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Costly rituals lead Arunachal tribes towards religious conversion

An indigenous faith that swears partly by solar energy is fast losing members in Arunachal Pradesh, India’s land of the rising sun.

india Updated: Nov 18, 2016 07:22 IST
Rahul Karmakar
Rahul Karmakar
Hindustan Times
Arunachal Pradesh,Christianity,Religious conversion
A house featuring a Donyi-Polo flag — a red sun in white.(HT Photo)

An indigenous faith that swears partly by solar energy is fast losing members in Arunachal Pradesh, India’s land of the rising sun.

The major beneficiary is Christianity, whose adherents – the 2011 census says – are 30.26% of the frontier state’s 1.3 million people, up from 18.7% in 2001. Arunachal Pradesh had no Christians in 1951.

Though there were 5.56% fewer Hindus during this period, the 4.5% drop in the population of followers of indigenous faiths such as Donyi-Polo worries the state’s tribes more.

Donyi-Polo means worship of the sun and the moon. The 1981 census said the state had 51.6% followers of Donyi-Polo and other indigenous faiths in Arunachal Pradesh.

The conversion rate picked up in the 1990s. Some of those who converted then say costly rituals involving animal sacrifice made them switch religion. Others attribute conversion to the “healing powers” of the church.

“Our village of 115 people converted 20 years ago because missionaries healed the sick with prayers and medicines and not with mumbo jumbo involving sacrifice of chicken, pigs or mithuns (semi-wild bison). Inability to afford such rituals costing Rs 75,000-150,000 made us become Christians,” Tali Yorma, a Pailibo tribal from Lipo village, told Hindustan Times.

Lipo is 75km south of Mechukha, the sub-divisional headquarters of West Siang district bordering Tibet.

Of the five tribes inhabiting Mechukha, the Membas are Buddhist. Almost 90% of the other four tribes – Pailibo, Tagin, Ramo and Bokar – have converted from Donyi-Polo to Christianity.

In districts such as Tirap and Changlang, where Naga rebel groups are active, the percentage of Christians is more than 50%.

Tachuk Padu, a Ramo tribal of Padusa village 35km from Mechukha, said many like him have not sacrificed the traditional way of life despite embracing Christianity to “escape from elaborate, expensive pujas that Donyi-Polo priests demand”.

The church has, however, denied taking advantage of the state’s socio-political situation to entrench Christianity.

“We are not against any religion and we are not enticing or forcing people to convert,” said Father Felix, media in-charge of Miao (Arunachal) diocese.

First Published: Nov 18, 2016 07:22 IST