When millions of people in Kashmir and elsewhere in India are crying for its withdrawal, when Irom Sharmila has entered 10th years of fasting, demanding its annulment, believe it or not, there is an organization actively batting for the notorious Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and that too, in the name of religious freedom!!!
Yes, I am talking of the Janjati Dharm Sanskriti Suraksha Manch – a right wing, Hindu religious organization that operates in eight states of the north east. On Saturday, the organization, headed by Bikram Bahadur Jamatia, submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister urging him to give the army a free hand in Arunachal Pradesh!
(The center, on 2nd Oct extended AFSPA for 6 months in the state. So, what does Jamatiya’s appeal for a free hand mean? You can only imagine!)
Now what is Jamatiya’s problem that needs an intervention by the army? According to the memorandum, two Naga separatist groups - NSCN (K) and NSCN (IM) - have been pro-active in parts of the state, which has caused law and order problems such as factional clashes, kidnappings (which state in India doesn’t have this?) and extortion.
But, the biggest problem of all, says Jamatiya, is that the NSCN has supported conversions to Christianity.
Aha! There you go!
Ironically, Arunachal Pradesh is one of the few states that have already adopted the Freedom of Religion Bill 1978 – an anti-conversion legislation. Under the act anyone practicing indigenous faith is ensured the freedom to practice his/her indigenous faith. The indigenous faith has been specified as religions, beliefs and practices which have been sanctioned, approved and performed by indigenous communities which also included certain forms of Buddhism, Vaishnavism and nature worship. So, in short, all non-Christians in the state are covered by this act and therefore protected from forced conversions.
Now, I don’t want to go into the debate of whether such acts are good or bad.
What I want to say is this: Whatever the problem the state is facing – clash/killings or conversion, the state has an elected government, specific legislations and law enforcement agencies to implement those legislations.
But, instead of emphasizing on strengthening of those, Janjati Dharm Sanskriti Suraksha Manch has gone running to the center, asking for unlimited power to the army. Isn’t that completely insane?
Doesn’t this also show utter disregard for those thousands of men and women who are suffering from AFSPA, being subjected to physical torture and mental agony?
As a Christian whose mother is a practicing Vaishnav (and yes, we live together), I see religion as something that expands your knowledge, increases your understanding, enriches your soul and thus helps you grow as a person. All you need is to follow your faith and respect what others believe in.
So, when organizations like Janjati Dharm Sanskriti Suraksha Manch says that you need a free run by the gun trotting army men to practice your religion, they are just fooling you. They are telling you to forget that we have a democracy, that our constitution has given us our rights and that we should give up those rights and live under an army regime just so we can worship a god.
It’s time to stand up and ask them to get lost!