After public backlash, Arunachal Pradesh government has backtracked from abrogating anti-conversion law. Last week, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Pema Khandu had hinted towards repealing the 40 year old anti-conversion law in the state. Khandu made this controversial statement while attending a function organised by the Arunachal Pradesh Catholic Association at a church in Banderdewa. Banderdewa is considered to be the gateway to Itanagar, the state capital. The function, Prem Milan, was organised in memory of Prem Bhai, a missionary from Sri Lanka. Prem had zealously worked in Arunachal Pradesh to lure and convert people to Christianity. He had countless times been arrested and had many a times gotten away by dodging the police with disguises. He was released countless times owing to the pressure from Christian groups in the state. Arunachal Pradesh CM attended an event held in the memory of a person who indulged in illegal activities as per the law is shameful in itself.
Khandu made the event seem uglier than it was by passing such senseless comments. He said, “The anti-conversion law could undermine secularism and is probably targeted towards Christians.” Khandu went on to add that he wanted the law to be repealed as it “could be misused by irresponsible officials.”
After, the irresponsible and insensitive remarks of CM Pema Khandu, the BJP government of Arunachal Pradesh received flak on Social Media. BJP supporters launched blistering attack against their own party on social media. One such supporter was academician Makarand R Paranjape, who said, “Terrible civilisational, if not tactical, error: instead of “wooing” the 31%, they will lose the whole state?” To which Ram Madhav, the BJP general secretary in-charge of the North-East, in his tweet replied, “There is no truth in it. The CM has clearly stated that a wide ranging consultation about its efficacy will be undertaken, not its repeal. As far as I know, there is no such proposal to repeal the 1978 Act.”
Bamang Felix, minister for parliamentary affairs and information and public relations also clarified that CM never said that law would be repealed. According to him, “He never said it will be repealed. We will examine it in the Cabinet, take it up for discussion in the Assembly, talk to all sections of the people of the state and then decide if it needs to be repealed.”
Apart from the BJP supporters, the move to abrogate Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act framed in 1978 also didn’t go down well with the indigenous groups who call conversions an attack on their faith and traditions. He, in fact, demanded that the law should be stringently enforced.
President of the Nyishi Indigenous Faiths and Cultural Society (NIFCS), Pai Dawe said, “We are opposing the move to repeal the law for it is detrimental to the interests of the indigenous groups.”
After the cancellation of plan to abrogate anti-conversion law, the BJP should pay heed to what Pai Dawe is demanding. Anti-conversion law should be more strictly enforced in the state. Despite anti-conversion law the conversion to Christianity has increased rapidly. The state has already seen a sharp increase in the number of converts to Christianity. In the census of 1951 there were no Christians in the state, this scenario changed in the 2001 census when they became the third largest religious group behind Hindus (34.6%) and others which mostly had Donyi-Polo (30.7%). Christians accounted for 18.7% of the state population in the census of 2001 and they slowly became the dominant group in the 2011 census (30.26%) beating Hinduism (29.04%).