In a shocking development in Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh, a 65-year-old widow hailing from the Mishmi tribe, an indigenous community found predominantly in the north eastern state was harassed by the Presbyterian Christians of her village for following her age-old traditional faith.
According to a report of the Goa Chronicle Sodyanglu Polong, a resident of Mekailiang village of the Tezu tehsil ( a region famous for Parshuram Kund considered sacred by Hindus) has written a letter to the pastor of the Tezu Church urging him to ask the followers of the Presbyterian Church not to harass her on religious grounds and let her practice her age-old traditions and faith with peace.
In her letter the old lady while narrating her ordeal has mentioned the fateful incident when her Puja Ghar (praying room) was desecrated by the missionaries after being used as a prayer center without her knowledge. Polong in the letter has further claimed that the missionaries also treated the skull of the sacrificed animal disrespectfully, considered sacred in her faith.
The letter also mentions how Polong’s daughter-in-law was converted to Christianity in the premises of the Presbyterian Church of her village on Sunday, September 17. The old lady however has also mentioned that she has no issue with her daughter-in-law’s newly adopted faith and all that she wants is that the missionaries should not show disrespect towards her beliefs and traditions.
In the end the old widow lady in her letter has urged the pastor to ensure that the missionaries should not perform any prayer ceremonies at her house without her approval.
Indigenous groups and missionary led conversion
It is to be noted that a number of indigenous tribes who reside in the hilly terrain of Arunachal believe in the Animism, however despite their separate belief system there are many of these groups who still trace their ancestry to the age-old Sanatan tradition and culture. Mishmis are one among them found predominantly in the land of rising Sun who trace their ancestry to the legendary king Bhismak and his daughter Rukmini, wife of Bhagwan Krishna.
The indigenous group like the others in the region is facing a grave threat to their traditional practices and religious belief system due to lightning fast conversions led by the Christian missionaries in Arunachal and other adjoining regions.The group believe in animism and consider the skills of animals sacred, however the growing rate of conversion has led a large chunk of people to relinquish their age-old traditions and embrace Christianity.
Looking at the history of the region, the trends of the last five decades are alarming. The situation in the lower Arunachal is specifically of concern where districts like Longding and Tirap has been the epecentre of conversion, now the conversion apparatus is also spreading its footprints in central eastern regions like Lohit where the Mishmis live in a significant number.
Astonishingly the percentage of Christians in the state was less than 1 percent in 1971, however things changed drastically when the state was brought under civil administration. According to a report of the Hindu Post the Christian population of the state rose to 5 per cent only in a decade, registering a 600 per cent growth rate in a decade.
In 2001 it stood at 18.72 per cent. In unavailability of current census data the report quoted a decade old figures of a few districts which suggest that the Christian population in the state has surpassed the other major religions such as Hindu and Donyi polo in half of the districts of the state.The report also claimed that some of the conversions are forced in nature and it is going on at a rapid pace in separate regions.
The trends are alarming especially when the region has been an inalienable part of Sanatan culture and civilization. There are numerous discoveries and mention of the places in the ancient texts such as Bhagwat purana that establish the ancestry of the people of the far eastern land to Sanatan. For instances from the Shiva lingam found in the excavation in Lohit district named after Lohit river referred as Lauthiya in ancient times to the copper plates with Sanskrit inscriptions unearthed from the Bhismaknagar and Tamreshari temple suggests the Hindu roots of the land.