By Jyoti Lal Choudhary
Alarmed at the unabated proselytisation by Christian missionaries, the north-east Indigenous Tribal Faith and Culture Protection Forum (NEITFCPF) has taken up a multipronged action plan to put a halt to the practice. A sustained campaign for generating awareness among the tribals to resist conversion and protect their traditional faith is part of the strategy.
Mass petitions will be sent to the President, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, urging him to modify the presidential orders under Article 342 (i) of the Constitution “to deschedule a Vanvasi as ST, who has given up his indigenous faith and has embraced Christianity or Islam,” said Dharnidhar Bordoloi, a spokesman of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, an affiliate of NEITFCPF.
The converted Vanvasis, according to him, enjoy dual benefits of STs as well as of minorities. The issue was raised by Kartik Oraon, the Congress MP and Vanvasi leader, along with other 235 members, way back in 1967 for amendment of the constitutional provision. A recent Supreme Court judgement has clarified that “if by the reason of conversion to a different religion, a Vanvasi, not following the traditional customs, rituals and other traits, may not be accepted as a member of the tribe.”
Indiscriminate religious conversions of Vanvasis are not only alienating them from their faith but also changing their mindset with serious ramifications. Despite a constitutional and legal ban on conversion by fraud, force and allurement, the process continues. States like Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat have framed laws proscribing conversion, but these have not been effective in curbing the conversion drive of the Christian missionaries.
Bordoloi revealed that 18 per cent of the Vanvasis have been converted. An unusual growth of the Christian population in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Tripura and those of Muslims in Assam, Sikkim, Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh should not be overlooked.
“The campaign”, he said, “is to mobilise public opinion to ban illicit conversions. The Central Government should learn a lesson from Indonesia. The targeted areas in the north-east are at international borders which are abounding with active insurgent groups and facing alien cultural invasion”, reminded Bordoloi.
Most importantly, the rights of the Vanvasis on forestland have to be legalised with a suitable amendment in the Forest Conservation Act of 1980. NEITFCPF suggests the year 1993 as the cut-off date to ensure undisputed hold of the Vanvasis on jal, jungle and zamin. In this respect, Bordoloi referred to the move of the Inspector General of Forests, GOI, vide his missive to the Chief Secretaries of all the states and Union Territories, dated February 5, 2004, to settle the claims of the tribal population on forestland.
“The awareness campaign through group and mass meetings will cover all the Vanvasi villages of the north-east,” he pointed out.