Of church, chanda and chapatti

[ Nani Bath ]

Tawang and Ayodhya, hundreds of kilometers apart, have made headlines in the state some days back, for different reasons, though. Tawang was in news regarding the denial of permission for the construction of a Christian Revival church by the local authorities. Ayodhya came to the limelight when it was reported that rupees four hundred and fifty lakhs had been donated by the people of Arunachal Pradesh for the construction of the upcoming Ram Mandir.

The local authorities denied permission for the construction of a Christian Revival church while taking recourse to the Supreme Court Judgment of 2009 and invoking the Arunachal Pradesh Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupant) Act, 2003. It was ruled by the apex court that “no unauthorized construction shall be carried out or permitted in the name of Temple, Church, Mosque or Gurudwara etc. on public streets, public parks or other public places, etc” (Union Of India vs State Of Gujarat & Ors). In its subsequent order, the chief secretaries were directed to identify unauthorized constructions of a religious nature on public facilities.

The members of Arunachal Pradesh Revival Church Council (APRCC) have stated that denying an individual or a group of individuals the right to have his/ their place of worship, irrespective of religious groups, is amounting to a denial of a constitutional right under Article 25 of the Constitution of India.

Since the church in question has been in existence since 5 June, 1999, and no complaint, whatsoever, was received from any quarters, be it public, or government authorities or other religious organizations, it is in no way detrimental to “public order, morality and health.” The Christian believers, seemingly, are ready for an alternative plot of land within Tawang to cater to religious needs of the Christian community.

Moreover, the president of APRCC has maintained that public spaces are permitted to be used in the state for “structures associated with other faiths”. He might be hinting at the Hanuman Mandir at the heart of Ganga market, Itanagar, Shani Mandir at E-Sector, Naharlagun (PWD office), and numerous Hindu temples across the state. Interestingly enough, Rajiv Gandhi University also hosts a Shiv Mandir within its premises. What happens inside the temple on Monday, the day of kirtan, and on the day of Maha Shivratri, is known to almost all campus dwellers.

As a responsible member of the international community, Arunachal Pradesh, as a federal unit of India, needs to pay utmost respect to the existing international laws and conventions relating to freedom of religion and place of worship.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 stipulates that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, and under Article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.

Article 6(a) of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly resolution in 1981, not only provides for right to freedom of religion or belief, but it also provides for right to “To worship or assemble in connection with a religion or belief, and to establish and maintain places for these purposes”.

Additionally, the UN General Assembly resolution 6/37 2007 on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief provides that “9 (e) To exert the utmost efforts, to ensure that religious places, sites, shrines and symbols are fully respected and protected and to take additional measures in cases where they are vulnerable to desecration or destruction; (g) To ensure, in particular, the right of all persons to worship or assemble in connection with a religion or belief and to establish and maintain places for these purposes and the right of all persons to write, issue and disseminate relevant publications in these areas”.

Let us hope that the denial of permission by the local authorities of Tawang is purely administrative in nature, and not politically coloured. Let us also hope that this expression is not a sign of ‘exclusiveness’ on the part of the people of Tawang.

There have been instances of signs of ‘exclusiveness’ vis-à-vis Christian community in the Mon region. Some years ago, a Kolkotta based Liver Foundation had proposed a Hepatitis B vaccination camp at a place in Mon region. Neither the permission was granted nor was the reason for the denial informed. “In all probability”, the man behind the camp told me, “the permission was denied as the camp was being held in collaboration with a Christian missionary group from Tinsukia, Assam”.

In another instance, the director of a Central Institute in the region was unofficially ‘advised’ to submit his resignation by a government functionary in New Delhi. He resigned or was forced to resign within months of assumption of his office. What could the reason(s) be? I am still looking for an appropriate answer. It is not clear whether the person in question is a devout Christian, but his name definitely resembles one of the biblical figures. Those in the know of the thing say that the incident of this nature could not have been possible without the knowledge of the highest political authority of the state or our representatives at the centre.

Such signs of exclusiveness do not contribute positively to the pan-Arunachal identity and inter-faiths harmonious co-existence. Rather, it adds to the existing national security challenges.

Monyul, a Tibetan terminology, roughly covers areas under the present Tawang and West Kameng districts. If we consider Monyul as a holy/ sacred place, not to be disturbed by other religious structures/ doctrines, we would be unintentionally marching into the ‘trap’ laid by communist China. The Peoples’ Republic of China is “stridently committed to bringing all elements of Tibetan culture under Chinese control” (Robert D Kaplan). Jia Liang of the Global Times writes, “Tawang’s history affirms China’s sovereignty”, and the “region has been considered as a sacred place by Tibetans”.

The Mon Autonomous Region Demand Committee’s map of the Mon region is almost a mirror approximation of the Monyul region of the olden days.

It is also a fact that an exclusive behaviour or thinking may turn itself into an ‘exclusive identity’. Neeru Nanda quotes a young Monpa, who was confident enough to state, “We are neither the people of Gyaser (Tibet) nor the people of Gyakhar (India). We are the Mon”.

The amount contributed from Arunachal Pradesh for the construction of Ram Mandir constitutes more than 50 per cent of the total donation received from six of the Northeastern states. My sources have indicated that each of the ministers was coaxed to pay Rs 1.5 million and an MLA had to pay Rs 5 lakhs. The generosity shown by the political leaders and people of our state is simply amazing. We would expect a similar generous donation when it comes to the construction of indigenous places of worship.

Since the initiation of parliamentary democracy in the late seventies, our state has the tendency to tilt towards the power at the centre. As the BJP is in power backed by its ideological mentor (RSS), every Arunachalee is trying to establish his/her linkages with Nagpur. A BJP leader of the state, who was once an active member of Congress and NSUI, has praised the prime minister as an “incarnation of God”.  Once the INC comes to the power, the same people would be more than happy to have another ‘Ghar-vapasi’.

When I (with my friend Dana Moyong of Pasighat under the guidance of Sujata Didi) was involved in Arun Jyoti Project (Vivekananda Kendra) sometime in 1997/ 98, we also had an opportunity to be associated with the Arunachal Vikash Parishad (sister-concern of Akhil Bharatiya Vanawasi Kalyan Ashram). In those days, the “Indigenous enthusiasts” (people working for the preservation of the indigenous culture), were perceived as the ‘agents’ of RSS. Today, quite contrastingly, everyone wants to be a part of the ‘agents’.

India is a land of religious plurality. It believes in the Vedic idea of Sarva Dharma Sambhava- the unity or harmony of all religions. As an obedient child of the great India, Arunachal Pradesh epitomizes the highest tenets of secular principles and ideology. There are mandirs, masjids, gurudwaras and churches in every corner of the state. Its people celebrate festivals/ pujas of all religious groups in the most secular way.

As such, every religion/faith deserves equal treatment. Justice and fairness could only be ensured when Hindu temples are demolished if Christian churches are not to be permitted in public places. Rajiv Gandhi University, a central university, prominently displays Maha Shivratri greetings in its official webpage without similar gesture on other religious occasions, such as Moharram, Christmas, Good Friday, Nyokum or Mopin. It goes against the democratic and secular ethos of an educational institution.

Our country has teeming millions without adequate dal-roti meal. How appropriate was it to contribute thousands of crores of rupees for the construction of a temple? For a poor state like Arunachal Pradesh, rupees 4.5 crores could have been used for the construction of a decent hospital or an educational institution.