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By Marbianglang Rymbai
In the past a number of articles were published in your esteemed daily that delved on the issue of religious conversion. Recently, H H Mohrmen’s and Albert Thyrniang’s articles covered some pertinent questions on the issue. It is with deep concern that I am writing this article to convey the worry and concern on the part of the followers of the indigenous faith on marital conversion of the so-called ‘unbelievers’ to different Christian denominations. In the first place, it is considered offensive to describe the Niam Khasi and Niamtre as “unbelievers” just because they do not acknowledge the God of the Bible, Torah or Koran. John Hughes Morris in his book ‘The Story of Our Foreign Mission,’ called the Khasi labourers as “heathen”. Pagan or heathen is a derogatory term developed by the Christian community of Europe to describe any non-Abrahamic religion. The term has been extended by some writers or commentators to the indigenous faith groups of Meghalaya.
In this context, we have to point out the dire straits in which the Niam Tynrai or Niamtre followers are now in. The present trend is that whenever a boy or a girl from these indigenous faiths falls in love with a Christian he or she is ultimately compelled to convert to that religion. On the basis of that, concern a boy or girl would be told that unless he or she gets converted the marriage would not be approved by the family. In this way he or she is compelled to convert and become a proselyte. The Bible is clear that a Christian is never to marry a non-Christian. But expecting an “unbeliever” to become Christian following marriage is unrealistic and will lead to years of frustration and conflict. We have noticed the growing incidences of such conversion. Every family following the indigenous faith is facing this crisis.
There is a growing instance where parents have been compelled by their proselyte children to change their religious faith or beliefs too on the plea that this would make them better believers in God. They were told that there will be no one to look after them if they continued with their faith (indigenous faith). There will be no one to perform their last rites (cremation), because they consider it a taboo to be engaged in any kind of rituals. These poor parents submit to the indirect pressure of their children. They even had to attend church regularly in order secure a place of burial. A number of families are facing this type of situation. If this continues the Khasi and Jaintia community are going to lose their historic traditions within a few decades. The State cannot claim its uniqueness before the world.
We are concerned when it is said that the approval of the Church was needed for marriages. Therefore, it works as propaganda for proselytisation. A religion that is pluralistic in nature cannot have such conversion-based ideology. However, we must remember that the biblical term “unbelievers” actually mean persons from a different nation- a foreigner. The people from the indigenous faith in Meghalaya belong to the same nation. That is why the policy followed by the member of different churches is unethical. But if this trend continues then we are afraid that the people belonging to the indigenous faith may prefer exogamy to escape this kind of ‘mental and cultural torture,’ because in this way they can preserve their cultural identity. No wonder the Church even prohibits marriages between different denominations of Christianity. A religion that is pluralistic in nature cannot have such conversion-based ideology.
We do not understand why it is happening! Is it because the Church wants to increase the number of their followers? If it is so what a dangerous scheme to destroy the traditional faiths in Meghalaya! Or is it part of the larger international conspiracy?
This propaganda for proselytisation must be put to an end because such activities have already reduced the people and families following indigenous faith to a minority in their own land (8.7 %). They are denied the various scholarships under the Central Sector Scheme for their children in spite of the verdict of the Supreme Court in a Christian majority State. It is time for the Church to realize that traditional values systems have not yet lost their relevance in today’s world. Moreover, one should not forget that the balance in family life is important for social and political stability. This should be the philosophy of a multicultural society.
Social, ethnic and cultural differences contribute to a sense of distance. When people feel distant from others they can more easily treat others with less respect. Therefore, connectedness helps us to act with tolerance, generosity, compassion and fairness. All religions are akin and share common spiritual bond. Because all religious traditions share the same purpose, they must maintain respect and harmony among them. And let us remember that it is religion that makes us more “Human”. Although we can train ourselves to be less prejudiced and more accepting of others, we still harbour elements of an exclusivist mentality. In fact, we are biased towards others because we perceive our own beliefs as true.
We hope that the leaders of the various religious groups understand that ‘religious assimilation’ represents a slow destruction of the indigenous people of Meghalaya who are struggling to maintain their ethnicity and identity.
In conclusion I am reminded of the words of an Oxford University anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, Robin Dunbar who said, “Somehow it’s clear that religions, all these doctrinal religions, create the sense that we’re all one family.”