By S.N. Saxena
At last experts and scholars have realised that Buddhism in India'snorth-east is fast losing its original status with alien influences threatening this several-millennium-old faith, which is followed by a number of tribes of the region. This is the consensus arrived at a recent seminar of scholars and monks in Guwahati.
The national seminar on ?Buddhism in North East: Past & Present? was attended by foreign monks and scholars drawn from Myanmar, Cambodia and Sri Lanka besides their Indians counterparts. It was brought out in the discussion that several tribes like the Singhphos in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, while believing in witchcraft and sorcery, have started eating all kinds of meat unlike the traditional believers, who are still strict vegetarians. Experts said that the simple lifestyle of the tribal people in the north-east was a result of the influence of Buddhism on the local people. Simplicity in dress and ornaments, socio-economic life?all are part of Buddhism though the people may not be direct followers of the faith but are influenced by the teachings of Buddha as is reflected by their lifestyle.
Deviation from the original faith among the tribals has also led to many other evils besides the meat-eating habit. There has been a strong impact due to the proximity of the north-eastern tribes to the people of other faiths owing to the large-scale proselytisation to Christianity over the years. Conversion causes total disruption of social conduct and norms of the tribes. For instance, customs like prohibition of cousin marriages and sagotra marriages, almost all tribals observe similar restrictions in matrimony, whereas the converts defy this with a vengeance, resulting in tension and hatred among the converts and the non-converts living in the same village. This is more so in the north-east where alienation from the original faith is very pronounced because of the strong-arm tactics of the Church. No doubt, over the years Buddhism has got mixed up with the mainstream Hindu culture and is still going strong despite the changes. The cause for worry for the Buddhist and other tribes in Arunachal Pradesh is the spread of Christianity in the state by force, fraud and through other allurements.
The alarming rate of conversions threatens the entire socio-religious fabric of the tribal society, since the number of Christians in the strategic north-eastern has swelled to over two lakhs from a mere negligible presence. The north-east is supposed to be the gateway for cultural interaction to countries of the South-East Asian region.