Not our battle

Monday Musing

[ Bengia Ajum ]

The Arunachal society is passing through a difficult phase post-2014. Once known for its peaceful and secular way of life, today the tribal community is increasingly getting drawn into the battle between Christian and Hindu missionaries. It is an open secret that, in the last many decades, both have used educational institutions to convert tribal people to their respective religion. Christian missionary schools like Don Bosco and several others played a crucial role in converting the tribal people.

Similarly, Hindu missionary schools like VKV and RK Mission have also played a role in converting a large number of tribals into the Hindu fold. They found it easy to convert because the indigenous tribal faith was not an organized religion like it is today. The indigenous faith was more like a way of life and it mostly concentrated on rituals. Initially, Christian missionaries started to keep tribal people away from tribal rituals and festivals. This very much hurt the tribals who were still following the age-old rituals. Slowly, a gap started to develop and right-wing Hindutva groups like the RSS and the VHP entered the scene. They initially started as saviours of the tribal faith but slowly but gradually have moulded the tribal faith into some kind of a sect of the Hindu religion. In the guise of saving the unique tribal faith, they have diluted it. Today the indigenous faith is completely different from what it used to be. In fact, people following the tribal faith in its purest form have become a minority and they need to be supported and protected from both Christian and Hindu missionaries.

A section of the tribals who follow the indigenous faith and Hindu religion swear their allegiance to the RSS. With the BJP in power at the Centre and the state, these groups have started to yield immense power. Right-wing groups like the Janajati Suraksha Manch are openly organizing campaigns in the state, seeking removal of the ST rights of fellow tribals, even though the Supreme Court of India has made it clear that, despite conversion, members of a notified scheduled tribe (ST) retain their tribal status if they continue to follow their traditional customs, rituals, and other traits.

This growing fear among the Christian community of the state that their fellow tribals, in cohesion with right-wing groups, are trying to curtail their ST rights is making them angry and wary of their own people. On the other hand, a section of the indigenous faith believers is concerned about the conversion activities of Christian missionaries and sees the RSS and other right-wing groups as messiahs in their so-called battle against Christian expansion.

Unfortunately, it is the indigenous tribal festivals that are emerging as a new front in this battle. Some fanatic Christians are trying to assert that tribal festivals are just a normal festival and no rituals are needed. But the majority of the tribal people believe that these festivals are ritualistic in nature. Trying to challenge the age-old way of celebrating tribal festivals is wrong and should be avoided.

As the division between Christian and indigenous groups grows, it is the loyalty to tribe and clan that is still saving the state from a potential clash. But there is a need for dialogue, so that both sides can clarify their misgivings and live peacefully. Various community-based organizations under the banner of the Arunachal Indigenous Tribes Forum (AITF) should initiate the dialogue. A dialogue between the ACF and the IFCSAP under the banner of the AITF is the need of the hour.

Remember, at the end of the day, everyone has to live here. Tomorrow, if unfortunately a clash breaks out, the Christian and Hindu missionaries coming from outside the state will be the first to flee the state. They are here for their mission, which is just to propagate their religions and expand their bases. Our tribal people need to understand this and stop falling for their propaganda. The Constitution has given you the right to choose the religion of your choice. Exercise this religious freedom and be happy. Stop being part of this expansion war between Christian and Hindu missionaries. Remember, this is not our battle and we definitely need to keep away from it.