Dr G Shreekumar Menon
Tawang District is situated in the State of Arunachal Pradesh in India and is the smallest of the 16 administrative districts of this State. According to the 2011 Census, Tawang has a population of just 49,977, and is among the eighth least populous district in the country. Tawang is inhabited by the Monpa people.
Tawang Monastery was founded by the Merak Lama Lodre Gyatso in 1681 in accordance with the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, and has an interesting legend surrounding its name, which means “Chosen by Horse”. The sixth Dalai Lama, Tsang yang Gyatso, was born in Tawang.
Bhutan borders Tawang to the West and China Occupied Tibet is to the north of the district. The district occupies an area of 2,085 square kilometres. Tawang has a heavy Indian military presence as China has set its eyes on this sensitive district.
The Tawang Monastery is the second biggest and oldest in Asia, and an important centre for Buddhist pilgrims. Tawang, meaning the beautiful land of the Monpas, is often referred to as “The Hidden Paradise”, and “Land of the dawn-lit mountains”. Other nearby famous Buddhist Monasteries are the 460 years old Urgelling Monastery, Rigyalling Monastery and the distant Taktsang Monastery.
Tawang has been a bone of contention between India and China. Even in October 2021, Indian and Chinese troops were engaged in a brief skirmish here. Tawang also has an Indian Air Force. The border with China is just 23 miles away, and Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, is just 316 miles away. The Chinese Army has a big deployment at the border, at Bumla.
What should be a matter of grave concern for the Government of India and the Arunachal Pradesh State Government is the ongoing evangelization projects in Arunachal Pradesh and Tawang. In this holy Buddhist site, Christian missionaries from Kerala are trying to set up a church. They have formed a Tawang Christian Revival Church and is attempting to put up a permanent structure, which is being funded by many Western countries.
In his dissertation titled ‘The Impact of Christian Missions and Colonization in Northeast India and Its Role in the Tribal Nation-Building Movement’ Albert Yanger, states “…. Christian missions had a huge impact in the North eastern region of India. This impact, combined with western (British) colonization, produced a synergy that changed the entire landscape of the Northeast. This dissertation focuses on the social and political aspects of that change. The primary catalyst was the translation of the Bible into local languages, and a highly successful education program that every mission and denomination implemented from the very beginning. That brought about an awakening and renewal of societies across the Northeast. The greatest change occurred within the tribal societies. It gave rise to a national identity movement, which continues to this day.
This was aided by a stable British colonial administration, which provided the basic structure and framework for new tribal political states that would emerge decades later. New problems and challenges came with these changes. Foremost among them was the question of political sovereignty. Some tribal groups rose in rebellion against the government of India and fought violent insurgent wars at various times. Some of those wars have come to a peaceful end, while others remain unresolved.”
Yanger further states: “This dissertation research deals primarily with the impact of missions on the socio-political dynamics of the Northeast region of India. It is not an attempt to provide a detailed account of evangelization and the growth of Christianity in the Northeast. Such a study would be too vast for this dissertation research. Rather, it will highlight the fact that missions in Northeast India accomplished much more than just evangelization and the 12 establishments of Christianity. Together with western colonization it set in motion forces that brought about very significant social and political changes that shaped the identities and distinctive characteristics of the tribal ethnic groups. Not surprisingly, it also caused much social upheaval in the region, some of which continues to this day. An interesting factor is that neither missionaries nor administrative officials had any clue of the long-term consequences of their policies and actions. They acted purely out of their immediate need and context.
The missionaries only wanted to spread the Gospel, and the British officials only wanted to protect their colonial interests. However, their actions combined in a unique manner that changed the history and destiny of the diverse ethnic communities of the Northeast.”
In “Daily Prayer Guide for all People & Unreached People Groups = LR-UPGs – of INDIA, (Source: Joshua Project data), extensive plans for Evangelization of India are revealed in this document. Each State in India has been accorded a code and Arunachal Pradesh is allotted the code AR. Neighbouring country of Bhutan is also targeted.
To oversee conversion operations the Diocese of Itanagar was established on 7th December, 2005. The website http://www.sacredheartnlgn.org/history_of_the_ diocese_of_itanagar.php gives detailed accounts of how the conversion activities were organized and expanded and how many youths were converted. Though there is a 44-year-old Anti-Conversion law in Arunachal Pradesh to protect the Buddhists, poor implementation and the tactics of the Western nations-controlled Missionaries has crippled it and made it dysfunctional. Alarmed by the conversions happening, many States are busy enacting Anti-Conversion laws, but are not studying as to why it has failed in many States. Corruption, pathetic implementation and total absence of Conversion Awareness Programs, has made Anti-Conversion laws totally ineffective.
Once the population of converts swell up, the demand increases from many groups to abolish the Anti-Conversion law. Pressure tactics also is put in place in the form of agitations in schools, colleges, in the media and from political personalities. In fact, the Christian lobby almost succeeded in getting scrapped the Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act framed in 1978. Vehement protests by Buddhists, Hindus and people of other indigenous faiths, have prevented the scrapping of this Act, as of date. But the tragedy is that over 60% of the Nyishis – the largest ethnic Group in Arunachal Pradesh – has already been converted, making the retention or scrapping of the Act a mockery of the law.
The modus operandi of the converters is simple. Missionaries from Kerala, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, make a beeline to States like Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim. The first step is to scout for poor people or influential people who are in need of money, medical help and befriend them. Another group studies the local language to identify the local problems. Identified weak people are often enticed by material gifts. Simultaneously daily prayer sessions are started where the religion of the beneficiary is castigated as Satan worship and devilish, while their customs, rituals and traditions are vilified. A sense of guilt is caused in them that they are all sinners and that by worshipping the “other gods”, they are committing a great sin. Many get weaned away from their ancestral religion by such propaganda. The children are segregated for providing ‘education’ and many are packed off to South Indian Seminaries. Such Seminaries are also there in the North East.
After completion of their ‘education’ these students are deployed for luring more converts. Whole villages are thus targeted and once converted all traces of their former religion is destroyed. As the number of converts swell, they get emboldened to build Churches at strategic points like entrance to a town and city, important road intersections, junctions and hill tops.
Another strategy is to set up churches near pilgrimage centres of Buddhist and Tribal communities. This is what is now happening at Tawang, one of the holiest Buddhist pilgrimage centres. In a report published by Pulitzer Centre titled “Between Tribal, Christian and Buddhist Beliefs, Communities in Arunachal Pradesh Try to Protect Their Origins And Practices”, dated June 14th 2021, it is stated: “Since October last year, Arunachal Pradesh has been embroiled in a religious controversy. Christian organisations have claimed that the administration in Tawang district was obstructing the construction of a building only because it was a church and not a Buddhist monastery. In Tawang and the adjacent West Kameng district, a majority of the indigenous Monpa people are adherents of various sects of Tibetan Buddhism. While the State has witnessed a sizeable population of indigenous communities converting to Christianity, the region, referred to as ‘Mon’, remains a Buddhist bastion. The issue came to light when the administration issued an order to stop the construction of a church in the district headquarters.”
Another Buddhist State- Sikkim, is also undergoing rapid Christianization. Neighbouring Darjeeling is also severely affected by directed conversions.
This is the situation according to the 2011 Census. Within the last 10 years still further deterioration would have occurred.
Neighbouring Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is also getting impacted by the conversions happening in the Himalayan belt. Christians in Bhutan are only allowed to practice their faith at home. Those who openly choose to follow Christianity can be expelled from Bhutan and stripped of their citizenship. Under Bhutan law, it is illegal to attempt to convert people from the country’s two predominant religions –Buddhism and Hinduism. “I view conversions very negatively, because conversion is the worst form of intolerance,” remarked Bhutan Prime Minister Jigmi Yoser Thinley.
What are Buddhist leaders doing about these focused and targeted conversions, that seeks to eradicate Buddhism? What is the Government of India doing in this regard? Sadly, the answer is in the negative. Indian Constitution’s undefined concept of “secularism” is subjected to maximum misuse by the West Asian religion, which has a voracious appetite for converts. Even a mild protest by the Buddhists is resisted by the missionaries, who are quick to generate criticism in the international media. Politicians, bureaucrats and judiciary live in constant fear of media criticism; hence nobody questions the conversion-pogrom that is going on relentlessly in the Himalayan Buddhist territories.
The major faux pas committed by the Government of India was to club Buddhists as a ‘minority’ with the two aggressive proselytizing religions of West Asia.
How to cut the Gordian knot? The Government can easily dissolve the existing National Commission for Minorities and set up a separate and exclusive National Buddhist Minority Commission, manned by Buddhist leaders and religious personalities. The Buddhists of this country need protection from predatory foreign religions that are trying to exterminate their religion, culture and sacred pilgrimage centres.
Right to Freedom of Religion (Articles 25-28) of the Constitution, if misread and misinterpreted by the West Asian religions to mean as right to convert, then it needs to be rewritten and made explicit that conversions are expressly forbidden. India needs to learn from its tiny neighbour Nepal about how to protect its citizens. “Proselytism and harming religious sentiment of any caste, ethnic community, or class are illegal in Nepal.
According to Nepal 2020 International Religious Freedom Report, the constitution provides religious freedom, and the government has generally upheld this right in practice. Their Constitution describes the country as the Hindu Kingdom, although it does not establish Hinduism as the state religion. Religious tolerance is widely observed, and the government usually does not interfere with other religious organization’s practices. There were, however, some limitations. The report stated that the Constitution also outlaws converting people from one religion to another and religious behavior that disrupts public order or is harmful to public health, decency, or morality. Proselytism and damaging the religious sentiments of any caste, ethnic group, or social class are prohibited under the law. Except for Buddhist monasteries, the law does not allow religious organizations to be registered or recognized as religious institutions. All religious organizations must register as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or non-profit organizations to possess property or operate lawfully.” (Proselytizing is illegal in Nepal)
All that the Government of India needs to do is to adopt the Nepal system. There will be no need to pass toothless Anti-Conversion laws to reign in anti-secular forces. Buddhist leaders should campaign for amending the Indian Constitution and adopting the system followed in Nepal. Nepal’s new Constitution adopted in 2015 doesn’t give anyone the right to convert any person to another religion. Nepal also passed a more stringent anti-conversion law in 2017.
While the Government of India is fortifying the country’s defence forces, the internal security is deteriorating alarmingly as many forces are at work to destabilize the nation from within. Many State Governments are feeling the heat of changed demographics, vote-bank politics, religious composition of political parties, and even politicians and bureaucrats secretly converting to foreign religions. When even small nations like Bhutan and Nepal are effectively safeguarding their religion and culture from foreign religious predators, why is India on a self-destructive path clinging to ‘secularism’?
The author Dr G Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Rtd) Ph. D (Narcotics), is
- Former Director General National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics, and Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence India
- Fellow, James Martin Centre for Non-Proliferation Studies, USA.
- Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA
- Public Administration, Maxwell School of Public Administration, Syracuse University, U.S.A.
- AOTS Scholar, Japan
Dr G Shreekumar Menon can be contacted at email@example.com