AHMEDABAD, FEB 7: In a sea of saffron, they stand apart. Their clothes and their physical features give them enough distinction, even before they begin talking. They are the dondeis, nibos and sadhus from the northeastern states -- Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Assam, Manipur and Meghalaya -- that rarely get a mention in reportage on Hindutva.
Their problems are similar to those faced by sadhus elsewhere, but yet are peculiar. The problems they face are two-fold and apparently contradictory. In some areas, the presence and reputation of the missionaries; in others, the influence of tribal culture.
The VHP has already begun distributing stickers that say, ``Preserve your culture, preserve your identity'' to Arunachali households, unable to ``see the youth dancing to western beats'' and the fear of witnessing ``Christians wiping out Hinduism in Arunachal and other North Eastern states.''
In a scathing attack on Christians, Swami Kripalanandji of Giri Parampara in Tripura alleged thatmissionaries were behind extremist activities in the Northeast states and that there were 19 outfits conducting activities in the region, mainly targeting Hindus. ``Those who refuse to convert are tortured or killed,'' he alleged. ``In the past few years, more than 18 Vaishnav ashrams run by Hindus in Tripura have been demolished by the Christians, while those who dominate the upper classes, force people to adopt Christianity,'' he asserted.
The saint also denied any Government support and said that the Communist Government in Tripura offered no help to them. And while it was impossible for Hindus to live in Kohima, labourers in the tea gardens there have to follow the diktat of the missionaries. Apart from that, in Mizoram, where the Christians are the majority, 35,000 were ostracised from their caste for not adopting Christianity.
Supporting his claims was Bamangtato, a priest of the Donyi Polo sect in Arunachal Pradesh, who is convinced that Christians the world over have a devious agenda in Arunachal-- may be even a pan-Indian agenda. However, he -- and his colleagues -- were pleasantly surprised to see nearly 200 people in Ranip (a small village in Gujarat) run to touch their feet. This is because they were told in their village that very few Hindus remain in India today! Stepping out of Arunachal Pradesh for the first time, they were emboldened to ``see so many Hindus''.
It does not matter to them that they are Donyi Poloks, worshippers of the sun and moon, and not Hindus. ``Why aren't they Hindus?'' asks Dr Sunil Karan, who has been based in Arunachal for quite some time. ``They have all our mantras and the religion has its roots in the shastras. Tell me, which other religion worships the sun?''
Saints from Assam, spoke of their hapless condition due to the activities of extremists. Criticising VHP ignorance in the region, Swami Banagovind Parampanthi of Assam, who runs ashrams at Dibrugarh and Guwahati, said the organisation was yet to discern the problem of Hindus. ``Only social work forthe upliftment of poor and backward would help VHP build its image''.
The Arunachalis claim that 60 per cent of the people have already converted to Christianity, and that ``terrorists like those belonging to the NSCN are busy trying to convert the rest''. They maintain that the NSCN, which is trying to include the Arunachali districts of Tirap, Changlang and Lohit in `Greater Nagaland', wants to convert the whole of the Northeast into a base camp for terrorists. Christianity is the binding factor!
-- With inputs from Rajendra Sharma
Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.