Monday, April 22, 2024

Religion/faith should not divide tribals


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Apropos Wallambiang Rani’s letter, “Eager to know names of traditional faith practitioners,” (ST March 27, 2024), before responding to that, let me first inform the readers of the context of this discussion. I had written in my op-ed article, ‘Why the CAA is still a danger for everyone in the North East,’ referring to the actions of some traditional faith practitioners like the Karbi Traditional Faith Association (KTFA) and Janajati Surakha Mancha (JSM) who threaten to destroy Christian religious symbols and demand the derecognition of tribals who converted to Christianity. This, I see as an example of the continuation of the divide and rule policy, which in this case is about breaking up the indigenous community on the basis of religion. And this is not just some fringe groups who are making such demands; the former Lok Sabha Speaker, Kariya Munda, also made a similar statement when he said, “those tribals who convert to Islam or Christianity must not get any benefits of reservation meant for the tribals.”
When a large section of the indigenous community has adopted Christianity, taking away their Scheduled Tribe status will also deprive them of the protection that the territory they inhabit also has under the Constitution. So, it’s not just about religion; it is much more than that. Has there been any similar demand from traditional faith practitioners or their organizations in Meghalaya? No, there has not been one. But the ill-treatment of traditional faith practitioners by the Christian majority does create conditions for resentment. I have friends who are traditional faith practitioners, and they have personally conveyed to me the ill-treatment that their community has faced over the years. This was evident when in 2017 the residents of the Dorbar of Shnong Madan iingsyiem, Mylliem, tried to prevent the cremation of (late) Mr. Kulam Nongrum (President Sengbah ki Nongshad Nongkheiñ) in accordance with Niam Khasi faith in his village. Perhaps I did not state this earlier, but the bigotry of such Christians also tends to divide the community. So, conditions exist for making similar demands that Kariya Munda and the Janajati Surakha Mancha (JSM) have made. That will only widen the gulf between tribals but also break up the community.
In private conversation, there are already statements made just as Wallambiang Rani did, that traditional faith practitioners are “more Khasi” (which he stated in his earlier letter), which by extension means that those who are non-traditional faith practitioners are less Khasi. In a situation where traditional faith practitioners are not dominant, this can be construed as a mechanism of self-defence, in a bid to assert their identity in a non-violent way. The problem is that such claims are being used at the moment to make demands to take away the rights of a certain section of the indigenous community. Hence for me, it’s akin to breaking the community.
There is a need for the majority of Christians to come out of their bigotry, as demonstrated in 2017, and the subtle ways in which they assert their superiority when they make statements suggesting that if you are not Christian, you don’t have a religion. Such statements reveal the stupidity of such people, and I don’t think anyone will deny that. Being Khasi is not synonymous with being Christian, since there are those who follow different faiths or don’t want to follow any faith at all. In the same way, traditional faith practitioners cannot claim that they are “more Khasi” since faith is a personal choice. This is all the more pertinent in the context of what’s happening elsewhere, where such claims are going to be used to deprive those who have converted to Christianity of their rights.
Now coming back to Rani’s demand of naming and shaming those who I have accused of breaking the community, I will not do that because such statements of being “more Khasi” have not been made in the public sphere nor have they been used to make demands to strip the indigenous Christians of their rights in Meghalaya. These are my private conversations and discussions with friends.
Let me inform the readers that there are also traditional faith practitioners who also don’t agree with the statement in a similar vein where not all Christians are bigots, unless someone accuses me of bringing disrepute to the latter as well. However, I assure Wallambiang Rani that if such statements of traditional faith practitioners being “more Khasi” than the non-traditional faith practitioners are made public and are being reported and recorded (I am not considering his statement because he has not explained if that is what he meant when he made the statement in his letter and I am assuming he did not mean that), I will call it out and inform him of the same through this forum. I know he will be disappointed and might accuse me of trying to bring disrepute to the practitioners of traditional faith. He is entitled to that, but I have made my case, and there’s nothing more I have to say.
It’s for the readers to make up their minds on the matter. If they are not convinced by my arguments, they can accuse me of being the ‘one’ trying to divide the community. There might be others who might be able to discern the more sinister design that is being prepared for taking away the rights of the indigenous peoples. Either way, I stand by my statement, but I also welcome those who disagree. Do I agree with the latter? Absolutely not, and I hope they also realize it because I am going to call it out again in the future as well.
Yours etc.,
Bhogtoram Mawroh,
Via email


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