The article by Aiborlang Nongsiej (Shillong Times Sep 14, 2022) asks the question “Has Christianity destroyed culture?” and ends with the conclusion that it is “totally unjustified to blame Christianity for the loss of culture”. If one begins a discussion with a question, it usually includes both sides of the debate. I was therefore disappointed to read a one-sided article. If one is dogmatic about cultural aphorisms or axioms, it forecloses a discussion. Nevertheless, it is true that Christianity has brought benefits to converted communities and the author has cited some of them. I fully agree with much on his list.
Studies of the influence of Christianity and conversion on colonized and indigenous cultures would fill an encyclopedia and it is difficult to present this body of literature in a single article, much less in a letter to the editor. Many of these books and papers have been written by church leaders and theologians, but also by anthropologists, historians and sociologists. It is pertinent to remember that many tribes underwent mass conversion. Rev C. F. Andrews, the Anglican priest, a leading missionary in India, decried the practice of aggressive conversion as “trafficking in the souls of men”.
The early missionary accounts described tribals in derogatory terms such as savages, superstitious, heathen, primitive, and pagan. Cultural knowledge and practices were denigrated. Church documents have described a well-known festival among the Khasis as a sex orgy, and decried the practice of families sleeping in one room. Church members were banned from attending even the harvest dances. The Garo Jungle Book includes numerous examples of denigration.
Several contemporary accounts have described the mixed effects of Christianity on culture. One is the book “Welsh Missionaries and British Imperialism” by Andrew May, a professor of history at the University of Melbourne and a great-great grandson of Thomas Jones. Another book is “Voices from the Margins” by Jangkholam Haokip and David Smith. Verrier Elwin, considered the father of tribal anthropology, wrote 25 books on the tribes of India. He lived the last decade of his life in Shillong. Prof Tiplut Nongbri states that “Elwin was averse to Christian missionaries for the contempt they exhibited towards tribal cultures”.
The formation of the Seng Khasi in 1899 represented an effort to hold back the “onslaught of Westernisation and the heavy influence of Christianity in the 1800s”. According to one report, “the traditional practices of the Khasis were at the edge of a precipice – one nudge and the identity would be lost forever.” The pioneer 16 Khasi youth came together and formed the Seng Khasi to protect the indigenous religion and culture.
Cultural identity is an important factor for individual and communal well-being. To enable a holistic existential view of ourselves as tribals, we must take a balanced view of the profound changes exerted on our society by external influences.
Glenn C. Kharkongor,
Unemployment a ticking time bomb
I find it hilarious to read the figure of 1.8% unemployment rate given by our Chief Minister when replying to a question in the Assembly recently. From where did the officers who briefed the Chief Minister obtain this figure of 1.8%? From the Employment Exchanges? If so, don’t they realize that our armies of unemployed no longer register themselves with these Employment Exchanges because they have become useless a long time ago?.
More hilarious still is that the opposition members swallowed this kind of information without raising so much as a squeak. Are our 60 legislators living under a rock? Of course! Otherwise, they would have seen that with a few exceptions, every family with adult children has at least one member without a job. The disconnect of our legislators from reality is unbelievable!
In reality youth unemployment in Meghalaya is not less than 40 – 50% and increasing and without a doubt, this is a ticking time bomb but who cares?
Uncaring attitude of PHED
What if you are continuously served with contaminated food by an irresponsible person? You might fall sick, while the one who served will incur a trail of negative karma. Whether one agrees or not, the retribution of negative karma is far more “painful.” I will not go deeper into the inevitably far-reaching consequences of inhumane attitude/action, but PHED has “incurred” a load of negative karma for years together. The health of a section of the urban population has been adversely impacted due to the uncaring attitude of the authorities of PHED. Well, how can we excuse this Department when muddy water with oily substance spouts out from the PHE waterpipes? This is ethically unpardonable. No authority has the RIGHT to make the public “drink murky untreated water”.
It may be mentioned that my previous letter – “PHE should not supply untreated water” (ST August 8, 2022) was in response to the desperate request by some of the concerned people, including some eminent medical doctors from the town. Of course, that letter also prompted a quick response from the Director of Health Services (DHS), but the PHED is seemingly non-committal, and it is still turning its deaf ears. Therefore, cloudy water continues to gush out of our PHE pipelines! How long does it take to fix such things? Should the public not be notified about the water treatment plant if there is any breakdown? In the official parlance, it is a serious case of dereliction of duty.
A conscious citizen Mr. AN Kharmawphlang in his rejoinder titled, “Non-potable water in 21st century Meghalaya” (ST, August 9, 2022) thundered — “If the Government in 50 years has not been able to provide the residents of the city with clean, pure water, then what are we celebrating 50 years of statehood for and 75 years of India’s freedom?”
One medical doctor from a locality retorts that supplying untreated water and thereby putting the health of the public at risk is not a small crime. If the authority concerned is so “irresponsible” and management so lackadaisical, who can guarantee that some evil-minded persons would not jump over the fence and throw poisonous or harmful chemicals into a water tank? There is every possibility for such a misdemeanour.
Another poor lady, a vegetable vendor, says, “We lower class people do not have the luxury of boiling water every day; moreover, the price of LPG cylinders has increased sub substantially. The PHED should empathise with our condition and must supply us potable water. Are the authorities of the PHE not human beings?” I totally agree with this poor vendor. Yes, most of the households in the state do not have water filters and they usually filter the muddy and slippery water with a cloth and then drink it.
What an irony that we boast of living in the digital age and passionately want to digitalize our lifestyles with an array of 5G gadgets while at home, we or fellow brothers are forced to filter the water like in the primitive age. Nothing is more disgraceful than this. Is PHED listening, or does it still want to accumulate more negative karma by making the public continuously drink non-potable murky water? Its silence can never water down the divine retribution.