesh (IFCSAP) has requested Chief Minister Pema Khandu not to repeal the Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion (APFR) Act or the Anti-Conversion Law passed in 1978, and suggested that the government instead bring out a mechanism, in the form of rules, to implement the act.
Addressing reporters at the press club here on Thursday, IFCSAP president Tajom Tasung said members of the IFCSAP met Governor BD Mishra on 4 July and submitted a memorandum regarding the chief minister’s statement.
The chief minister had on 28 June said that the APFR Act would be brought before the next assembly session for its repeal.
“We are not against the chief minister but against this particular statement regarding the repeal of the APFR Act,” said Tasung.
In its representation to the governor, the IFCSAP said there was “rampant propagation agenda of established religions in the last four to five decades, and the indigenous believers are being poached upon at Godspeed.”
Claiming that such activities imperilled the existence and development of the indigenous people and their culture, the IFCSAP argued that the APFR Act is the only mechanism to safeguard them.
The indigenous faith believers have taken the statement of repealing the act as “the last nail being hammered on their culture and beliefs,” the IFCSAP said.
“The indigenous tribal people of Arunachal Pradesh have been cordial, accommodative and broadminded so far as religious harmony is concerned; but now we are being pushed against the wall,” the IFCSAP informed the governor, and said the indigenous faith believers would have to resort to a social movement throughout the state if the government of Arunachal Pradesh proceeds with the repeal of the APFR Act.
Tasung said the governor responded positively and gave assurance that he would recommend the matter to the chief minister.
Informing that the IFCSAP, like most other indigenous people of the state, was unaware of the act up until now, Tasung said, “When the act was passed in 1978, the people of Arunachal did not look for its implementation and nearly forgot about it. We are thankful to those who raised the nearly-forgotten act with the CM.”
Under the act, no person can convert an indigenous faith follower of Arunachal Pradesh forcefully or through fraudulent means. If a person wishes to convert to another religion, they have to take permission from the deputy commissioner concerned and surrender their indigenous faith in a written declaration.
“Through the RTI, we found that there are only two people who have surrendered their indigenous faith through the DC’s office,” Tasung said.
On whether the implementation of the act would change anything since it has not had a major impact even without its implementation, Tasung said the indigenous people are at risk of losing their traditions, and that “if the act can help in protecting them, it becomes the duty of all indigenous people to save their practices through the act.
“We have no objection against anyone who is willingly converting to Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, or any other religion; but there have been instances where people have been made to believe that changing their religion would cure life-threatening diseases. As educated people, we know that converting to a different religion will not cure cancer. Even rituals of animal sacrifice in indigenous practices cannot do that. A person needs medical attention,” Tasung said.
The IFCSAP said it plans to create awareness regarding the act, and that any instance of forceful conversion can be reported to the DC concerned.
The chief minister is currently in Japan. The IFCSAP members intend to meet him on his return and hold discussions on implementing the act.