Summing up 2020

Religious fanaticism takes centrestage

[ Taba Ajum ]

2020 was a very difficult year for the entire humanity. The spread of the novel coronavirus, which originated in China, caused mayhem across the world. People lost lives, jobs and businesses. For most part of the year, the citizens had to live inside the house because of harsh lockdown. It has been a great lesson for human beings.

In the context of Arunachal, 2020 will be remembered for the emergence of the virus of religious hatred. This is the year when for the first time in long memory religious hatred came out very openly.

The tribal society felt the undercurrent of the religious division. Incidents like the Tawang church issue and the surfacing of a video of Christian persons setting an altar used by followers of the indigenous faith on fire in Seppa in East Kameng district caused major tension in the state. While the Seppa incident was brought into control by the arrest of the people involved in the act and subsequent public apology by the Christian group, the Tawang church issue is yet to be resolved. A committee headed by senior minister Mama Natung has been given six months to work out a solution after studying the ground realities. Even though both the incidents caused massive tension, peace has prevailed because of the mature handling of the situation by the religious leaders.

Another flashpoint arrived when groups with right-wing ideology shot off several letters to the prime minister’s office, demanding cancellation of ST rights of those who have embraced religions other than the indigenous faith. Many saw it as an attack on the Christian community of the state. Even as humanity is battling the Covid-19 pandemic, religious hate campaign has been continuously going on in Arunachal. The right wing supporters are trying to replicate the same model of religious division that they have effectively used in mainland India in Arunachal. The Muslims are often humiliated by right wing supporters by mocking them as children of Mughal emperor Babar and constantly they are taunted to go to Pakistan.

The right wing supporters thought such act would humiliate the Muslims and may lead to so-called ghar wapasi, or that Muslims would politically remain subdued. But such provocation has only alienated the Muslims more and pushed a large section into fanaticism. The same thing is being repeated in Arunachal too, with constant attempts to humiliate the tribal Christians by calling them ‘foreign religion followers’ and asking them to go to Israel.

Going by the reaction of the people, this move too is having negative effects as such campaigns have only managed to radicalize a certain section of Christian believers. A section of Christian believers are also at fault for mocking the tribal Hindus by taunting them on the issue of caste system and food habits. There has also been an attempt to stop tribal Christians from attending traditional festivals by the radical Christian groups. Radicalization is growing among the Christians, Hindus and indigenous faith followers. There is also an effort to bring religion into politics, which is absolutely dangerous. On social media, people can be often seen mocking each other’s religion. Such a thing was rare prior to 2014.

Recently, a friend of mine from Delhi who has been coming to Arunachal for many years for research work made a very interesting remark.

“What Arunachal is witnessing today we had witnessed in mainland India in the early ’90s. Initially, many thought religious division would be limited to fanatic Hindu and Muslim groups. But today it has engulfed a large section of the population. I fear for Arunachal,” he commented.

It is time for the tribal elders to step in and control the malaise before it goes out of control. Religion is a personal choice and it should remain that way. Be proud of whatever religion you follow, but stop trying to humiliate others. Such act will only cause division in society.

Arunachal is a unique place where in a single family siblings follow different religions and live peacefully. In 2021, let us strive to protect the real Arunachal and fight against the religious virus that is trying to engulf Arunachal. Remember, no society will truly progress if there is religious and ethnic tension.