Arunachal Pradesh to repeal anti-conversion law, give missionaries a free run – Rahul Karmakar

Christians in Arunachal Pradesh

Rahul KarmakarChristians account for more than half the population in Arunachal Pradesh. – Rahul Karmakar

The Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Arunachal Pradesh may lift a 40-year-old anti-conversion law to uphold secularism.

Chief Minister Pema Khandu on Thursday said his government could repeal the Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, an anti-conversion law, that the frontier State’s Assembly has passed in 1978 primarily to check proselytisation. Uttarakhand enacted a similar law in May this year.

“The anti-conversion law could undermine secularism and is probably targeted towards Christians,” Mr. Khandu said while addressing Prem Milan, a function organised by the Arunachal Pradesh Catholic Association at a church in Banderdewa, the gateway to State capital Itanagar.

Mr. Khandu assured that the law would be brought before the next Assembly session for repeal as it “could be misused by irresponsible officials.”

“Any misuse of the law leading to torture of people could trigger large-scale violence in the State and could break Arunachal into pieces,” Mr. Khandu said at the function marking the 10th death anniversary of Reverend Brother Prem Bhai.

A Benedictine missionary who endured repeated arrest, imprisonment, beatings and wore disguises to evangelise in Arunachal Pradesh, Prem Bhai died on June 28, 2008 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He worked as a missionary in Arunachal Pradesh for almost 25 years despite laws entailed two years of imprisonment and fine of ₹10,000.

Rise of Christianity

Today, Christians account for more than half the population in Arunachal Pradesh.

Census data say there were no Christians in North East Frontier Province, as the State was called then, in 1951. By 2001, Christians were the third largest religious group accounting for 18.7% of the State’s population, behind Hindus (34.6%) and ‘others’, mostly Donyi-Polo (30.7%).

According to the 2011 census, Christianity has overtaken Hinduism as the State’s largest religion. Christians—most of them Roman Catholics—account for 30.26% of the State’s 1.3 million people while Hindus are now 29.04%.

Though Arunachal Pradesh had 5.56% fewer Hindus in 2011 than in 2001, traditionalists were more worried by the 4.5% drop in the number of followers of Donyi-Polo and other indigenous faiths.

Arunachal was the third state after Odisha (1967) and Madhya Pradesh (1968) to enact an anti-conversion law. Chhattisgarh in 2000, Gujarat in 2003, Himachal Pradesh in 2007 and Rajasthan in 2008 also passed anti-conversion laws, prohibiting forced or money-induced conversions. – The Hindu, 29 June 2018

» Rahul Karmakar reports for The Hindu from North East India.

Tribal converts to Christianity in Arunachal Pradesh

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2 Responses

  1. Arunachal tribesmen

    Anti-conversion law must stay, say tribal groups – Rahul Karmakar – The Hindu – Guwahati – 1 July 2018

    Followers of indigenous faiths in Arunachal Pradesh have resented Chief Minister Pema Khandu’s move to repeal an anti-conversion law that they say is necessary to save traditional belief systems and local cultures.

    Mr. Khandu, who heads the BJP government in the frontier state, had on Thursday said the Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act framed in 1978 would be repealed in the next Assembly session.

    The law undermines secularism and is probably targeted at Christians, Mr. Khandu said at a function organised by the Arunachal Pradesh Catholic Association (APCA).

    In statements issued on Friday evening, the Indigenous Faith and Cultural Society of Arunachal Pradesh (IFCSAP) and the Nyishi Indigenous Faiths and Cultural Society (NIFCS) slammed the move as “minority appeasement and detrimental to the growth of indigenous people of the state”.

    Fight for preservation

    The Nyishi, belonging to the Tani group, is the largest ethnic community in Arunachal Pradesh. The IFCSAP and the NIFCS are major organisations that fight for preservation of indigenous faiths such as Donyi-Polo and Rangfra.

    These organisations believe the growth of Christianity in the State—from none in 1951 to being the largest religious group at 30.26% in 2011—has been at the expense of the followers of indigenous faiths.

    “We condemn the statement of the Chief Minister as the anti-conversion law, if repealed, would threaten the indigenous culture of the state. There is also the apprehension among the people that the Chief Minister is bringing the denizens of Arunachal Pradesh under the minority or general category and stripping the special privileges which we have been enjoying as Scheduled Tribes,” Bai Taba, IFCSAP general secretary, said.

    Repealing the law that safeguards the indigenous people would open the floodgates of poaching and it would lead to marginalisation of the indigenous people, he said, urging Mr. Khandu to withdraw the move.

    The NIFCS said scrapping the anti-conversion law would extensively damage the basic structure of indigenous faiths and cultures that are still languishing from the persistent and aggressive influence of foreign cultures.

    “The Chief Minister is undermining the sentiments and emotions of the indigenous faith believers of the state by making such a statement,” Pai Dawe, president of NIFCS, said.

    The Arunachal Christian Forum and APCA welcomed Mr. Khandu’s announcement.

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