Arunachal Pradesh CM Pema Khandu had last week stated that the state government is planning to repeal the 4 decades old Anti-conversion law known as the Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 1978. Speaking in an event organised by the Arunachal Pradesh Catholic Association, the CM had stated that the law could undermine secularism and is probably targeted towards Christians.
CM Khandu had added that the law would be brought for repeal in the next assembly session as it could be misused in the future by irresponsible officials.
In 1978, Arunachal Pradesh had become the 3rd state in India after Odisha and Madhya Pradesh to bring an anti-conversion law into action. As per reports, the Christian population in Arunachal Pradesh was nil in the 1951 census. But over the decades Christianity has emerged as the largest followed religion in the state. In 2001 census, Christians were the 3rd largest religious group representing 18.7% of the population. Hindus and other minority religions represented 34.6% and 30.07% respectively.
However, in the 2011 census, Christians were the largest religious group in the state representing 30.26% of the population while Hindus and others were reduced to 29.04% and 26.20% respectively.
Khandu’s announcement has drawn mixed reactions in the state. While some groups feel the BJP is practising appeasement politics to woo Christian votes, some have stated that the CM might be right.
CM Khandu’s announcement was widely welcomed by Christians in the state. According to reports, the influential Arunachal Christian forum has stated that the move has nothing to do with politics, the forum which had been critical of the state government policies in the past reportedly added that the people of Arunachal Pradesh vote by judging the candidate’s performance and not his/her religion and if they were, Kiren Rijiju being a BJP leader would not have won two consecutive terms as an MP.
However, many tribal leaders and followers of native faiths in the state have criticised the move and are calling for the anti-conversion law to stay. 2 of the leading organisations of indigenous faiths, the Indigenous Faith and Cultural Society of Arunachal Pradesh (IFCSAP) and Nyishi Indigenous Faith and Cultural Society (NIFCS) have expressed in their statements that the condemn the move and it is an act of Christian appeasement. They reportedly added that the move will harm the cultural growth of indigenous faiths and will be detrimental to them.
The Nyishi, belonging to the Tani group is reportedly the single largest ethnic community in the state. They often state that the growth of Christianity in the state had been at the expense of indigenous faiths. They have stated that abolishing the anti-conversion law will lead to further poaching and will marginalise the native faiths. Bai Taba, the general secretary of the IFCSAP has stated that the government might eventually bring the native people the into the general category from the current Scheduled Tribes status and this will strip the special privileges they had been enjoying.
CM Khandu had on June 30 stated that the decision is not political and is to maintain secularism. He, however, added that the government is open to hearing the opinions of all groups in the spirit of democracy.
Upholding the democratic & secular ethos, the matter (AP freedom of religion Act 1978) is neither about politics of vote bank nor intend to hurt any community or any religion. In the spirit of democratic traditions wider consultations will be done on the matter. https://t.co/Vgl7LYhVjr
— Pema Khandu (@PemaKhanduBJP) July 1, 2018
It is notable here that the Christian and native faith groups have always been at loggerheads with each other in the state. In October 2017, the Arunachal Christian Forum had accused the BJP of ‘promoting the indigenous faiths specifically. CM Khandu had announced that native people are being disconnected from their roots due to globalisation and had declared that his government would set up a separate department for protection and preservation of indigenous faith and culture. The Christian Forum had then accused the CM of being partial towards the indigenous tribes.
The irony is the Arunachal Christian Forum had stated this just after the CM had reportedly announced a fund of Rs 5 crores to be handed over to the forum for ‘promoting educational institutions’ stating that the government alone cannot uplift the education sector.
While the Cristian and tribal groups seem to be busy in allegations and counter allegations, it remains to be seen whether the BJP government can deliver on its agenda of ‘Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas’ while addressing the issues of each community.