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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India and China are headed for more conflicts – Claude Arpi

Xi Jinping

Claude ArpiWhile Beijing is going full steam to build infrastructure on its side of the McMahon Line, it complains about Delhi building roads on India’s borders. … While China is getting ready for another standoff, Beijing deeply dislikes Delhi developing its side of the border. Amazing double standards! — Claude Arpi

On New Year’s Eve, President Xi Jinping delivered an 11-minute televised speech to extend his greetings to all Chinese and … friends all over the world. Xi said that Beijing is dedicated to safeguarding peace. “China will act as a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development and an upholder of the international order.”

Will this translate in peace on the border in 2018? Probably not! Rumours are circulating that troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have intruded in Gelling sector in the Siang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh.

Stand-off

China has not fully digested the fact that India stood up for Bhutan when the PLA was trying to build a road in June near the trijunction between Sikkim and Chumbi Valley in Tibet.

Quoting “experts”, a PLA website admitted that China will be better prepared “next time”: “the recent Doklam standoff had propelled China to perfect its strategy in its western part” said chinamil.com.cn.

Zhao Xiaozhuo, a research fellow at the Academy of Military Sciences is quoted by the same newspaper: “India never takes road construction as an opportunity… and only thinks about its own interest.”

Was the road on Bhutanese territory really an opportunity for India? It makes no sense.

During a recent press conference, the spokesperson of the China’s ministry of national defence said India “should strictly control its troops”.

While China is getting ready for another stand-off, Beijing deeply dislikes Delhi developing its side of the border.

The Global Times resented the recent visit of the Indian Union home minister Rajnath Singh to Nelong Valley in Uttarakhand; Singh spent the New Year with Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).

“An Indian road construction project connecting all border posts along the China-India frontier could lead to new military standoffs between China and India,” warned another Chinese expert.

China is unhappy because Rajnath Singh asserted that “a number of border posts had already been connected with roads and many would soon be linked … this would enhance the operational efficiency of the officers and reduce mountain-related sickness among them.”

While Beijing is going full steam to build infrastructure on its side of the McMahon Line, it complains about Delhi building roads on India’s borders; amazing double standards.

Nelong Border Outpost, located at the height of 11,700 feet, is manned by the ITBP. Accompanied by ITBP director general, R. K. Pachnanda, the minister later visited Pulam Sumda (14,200 feet) and interacted with jawans and officers..

Investment

The area is disputed by the Chinese only because Beijing refuses to adhere to the universally accepted principle of “watershed” used for demarcating borders. In Nelang, the watershed in the area is located at Tsangchok pass, beyond Pulam Sumda.

At the same time, Beijing does whatever it wants on its side of the border.

The China Daily recently reported: “Investment in infrastructure in the Tibet Autonomous Region is helping to lift 628 villages along the border out of poverty.”

The Chinese newspaper further asserted: “After getting access to electricity and the construction of new roads, tea farmers and herdsmen in a village some 200 kilometres southwest of Lhasa in Tsona county founded a cooperative that provides skills training and job opportunities for villagers.”

Lepo, a tiny village, north of Khenzimane, the last border post on the McMahon Line is said to have received several thousands of visitors last year and adequate lodging facilities have been provided to them.

China further admitted: “Starting last year, more than 100 million yuan (Rs 99.4 crore) has been invested in infrastructure in villages of less than 100 families as a part of a broader construction project to build model villages in the border area.”

Infrastructure

The China Daily estimated that by 2020, the road access rate in the area will reach 100 per cent and the per capita disposable income will double. Last week, Xinhua reported that China’s least populated township had been connected to the national grid. It is Yume (also spelt Yulmed), the first hamlet north of Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh.Remember, at that time of the 19th Congress, Xi Jinping had written a letter to two young Tibetan herders who had introduced their village to the Chinese president. It was the same Yume.

The Global Times commented: “A sparsely populated township has been connected to the state electricity grid, ending life without electricity for its 32 residents.”

The contractor, a Xining-based electric power company who worked on the project is quoted saying: “The 15-kilometer 10-kilovolt power line, which took five months to complete, is connected via 108 electric poles over a 5,000-meter-high mountain.”

There are many such examples along the Tibetan side of the McMahon Line. Year 2018 may not be serene despite the peaceful vows of President Xi. – IDR, 22 January 2018

India and China face each other on the Tibet border

 

Arunachal Pradesh: Aggressive proselytisation is killing indigenous faiths – Aravindan Neelakandan

Christians in Arunachal Pradesh

Aravindan NeelakandanConversions in Arunachal Pradesh are not mere problems of religion but of utmost strategic importance given the presence of Christian terrorist organisations in the region. … Losing ‘souls’ to aggressive religious bodies is a dangerous threat to the vibrancy and survivability of India’s mutli-religious fabric. – Aravindan Neelakandan

In August 2017 the Pema Khandu led BJP government in Arunachal Pradesh approved the establishment of the “Department of Indigenous Faith & Cultural Affairs” at a meeting chaired by the Chief Minister.

The Chief Minister had stated that the indigenous communities of Arunachal Pradesh need to take “specific steps to preserve and protect them from disappearing into oblivion”.

According to news reports Christian lobbying organisations quickly began opposing the government move. They alleged that “through its move to create a department to protect the indigenous faiths, the state government was taking aim at the Church.”

The secretary of the Arunachal Christian Forum (ACF) was quoted as saying that the government’s aim was “to target the Church by putting pressure on it, but the government should not interfere in religious matters and treat all religious groups equally”.

Demographic data—as pointed out by many—has been largely pointing to an increasing number of conversions in the state.

In 2001 Christians formed 18.7 per cent of the population in Arunachal Pradesh. A decade later, in 2011 this number has been reported as 30 per cent, officially. The actual number is likely to be much higher.

The increase in Christian population is also accompanied by the diminishing of local spiritual traditions like Donyi-Polo, Rangfraa and Buddhist tribal groups. The Christian claim is that the teachings of Jesus Christ attract the tribals who face a lot of problems. Christianity is said to have “reformed” the tribes.

A look into the incidents of past one decade shows another picture which is not just different but much scarier than the benign picture provided by lobbyist groups.

In August 2004, months after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had come to power at the centre, four tribal villages in Tirap—Changlang district in Arunachal Pradesh had some visitors. The visitors carried assault automatic weapons and told the villagers that they should either convert to Christianity or face execution. The visitors were secessionists belonging to the two rival factions of NSCN—appropriately named National Socialist Council of Nagaland, a terror group fighting for a Christian socialist theocracy. The villagers had to flee fearing torture and death. They belonged to the indigenous religious streams of Arunachal and a syncretic tradition of Buddhism. (The Assam Tribune, 23 August, 2004)

Such gun-point conversions were condemned by the joint Buddhist session of the Purvanchal Buddhist Bhikkhu Sangha and Purvanchal Buddhist Association of both the states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. They strongly condemned “the heinous atrocities committed by the militants on the peace-loving Buddhists and tribes” and issued a press release saying that aggressive proselytism in Arunachal Pradesh was a violation of human rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

What followed was a deafening silence from both the mainstream media and the government. Throughout the UPA government’s decade-long stint, aggressive proselytising continued in Arunachal Pradesh, so much so that in 2010 when Tikhak Buddhists of Changlang district in the state celebrated Buddha Purnima, security forces had to provide them protection. The NSCN had issued a threat to Buddhist villagers to convert to Christianity. They were also warned not to celebrate Buddhist functions and if they did, they would face dire consequences.

An agonised Venerable Aggadhamma, the highest Buddhist leader of the province, told reporters that the NSCN terrorists were setting seven day deadlines for villagers to convert to Christianity. Ven Aggadhamma even sent a memorandum to then prime minister Manmohan Singh, the Union Home Ministry, the President as well as the Minority Commission (The Indian Express, 28 May, 2010).

It is a telling comment on the nature of mainstream media that nothing except minimal reportage happened. No outrages, no op-eds and no cartoons were published against such aggressive attempts to convert people of indigenous faith. That the hyper-proselytisation drive in Arunachal Pradesh correlates with the UPA regime period may not be accidental at all. The rate of conversions has been high despite there being legal restrictions against aggressive conversions in the state.

The current Khandu government, meanwhile, has been made to bow to the pressures of international lobbying groups and bodies such as the ACF. It is apparently toying with the idea of using a different name for the body being set up for protesting indigenous culture and faiths.

That a strategically important border state of India has to go through such issues is a cause of deep worry. Conversions in this state are not mere problems of religion but of utmost strategic importance given the presence of Christian terrorist organisations in the region.

When we lose territory there is a possibility that we can regain it. But losing ‘souls’ to aggressive religious bodies is a far more dangerous threat to the vibrancy and survivability of India’s multicultural, mutli-religious fabric. – Swarajya, 27 October 2017

» Aravindan Neelakandan is an author, economist and psychologist. He is a post-socialist thinker of cultural evolutionism and Indian ethnogenesis. He is known for the book Breaking India, which he co-authored with Rajiv Malhotra.

St Joseph's Cathedral, Itanagar, Arunachal PradeshCatholic priest Itanagar Arunachal PradeshTribal Christian converts in Arunachal Pradesh

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China’s renaming tantrum is childish – Claude Arpi

Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th Dalai Lama

Claude ApriBy renaming six places in Arunachal Praesh, Beijing wants to remind India of the 1962 war and the fact that the Dalai Lama “belongs to China”. – Claude Arpi

Tawang has been in the news in recent times. According to an article in the China Daily, published at the end of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh: “Under India’s illegal rule, the residents of Southern Tibet live difficult lives, face various kinds of discrimination, and look forward to returning to China.” The mouthpiece of the Communist Party says that the Dalai Lama “can’t wait to give away Tawang district … in exchange for India’s support for the survival of his separatist group.” Calling the Dalai Lama a “troublemaker”, the daily further affirms: “Depending on India for a living, the Dalai Lama’s eagerness to please his master is understandable, but he is going too far by selling Southern Tibet in exchange for his master’s favour.”A few days later, China Tibet Online, a website affiliated to Xinhua, referred to the Tibetan leader’s visit to “Southern Tibet”, particularly to “Dawang”, a pinyin transcription for Tawang. Renaming names is however not new. It has been done by all colonisers. More than anybody, India is aware of this. China has done it in a more systematic manner. After it invaded Tibet in 1950-51, Shigaste became Rìkazé or Xigatse, Sakya was Sa’gya, Metok, north of Arunachal’s Upper Siang district, Mutao or Medog.

Apart from the cases of pure pinyin-isation like the ones just mentioned, in many cases, names have been completely changed. Ngari province is now called Ali Prefecture (Chinese faulty pronunciation can’t pronounce “Ng” and “r”), Kyirong at the border with Nepal is now Jilong and worse, Barahoti in today’s Uttarakhand is called Wuje, while Demchok in Ladakh is termed Parigas. Humans too are subjected to similar renaming: the Panchen Lama selected by China, Gyaltsen Norbu, is Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu. All this shows that the recent announcement about the “official standardised names” for six places in Arunachal Pradesh is not a scoop; the only surprise is that it was not done earlier, which is simply because the claim itself on Tawang is an afterthought. In any case, today it looks like a childish reaction to the Dalai Lama’s visit to the state earlier this month. The Chinese media said that Beijing’s objective was to reaffirm China’s claim over Arunachal, “South Tibet” for the Chinese. The Global Times reported: “China’s ministry of civil affairs announced on April 14 that it had standardised in Chinese characters, Tibetan and Roman alphabet the names of six places in ‘South Tibet’, which India calls ‘Arunachal Pradesh’, in accordance with the regulations of the central government.”

The official names of the six places (transcribed in Roman alphabet) are Wo’gyainling, Mila Ri, Qoidengarbo Ri, Mainquka, Bumo La and Namkapub Ri. Let us have a look where these places are located. Wo’gyainling is the new spelling for Urgyeling, the birthplace of Tsangyang Gyaltso, the sixth Dalai Lama, a few kilometers south of Tawang town. One understands the political reasons why China would be so attached to the place. Beijing is not ready to accept that a Dalai Lama could be born outside Tibet (China). The second place is Mila Ri. It is a lake known as Mila Nagula situated near the famous “Madhuri” Lake, north of Tawang and South of the Indo-Tibet border. The place is mentioned in the 1962 war records, advancing PLA troops passed the lake on their way to Tawang. As “Ri” means “mountain” or “ridge” in Tibetan/Monpa, Mila Ri is probably one of the ridges above the lake. The third place is Qoidengarbo Ri, for “Chorten Karpo” or “White Stupa”. It refers to Gorsam Chorten, the only large white stupa in the area (and the largest in Arunachal). It is not far from Zimithang, the tactical HQ of the 4th Infantry Division during the 1962 war.

The name may refer to one of the ridges around the stupa. Mainquka is Menchuka (or Mechuka, alternative Indian spelling) is a most strategic valley in West Siang district of Arunachal. It is the only of one the six places outside Tawang district. China is not happy that India recently landed a [Boeing C-17 Globemaster III] transport aircraft in the area. Menchuka was also occupied by the Chinese in October-November 1962. Bumo La is the border post of Bumla, 45 km north of Tawang, where the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA meet several times a year. “Bumo” means “girl” in Tibetan/Monpa. Namkapub Ri is linked to Namkha Chu river, the theatre of the first Chinese attack in October 1962. “Ri” is for one of the ridges above the river (perhaps Hathungla). By naming these six places, Beijing wants to remind India of the 1962 war and the fact that the Dalai Lama “belongs to China”. As the ministry of external affairs stated, renaming places can’t change the fact that the territory south of the McMahon Line belongs to India. What about the local population in Arunachal looking forward “to return” one day to China under the Communist banner? During the Dalai Lama’s visit, not only did the entire local Monpa population (some 35,000 to 40,000, according to police sources) throng to have a glimpse of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, but also large flocks of Buddhist pilgrims from the remotest villages of Upper Subansiri, West Siang or Upper Siang districts, who travelled for days to have a once-in-a-lifetime darshan.

Why did the visit of the Dalai Lama to Tawang trigger so much violence from the Chinese propaganda machinery? First and foremost, by allowing the Tibetan leader to visit Tawang, New Delhi has reasserted that the Land of Mon, as Tawang is known, is an integral part of India, whether China agrees or disagrees. This does not please Beijing, which lately has started adding Tawang to China’s “occupied territories”. Moreover, if China is under the impression that Delhi’s policy is going to change, it is mistaken; Beijing has to reconcile and live with it. The Chinese response is also a reaction to the Dalai Lama’s immense popularity in India’s border areas. This deeply irritates Beijing whose propaganda is unable to win over the “masses”, whether on the Tibetan side of the border or in the Indian Himalaya. Beijing does not know how to react to such reverence for the Tibetan leader; given that the Chinese leadership has been unable to win over the hearts of the Tibetans, more than 60 years after their so-called liberation. In these circumstances, how could the Communist leadership convince the population of Arunachal Pradesh to join the authoritarian regime? Another reason why Beijing has been so furious is that China has today become “bigger”; and it dislikes to be contradicted by “smaller” nations (like India). Despite using batteries of “experts”, including a wanted Ulfa dissident, to bolster its claims, Beijing has been unable to project its case and ended up by resorting to insulting the revered Buddhist teacher and threatening India. It will lead Beijing nowhere in the long run. – Deccan Chronicle, 27 April 2017

» Claude Arpi is French-born author, journalist, historian and tibetologist. He  is the director of the Pavilion of Tibetan Culture at Auroville, Tamil Nadu.

Boeing C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft

Tawang Town

India’s painful history dealing with bellicose, deceitful China – Vinay Kaura

Vinay Kaura“India has been forced into boundary negotiations with a revisionist state whose own claim to the territory in question is highly debatable and defies all logic. Chinese claim on Tibet is akin to Saddam Hussein’s claim, following his invasion of Kuwait in 1990. … If Indian response to China’s guile continues to be a mixture of complacency and skittishness, Tawang is inevitably destined to become a forgotten footnote in the long, painful history of India’s humiliation.” – Prof Vinay Kaura

Ajit DovalRepresenting India in the special representative-level boundary talks with China, national security adviser Ajit Kumar Doval is performing the most challenging diplomatic trouble-shooting tasks on behalf of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Only a few days after Narendra Modi’s China visit, Mr Doval, while delivering the annual K. F. Rustam Lecture on May 22, exposed China’s double standards in boundary negotiations with India. Expressing surprise that China had recognised the McMahon Line only till erstwhile Burma, but did not accept beyond it, he sounded worried: “We are particularly concerned about the eastern sector, where the claims have been made on Tawang, which is totally in contravention of accepted principles”. Predictably, China reacted strongly. Terming the McMahon Line as “illegal”, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying reaffirmed Beijing’s claims on Arunachal Pradesh. Obviously, China has once again demonstrated its commitment to ruthless pragmatism while negotiating long-standing boundary dispute.

Hua ChunyingChinese leaders, absorbed by China’s phenomenal economic success and driven by the inflexibility of their strategic orientation towards India, will find it extremely difficult to reconsider their “approach on issues that hold us back from realising full potential of our partnership”, as Mr Modi would like them to. If past is any guide to the future, China is not likely to mind if their diplomats would keep talking to their Indian counterparts — already 18 rounds of negotiations between special representatives — and do not seem to be getting anywhere. Mr Modi’s appeal for clarification of Line of Actual Control (LAC) has fallen on deaf ears as China’s deputy director general of the Asian affairs at the foreign ministry, Huang Xilian, has openly expressed Chinese reservations on clarifying the LAC and instead shown preference for a pact with India on a code of conduct to maintain peace along the border. In other words, China wants procedure should take precedence over substance. For India, procedural details should not make the contending parties lose sight of the bigger picture.

Indian and Chinese SoldiersAccording to Mr Doval, for improving “the bilateral relations with China, border is the critical and vital issue”. For those who have assumed that a growing economic relationship between India and China would lead to strategic stabilisation and an eventual resolution of the two countries’ border disputes, the latest expression of Chinese bellicosity immediately after Mr Modi’s “landmark” China visit may have come as a shock. Predictably, expectations of a transformation have given way to profound disillusionment and a cloud of pessimism again seems to be enveloping Sino-India relations. Last year’s military face-off in Ladakh during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India visit, growing maritime competition in the Indian Ocean region, and the absence of progress on resolving the boundary dispute, have all given strength to those sceptical about the optimistic premises on which India’s China policy is built.

Sino-India relations remain a prisoner of the past. William Faulkner said it best: “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past”. Having won power in 1949, by defeating the Kuomintang in conventional military battles, Communist China became a highly secretive, authoritarian and militarised society. Like all militant nationalists, they too desired to restore China’s borders to former historical levels. The People’s Liberation Army forcibly entered into Lhasa in 1950 and occupied Tibet. Not only this, they also marched into Xinjiang and plunged into a series of major conflicts over the former Qing dynasty tributary states of Korea and Vietnam. The Chinese armies finally invaded in October 1951, overwhelming the poorly equipped Tibetan troops.

14th Dalai Lama in 1950, when he was asked to take charge of the Tibetan state in the face of a Chinese invasion.  The greatest surprise of the Tibetan collapse was not that it happened — though that was shocking, strange and startling enough — but the absence of a credible strategy to counter it. The de facto takeover of Tibet was made de jure when the Dalai Lama was made to accept the 17-point agreement of May 1951, which consisted of unenforceable commitments from China. This crucial agreement became the basis of the nullification of all Tibetan claims to independence. Consequences for India were decisive: the buffer zone provided by the Tibetan plateau disappeared overnight. Nehru’s efforts to convince the Chinese to maintain a relationship of suzerainty over Tibet failed miserably. To cut the long story short, the Panchsheel Agreement, subsequent diplomatic negotiations, empty slogan of “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai”, and finally the ill-conceived “forward policy” could not help India reach a just and peaceful conclusion on the contentious border issue. And finally, China inflicted a crushing defeat on India in 1962, thoroughly exposing the incompetence and inadequacy of its defence preparedness.

As the cliché goes: it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up. India has been forced into boundary negotiations with a revisionist state whose own claim to the territory in question is highly debatable and defies all logic. Chinese claim on Tibet is akin to Saddam Hussein’s claim, following his invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Tibetan demonstration against ChinaChina is a tough negotiator whose obdurate positions and tough demands have always slowed down the negotiation process. Chinese claims in the eastern sector have changed from some parts of the state of Arunachal Pradesh to the entire state. What is the basis of China’s claims on Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh? The answer has continued to perplex all sensible observers except diehard communist supporters. The Chinese demand on Tawang is premised on its historical and cultural importance to Tibetan Buddhism, which is hardly convincing.

During the then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India in April 2005, India and China had signed an agreement on the political parameters and guiding principles for the settlement of the India-China boundary question, whose article VII read: “In reaching a border settlement, two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in border areas”. It was interpreted as softening of China’s stance on Tawang, whose population is favourably inclined towards India.

Narendra Modi during his visit to Terracotta Warriors Museum, in Xi'an, ChinaChina upholds international norms when they are in sync with its national interests, but if they are found to be at odds with China’s strategic aims, they are brazenly and conveniently “forgotten”. Sensing the strategic significance of Tawang in maintaining complete ideological control over Tibet, the Chinese have retracted from the 2005 agreement, as is clear from their renewed insistence on Tawang. India’s lament is understandable, as reflected in Mr Doval’s statement: “the fact is there is settled population in these areas particularly in Tawang and other areas which have been participating in the national mainstream all through”.

While dealing with as dominant and deceitful an adversary as China, there is no escaping the past mistakes on Tibet. If Indian response to China’s guile continues to be a mixture of complacency and skittishness, Tawang is inevitably destined to become a forgotten footnote in the long, painful history of India’s humiliation. – Asian Age, 14 June 2015

» Prof Vinay Kaura is an assistant professor in the department of international affairs and security studies, and coordinator at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice, Jodhpur.

Tawang Town

India ruled by BJP is not India of the Dynasty – Rakesh Sinha

Prof Rakesh Sinha“Even if we were to adhere to the homilies of pro-Chinese Indian “experts” advocating voluntary amnesia of China’s illegal occupation of 48,000 sq km of Indian territory and PLA’s border adventurism, there are issues which can’t be downgraded. One of them is the Brahmaputra River. Flowing from Tibet, the Tsangpo River, also known as the Brahmaputra, enters India. China reportedly desires to build its highest dam there, which will adversely effect India, particularly Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Another Chinese irritant is its oft-repeated claim on Arunachal Pradesh, an integral part of India. There can be no peace if such policies continue. But China plays the public relations game with finesse.” – Prof Rakesh Sinha

Modi & XiFor Xi Jinping, this India visit has brought home the twin experiences of cultural exhilaration and realpolitik firmness, delivered by his host. The Chinese president enjoyed traditional Indian hospitality but also realised that India ruled by BJP is not India of the Nehrus. His country has to be now cautious and respectful in treating India. The present Indian leadership was groomed in the antithesis of Nehru’s China policy, which in the words of the late PM’s journalist friend—in the aftermath of the 1962 war—was “the road to dishonour”. War has never been India’s preference, irrespective of whoever is at the helm in South Block. However, India’s enhanced diplomatic hardball is a significant development now seen and felt in the international arena. Lest one mistakes diplomacy for soft talk, it bears iteration that diplomacy transcends mere “handling skills” pertaining to situations at hand. It is an outcome of politics and policies, and the leadership of a country.

To the Modi government must rightfully go the credit of liberating the country from its diplomatic deficit. Earlier, a “treat us as you want” mindset passed off for policy in New Delhi. India’s policymakers were perfect examples of Gandhi’s three monkeys —ears, eyes and mouths shut. Needless to say, the Chinese leadership is not only perturbed by the growing India-Japan relationship but also by a strong likelihood of the emergence of a Hindu-Buddhist corridor. It would be too early to judge China, whose worldview is reflected by the proverb “it does not matter whether cat is black or white so long it catches the mice”.

Mutual economic interests in a neoliberal world are one of the most important determinants of foreign policy. There is no way China can ignore the emerging Indian market. Its emergence as India’s biggest trading partner is now a binding factor even as it eyes a $100 billion target for 2015.

Brahmaputra River MapYet, burgeoning economic entente between two countries apart, there are reasons for institutionalised suspicion of China. Even if we were to adhere to the homilies of pro-Chinese Indian “experts” advocating voluntary amnesia of China’s illegal occupation of 48,000 sq km of Indian territory and PLA’s border adventurism, there are issues which can’t be downgraded. One of them is the Brahmaputra River. Flowing [from] Tibet, the Tsangpo River, also known as the Brahmaputra, enters India. China reportedly desires to build its highest dam there, which will adversely effect India, particularly Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

Another Chinese irritant is its oft-repeated claim on Arunachal Pradesh, an integral part of India. There can be no peace if such policies continue. But China plays the public relations game with finesse. Chinese lobbying among Indian experts, academics, intellectuals, parties of all ideological hues is alarmingly successful. Most of them are Chinese propagandists and refuse to even listen to anything against China, using the cliché of “inevitability of interdependence”. When I raised the question of Arunachal Pradesh in a TV debate, my co-panelist dubbed it “old jingoism”. A fortnight later in another TV discussion, a senior journalist accused the Indian media of “jingoism” by “unnecessarily telecasting the Chinese army’s border violations”.

It has become difficult to even discuss Tibet. Mutual trade interests notwithstanding, Tibet cannot be ignored or forgotten. India is morally bound to support their cause. Tibet’s invasion by China, to use C Rajagopalachari’s phrase, was brutal colonialism. The loss of Tibet’s independence delivered strategic benefit to China. But Indian consensus on this issue is best represented by Jayaprakash Narayan: “Is Tibet lost forever? No. A thousand times no. Tibet will not die because there is no death for human spirit.”

China needs India more than India needs China. Our diplomacy cannot be a victim of the pro-Chinese leanings in public discourse. – The New India Express, 21 September 2014

» Prof Rakesh Sinha is Honorary Director of India Policy Foundation. E-mail him at Rakeshsinha46@gmail.com

Chinese are building dams across the Brahmaputra in Tibet

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The Christianising of Arunachal Pradesh – Max Bearak

Max Bearak“In the 1980s and earlier, barely any convents or Christian institutions existed in Arunachal as missionary work was, as it still is, outlawed under the Freedom of Indigenous Faith Act of 1978. These days, in spite of the law, Christian schools, hospitals and churches abound, particularly in central Arunachal, where the state’s most populous and powerful tribe, the Nyishis, live.” – Max Bearak

India Crossed-Out: Christian missionaries meet no opposition from Hindu organisations today.Though the event they advertised had passed a month earlier, the neon-colored posters remained, clinging to the state capital’s walls, lampposts and store-fronts. On them were invitations to Indigenous Faith Day celebrations on Dec. 1, with slogans like “Culture without faith is body without soul,” and, more pointedly, “Imitation of alien faith is slavery.”

Implicit in the slogans for the event, which began in 2011, is the idea that this northeastern state, populated mostly by tribal people, is being stripped of its distinctive religious identity as hundreds of thousands have converted to Christianity.

Most outsiders hear about this remote Himalayan state in the context of tensions with China over repeated border incursions and blueprints to build hundreds of dams on its icy, blue rivers. But most Arunachal Pradesh residents are more concerned with adapting to a society increasingly drawn along religious rather than tribal lines.

In Itanagar’s residential neighborhoods, most households identify themselves with religious markers — a star lantern for Christians, and a white flag with a red sun, for animists. “We’re at a junction where we are dichotomizing,” said Toku Tayu Stephen, the catechist at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Itanagar.

Hundreds of thousands in this mountainous and sparsely populated state have converted to Christianity in recent years, and the trend has accelerated exponentially over the past four decades. The 1971 census showed less than 1 percent of Arunachal Pradesh’s residents called themselves Christian, but in 2001, 19 percent of the state’s total population and 26 percent of the tribal population put themselves in that category.

St Joseph's Church in ItanagarWhile religious data for the 2011 census hasn’t been released yet, many observers say that it is likely that Christians now form a majority of the approximately 1.4 million people in the state, with some tribes almost fully converted.

Less than a decade ago, Arunachal Pradesh was the only state in India to have a majority population adhering to tribal religions. Tribes in other northeast Indian states like the now-solidly Christian Mizoram, Meghalaya and Nagaland converted much earlier, while Hinduism dominates the plains of Assam.

Anthropologists like Stuart Blackburn, who have chronicled social change in Arunachal’s tribes, contend that Christianity’s infiltration into Arunachal Pradesh began slowly, mostly through locals who descended into the Assamese plains to be educated in well-regarded missionary schools there, only to return with a new religious zeal, as well as English-language skills and new names like John and James.

In the 1980s and earlier, barely any convents or Christian institutions existed in Arunachal as missionary work was, as it still is, outlawed under the Freedom of Indigenous Faith Act of 1978. These days, in spite of the law, Christian schools, hospitals and churches abound, particularly in central Arunachal, where the state’s most populous and powerful tribe, the Nyishis, live.

The state’s chief minister, Nabam Tuki, who is both a Nyishi and a Christian, donated some of the funds used to build St. Joseph’s Cathedral where Mr. Stephen, 41, has been a catechist for two years.

“1978 didn’t matter,” said Mr. Stephen, who was the son of an animist priest but converted at a convent school in Assam as a boy. “Our first concern was to come back home and heal people. So much disease was there in our villages. We showed people that God could send miracles, and many people wanted to convert right away.”

Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Nabam TukiBut there were other reasons to convert – some practical, like the need for better education and healthcare, which churches promised to bring, and others more spiritual. “Our people are religious by nature,” said Mr. Stephen. “We’ve always believed in a supreme being who will smite you if you sin, and we’ve always had a mother figure like Mary.”

Mr. Stephen said that people, especially in rural areas, are still coming around to “the truth,” and that Christianity was largely a unifying force in a state that has dozens of tribes whom often fought each other.

He said that during Christmas and Easter seasons, pastors from cities like Itanagar visited villages where residents had been waiting for months to be officially converted, and performed mass baptisms. “People are just waiting,” he said, “especially to be freed from sickness.”

Nani Bath, a professor of political science at Rajiv Gandhi University near Itanagar, said many tribals converted out of a desire to be modern, since Christianity was often seen in the same boat as modernity.

“See, at these churches, you’d have guys playing guitar and pretty girls singing in English, and no one was allowed to drink, which was very rampant both then and now in this state,” he said.

Lisa Lomdak, a linguist and colleague of Professor Bath’s, said that for those with a 21st-century mindset, the traditional wedding practice of slaughtering dozens of mithuns, a type of mountain bovine, was disagreeable.

For others, she said, the ritual slaughter was just too expensive, and converting to Christianity was one way to save money.

Flag of the Donyi-Polo religionProfessor Lomdak, herself a follower of the Donyi-Polo faith, an organized form of animism that translates as “sun-moon,” lamented that conversions are part of a larger erosion of tribal culture and endangerment of local language.

“Even if our kids speak our language, they aren’t fluent,” she said. “They aren’t even competent. Wherever there is dish TV, you’ll see kids excelling in English and Hindi. And when kids sing old tribal songs, other kids tell them to stop because ‘those are not Jesus songs.’”

Tribal religion has adapted some of the modern forms of worship in response to its dwindling followers. Within the past five years, locals say, the Donyi-Polo faith has become more institutionalized in its practices, as its leaders have realized that it suffers from being seen as a disorganized and time-worn default religion.

From its age-old pantheon, the cosmic duo of Donyi and Polo have been promoted as the primary gods, while previously absent elements like prayer halls, designated holidays, chant books, the use of incense and ringing bells and the visual depiction of gods and goddesses have been introduced.

To many, these spiritual building blocks are eerily reminiscent of Hinduism’s. Professor Bath said right-wing Hindu organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or R.S.S., finance Donyi-Polo schools and cultural centers, promoting it as a unified Arunachali religion. The R.S.S. is aligned politically with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has lost ground in a state where Christians have gained increasing power through the Congress Party.

Tribal converts in an Itanagar churchLast month, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of R.S.S., traveled to Pasighat, in the eastern part of the state, to address 600 members of his organization at the Donyi-Polo Vidya Niketan, one of the schools funded by the Hindu nationalist organization. At numerous R.S.S.-sponsored events, the life of Talom Rukbo, the father of modern, institutionalized Donyi-Poloism, has been memorialized.

Professor Lomdak said some Hindus may see tribal animist faiths simply as a substratum of their own. She acknowledged that the borders between her religion and Hinduism were blurry. All the same, she worried that Christianity, and not Hinduism, would prove most corrosive to her state’s indigenous culture.

Mr. Stephen, having just left a Mass given in the Nyishi language, presented a different take on the transformation. “Before criticizing, they should really ask themselves how ‘alien’ Christianity really is,” he said. “Already, in the towns and also the villages, this religion is becoming our tradition.” – The New York Times, 4 February 2014