The freedom of Religion bill in Arunachal Pradesh which was passed many years before seems like nothing to me and my tribe. Truly, Professor Nani Bath has clearly said that there is no sign of harm to any particular religion from this Religious Freedom Act, and Ms Tongam Rina has clearly pointed out that the identity of a person is more vividly expressed through the languages rather than any practices or rituals or religions. These writers have rightly pointed out and why I say it so, because I am involved in both the fields for the past 15 to 20 years.
Until recently when the term Donyi-polo emerged as a religion, we the Tanyi group of tribes did not have a defined set of practices as a religion. But as of today our groups have adopted, by our own free choice, different religious practices. We find ourselves in Christianity, Budhism, Islam, Hinduism and Donyi-Poloism. Some of us might be in other religious groups as well which may be beyond my knowledge. Till now our religious practices were by our own free choice which is clearly defined in our constitution. Profess, practice and propagate is a process of imparting knowledge to the believers of one’s particular religion which is given in the constitution of rights. Propagate is like sowing a seed and its growth. But conversion is the independent will of a person to adopt better rituals or religion seemingly fit by that person. Conversion by force, fraud or inducement is equivalent to imprisonment. A religious group that practices this formula of conversion will not last long enough because the foundation of his faith is built on hatred and not love.
My father Kame Taku was a Priest until 11 years ago. His work was to heal people who were sick, by a method of chanting and sometimes performing some deity appeasement rituals. He was a good priest. I started recording his chanting so that some day we will use his chanting words to heal people. But he disagreed saying, that a priest has to be specially gifted from above. Mere chanting will not heal any sick. Thus I had to drop the idea.
Later in October 2006, he called his children expressing his willingness to be Christian. We immediately took a Catholic Christian Priest from Palin. After an hour of discussion, the priest refused to baptize (a condition to be converted into Christianity) him. This left us stunned. He was very sad. On being asked for the reason of the refusal to accept him into Christianity, the priest replied that he was not ready yet to be a Christian. He was asked to know more about the Christianity religion. Later in the year 2007, in the month of March, he was accepted into Christianity when he was ready. He is now a devout practitioner of his religion. Here I saw a person’s desire to be a Christian and the unwillingness of a Christian priest to accept his conversion.
The law is equally good or harmful for every one of us. The phrase, ‘freedom of Religion’ should have been rephrased as ‘curtailment to religious freedom of Arunachal Pradesh.’ The question of protecting someone else faith is baseless without reading the pulse of that person whom it is protecting. Survival instinct has given rise to search of new ideology and new remedies. Because of the change, our people have survived and are surging ahead with the world. Ideology of enmity is rejected everywhere. A religion that teaches hatred and disharmony is against our own teaching. Use of force arises from the fear of extinction or for the urge of survival. A time may come when the very law that we are upholding today may be used against us and our descendants in future because the people of Arunachal are religious and God fearing from the past. We never know which will survive and which will be extinct. In future, there may be such instances that some religious groups, fearing suffocation and extinctions, may use force, inducement, or any other means to convert people to accept their religion. Or may be not.
I would rather give importance to development of dying languages as Tongam Rina has stated. I am writing my own mother tongue for the past decade and I am seeing a gradual lost of taste of our very own language by the people.
For instance, I and my friends started a vernacular news paper in Nyishi language and pathetically we had to give it up because it could not survive. There is clear sign that our language is diminishing because the users are becoming lesser and lesser. Those that keep using it are losing the basic and essential beautiful words and expressions of our mother tongue. Again I say that it is the language that is the essence of culture and identity. Instead of wasting time in planning for conflicts and discontent, let us plan for progress and growth in harmony and union. Pema Khandu, CM seems to be doing better for the people of Arunachal. I do not want to disturb him.
T T Stephen