Recently in Meghalaya there was a controversy over installation of Lord Ganesha’s idol. The National Institute of Technology (NIT), Meghalaya in Jowai (headquarters district West Jaintia Hills) had installed the statue of the deity, the patron of arts and sciences, in its campus. A student body called Jaintia Student Union (JSU) objected to the presence of the deity in the fully funded central government institute. Denying its installation at the entrance, the management claimed it was meant to be decorative item. However, it was reported that a faculty member had invited invitees to the ‘installation’ ceremony terming it an “auspicious occasion”. So the management cannot wash its hands off the ‘un-secular’ incident. The incident was an attempt to undermine the secular nature of national institutes.
An inquiry should have been instituted to determine who was/were behind the installation. It is true Lord Ganesha, also known as Ganapati, Vinayaka and by other names, is revered as deity of knowledge, learning and wisdom right from the early 2nd century CE to the 4th and 5th centuries CE of the Gupta (Pre-Vedic and Vedic) period. Unthinking souls might have thought that the ‘restored son of Parvas and Shiva is considered by many as the supreme deity’. Hence it was only right to have his statue in the NIT campus. However, in a secular country it is a problem. Others could say, “Why not install Christ’s statue because he is the supreme teacher”? Some others could demand, “Install Buddha’s image because he is the ‘Enlightened One’. Still others would favour installing Mahavira’s idol on the merit of him being a great spiritual and philosophical teacher.
Rightly the idol was removed after a week. However, from the district capital of West Jaintia Hills the controversy extended to the state capital. Taking a cue from the removal of Ganesha idol, an NGO calling itself Legal Rights Observatory (LRO) demanded that copies of the Bible to be banished from Shillong Civil Hospital and other government-run health centres in the state. The organisation wrote to the state chief secretary, health secretary and deputy commissioner of East Khasi Hills district for appropriate actions. LRO also demanded a complete ban on evangelists visiting government hospitals. The chief secretary has written to the Director of the hospital for an explanation. Facts will be ascertained.
Now, if the Bible was really placed in private or general wards of the hospital as LRO alleged, they should go. F ollowers of Niam Tynrai/Niamtre (indigenous religion) and non-Christian patients and people in general have every right not to see the religious book in the hospital campus. It must be categorically clear that preachers have no business (unless specifically invited) intruding into patients’ beds praying and prescribing the Bible as a cure.
The same NGO also alleged that back in June an altar of the Seng Khasi (i ndigenous religious) faith was vandalised at Kongthong village by miscreants. The village situated 56km from Shillong on the way to the famed tourism destination, Sohra, shot into limelight in August when a Rajya Sabha MP spoke in parliament informing that the inhabitants here call each other by a musical tune composed for them by their mother at birth and urging the government to ensure Kongthong’s inclusion in the UNESCO’S list of Intangible Cultural Heritage to preserve the village’s uniqueness.
There is no doubt that none of its 650 inhabitants of 125 households, now internationally known as the ‘whistling’ or ‘singing’ village, wish to see its traditional places of worship destroyed, damaged or defaced. Certainly, the forest-centred tribesmen of the Khat-ar Shnong hamlets (Kongthong is one among them) want to continue to live peaceful, so significantly manifested by the old aged practice of singing lullabies or ‘Jingrwai lawbei’ to their babies. So therefore, if the place of worship of Seng Khasi was in fact vandalised it must be condemned. LRO has every right to lodge police complaints and approach any court for justice. According to one of its Facebook posts, the organisation has lodged a complaint with the central Home Minister, as neither the police nor the district administration has taken any action.
Adding feathers in its cap, last month LRO made allegations that there is persecution of the Hindus minority in the state’s western region of Garo Hills. The Observatory claimed that Hindus were denied the right to celebrate the annual Kamakya Puja by the local NGOs at Chandabhu village of Dalu, close to Bangladesh border. The second incident allegedly occurred at Akonggre locality of Tura town when the minority community had to shift the Viswakarma Puja elsewhere. Investigations are on and if found true, Hindu minority need to be reassured of their constitutional rights,
Obviously LRO is on mission mode. The group is free to pursue its goals. However, a few comments are needed. The legal right organisation seems to have an ulterior motive, that of dividing the people of the state on religious lines. It has made some sensitive, communal and divisive statements. Quoting one is from a newspaper report, “In a state like Meghalaya, where almost 25% of the population is non- Christian, extreme Christianization of government apparatus is alarming.”
Another statement is quite explosive. Even as it called for a ban and blacklisting of these NGOs and their leaders, a complaint says, “…The notorious NGO culture in Meghalaya is virtually ruling on the ground and state civil and police administration is turning a blind eye.“ Formation of groups and association is a right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Hence this observation may not be taken kindly by the NGOs in the state.
Apparently LRO is an organisation for the Seng Khasi and Niamtre. However, it is allegedly backed by a fanatical, nationalist and fascist Hindu group. Be informed that the said outfit played no part in India’s Freedom Struggle, rejected the Indian National Flag because of its white (Christian symbol) and green (Muslim symbol) colours, hoisted it only in 2002 (52 years after Independence), was implicated in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, accused in the demolition of Babri Masjid, took part in riots like Gujarat 2002 and Kandhamal 2008 among others, actively involved in Ghar Wapsi and persecution of Christians, Muslims, tribals and dalits. It is up to members of Seng Khasi and Niamtre whether they like to be associated with such a dubious group. Should one allow another to fire from one’s shoulders? Can one be dignified to be piggybacked?
In a Facebook post LRO states, “Persecution of indigenous faith/tribal Hindus (are) on the rise in Meghalaya as European Religions (have) attained demographic edge over locals.” Note the indigenous faith/tribal Hindus! This is an attempt to identify indigenous tribal religions with Hinduism. Tribal religions are distinct and are different from Hinduism. It must be made doubly clear that Hinduism is not tribal religions and vice versa. Two year ago this writer chanced to meet a Meitei in a Guwahati hospital. On being asked of his faith he vehemently protested, “I belong to Meitei religion not Hinduism.” Again it is up to Seng Khasi and Niamtre whether they are okay if they are clubbed and amalgamated into Hinduism. There are enough examples in neighbouring Assam plains where tribals have been completely Hinduvised and have totally lost their identity. The other day a person told this writer, “We lost our culture and identity because we converted into a sect of Hinduism. When we were told to pray we could not wear our own dress. When we started praying we could not use our own language. By and by, we forgot our own traditional dress and our own language.” Should Seng Khasi and Niamtre meet the same fate?
Secondly, it must not be passed unchallenged. Christianity is dubbed as being European. This is out of ignorance. Christianity originated in Asia just as other major religions. Christianity came to India more than 2000 years ago, just 500 years after Buddhism and almost 1500 years before Sikhism, So Christianity is very much Indian (deshi) and not foreign (videshi). No one has the right to brand Christianity, European.
It is understandable for Seng Khasi and Niamtre to have a grudge against Christians for, their missionaries ‘converted’ majorities of the tribals into their fold. The remaining royal adherents of these traditional religions are few. Many more might be willing to abandon their fore-parents’ religion. Granted, Seng Khasi and Niamtre face existential crisis. Their unique identity and culture is endangered. However, indulging in anti-Christian sentiments might not be the way forward. Soliciting support from anti-Christian groups might not be the best option. Christianity is here to stay. So also other religions in the state too, including Niam Tynrai and Niamtre, should remain permanently at home. All can flourish harmoniously in these beautiful hills, ‘The Abode of Clouds’. Preservation is based on one’s strength not on the weakness of others.
(Published on 11th November 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 46)