By: Dr. Ankita Dutta
The World Healing Prayer Center at Doomordolong, Moran, in Dibrugarh district has become a hotbed of Christian conversion activities in Assam. Recently, a video went viral in social media which showed that Hari Naam-Kirtan of Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva and the Assamese Bihu dance was distorted by Ranjan Chutia and his group to convert emotionally naïve Hindus into Christianity. Ranjan Chutia has been instrumental in spearheading the conversion of Hindus from both Upper Assam and Lower Assam into Christianity by faking his Church as a Namghar (religious prayer hall-cum-cultural centre of the Assamese Hindus). The FIR against Ranjan Chutia was initially lodged by Hindu Yuva Chatra Parishad on July 25 at the Moran Police Station in Dibrugarh.
On receipt of further inputs, a high-level team of Police was deployed from Guwahati to Dibrugarh around 3 A.M. on Tuesday night. He was arrested in the wee hours of Wednesday, i.e. July 28. Ranjan Chutia is also a prominent YouTuber who has been using his channel for a long time to propagate the teachings of Jesus and claiming to cure life-threatening diseases through miraculous prayers. It was on July 19 that Srimanta Sankardeva Sangha, the largest Vaishnavite religious organisation of Assam, had requested the Government of Assam to initiate an enquiry into the issue, saying that the use of songs and musical instruments associated with the Mahapurusiya Naam-Dharma tradition of Srimanta Sankardeva to spread a foreign faith is unpardonable.
It needs to be mentioned here that the World Healing Prayer Centre at Moran has been functioning since the last 17 years. Ranjan Chutia claims himself to be a messenger of Jesus and seeks to cure people of all illnesses and worldly troubles. Numerous videos that had been circulating in social media since the last few days brought to light certain shocking incidences of religious proselytisation. Distorted copies of the Bhagavad-Gita, Naam-Ghosha and Kirtan-Ghosha replaced with the name of Jesus in place of Bhagwan Krishna, could be seen lying inside the Prayer Center. The Dibrugarh Police has booked the accused under Sections 153 (A) and 195 (A) of the IPC. It was after his arrest during the mandatory health check-up that Ranjan Chutia tested positive for COVID-19. The Police later admitted him at a local COVID hospital.
It was earlier in November 2019 that the Legal Rights Observatory (LRO) had requested the Assam Government to take swift action against Ranjan Chutia for illegally occupying Government grazing land near the village Doomordolong at Moranhat to construct a Church. Entire Upper Assam is today in the dangerous grip of Christian missionary mafias like Ranjan Chutia. Since the Namghar is the pivotal centre of worship and identity for every Assamese Hindu, the Christian missionaries have very cleverly made use of this institution and the different aspects associated with it from songs to lyrics to dance and festivals to convert the people. The place where Jesus is worshipped, a Chandrataap (a red and white coloured cloth hanging above the sanctum-sanctorum of the Namghar) is used so as to give it the appearance of a typical Namghar.
To understand the root of this problem, we briefly need to revisit history. Although the British Government in had adopted a policy of non-interference in the social and religious affairs of the Hindu society after the Revolt of 1857, but, in the context of Uttar Purba Bharat, this never actually happened. The Church continued to flourish with the aim of helping the British secure their rule in this extremely resource-rich part of the country. The post-Independent Indian state too, under the garb of “charity”, actively facilitated these sinister activities of the Christian missionaries that have only expanded with time. It has been a strategically engineered agenda such that entire Uttar Purba Bharat was eventually made to appear among the people in the rest of Bharat as a region that had always been Christian-dominated.
Of the 2.78 crore Christian population counted in the Census of 2011, 78 lakh are settled in Uttar Purba Bharat alone. According to a report published by the Centre for Policy Studies titled, The Christianisation of the Northeast: It All Began on the Eve of Independence, this is the largest concentration of Christians in India after the coastal region beginning from the southernmost part of Tamil Nadu to Kerala, and stretching through coastal Karnataka, Goa, and Maharashtra. Christianisation of Uttar Purba Bharat has largely been a result of political and strategic considerations, and thus cannot be said to be an entirely religious phenomenon. E.g. in an agreement that was reached in the 1960s between Jawaharlal Nehru and “noted” anthropologist, the late Dr. Verrier Elwin, the entry of sadhus was formally banned into the state of Nagaland.
The Christian population in Nagaland increased from a mere 20% in 1947 to a whopping 88% as per Census data of 2011. Nehru had also appointed Elwin as the Anthropological Adviser to the Government of NEFA (today’s Arunachal Pradesh). Elwin was of the belief that Bharat was never a nation of one people with a shared heritage and culture, and that the different janajati communities were the “original aborigine inhabitants”. It was this exclusivist preservation policy of Elwin that gave a free hand to Christian proselytizers in Uttar Purba Bharat, leading to inter and intra community hostilities with the subsequent decline of Hindu Dharma and the rise of separatist movements.
Assam had acquired a significant Christian presence already in 1901. These early Christians mostly belonged to the migrant communities who had come from the present-day states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and settled in the tea plantations of Upper Assam. It was especially during the 2nd half of the 20th century that Christianity widened its reach and spread among several janajati communities of the region. Today, the share of Christians in the districts of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao, and in some of the Bodo-dominated districts too, such as Kokrajhar and Udalguri, is much higher. In the present times, Christianity is one of the fastest growing religions in Assam after Islam, with Christians constituting around 3.74% of the total population of the state as per the Census of 2011. Dima Hasao district accounts for the largest population of Christians (30%) followed by Karbi Anglong (16.5%).
The entire region of Upper Assam covering the districts of Jorhat, Golaghat, Sibsagar, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, and Tinsukia share a border contiguous with the Catholic Christian-dominated states of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Christian educational institutions have become one of the most favourite destinations for educating the young kids. The chief factor behind such a preference has been the usage of English as the primary language of instruction in these schools. The importance given to the English language grew continuously during the period of British colonisation of Bharat. But, it became an obsession after 1947 when the colonial masters left the country. It suited the colonised minds of the Indian elite to continue with this colonial hangover, owing to the obvious advantages of social and political capital that accrued from such an arrangement.
Christian missionaries have been quite successful in being able to project their religion as the only saviour of the poor and the sick. “Charity” in the garb of social service is used by them as a cover for their immoral and deceitful practices, luring the poor with financial and other material aid. They have utilised the economic backwardness of the poor to their maximum advantage through numerous allurements and inducements, with the promise to release them from the clutches of poverty. In various YouTube videos from the World Healing Prayer Center at Moran, it can be observed that Ranjan Chutia has explained the reason behind all epidemics, diseases and natural disasters inflicting the world as God’s curse on the poor, and which can only be cured through prayer and the worship of Jesus.
Christian missionaries zealously believe that they have been decreed by Jesus himself to spread Christianity all over the world; hence, unless every group and community of people in the world becomes Christian, Judgement Day will not arrive. The strategic tactic of religious proselytizers like Ranjan Chutia has been to enmesh morality and charity together with faith. In this way, their message has been marketed widely without raising an iota of doubt both among the newly converted ones and as well as the common populace of the region. As argued by Rajiv Malhotra in his famous work Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines, Christianity is popularly marketed in America today as an act of saving the heathens from a lifetime of fear and demonic oppression. The target includes Hindu deities, gurus, society, rituals and any spokespersons who speak up on behalf of Dharma.
This same tactic has been employed in Bharat too. An interesting aspect of the religious conversion activities undertaken by the missionaries is that the converts, most of whom are largely poor and unsuspecting Hindus, are allowed to carry on with their cultural-identity markers which differentiate one religious community from the other. In the context of Assam, this includes the wearing of sindoor and bindi on the foreheads of converted Christian women and dhoti-seleng saador among the converted Christian men when they visit the Church for prayers. Cultural appropriation of religious names and symbols can at best be seen in the nomenclature of the Church which is referred to as ‘Jixu Krisno’r Namghar’ by the people who regularly visit the World Healing Prayer Center at Moran.
It is because the symbolism associated with a particular culture and its rituals (not necessarily religious) is so powerful that it is able to leave behind a significant amount of cultural memory among its followers, for whom it is not completely easy to forego the distinctive traits of that culture, passed on to them over several generations. The Christian missionaries have well understood this fact. Accordingly, Christianity has indigenised itself in the region by first borrowing and then appropriating important cultural aspects from the local Hindu traditions. Eventually, this appropriation becomes normalised in the regular day-to-day lives of the people. It poses a serious danger to the unique and diverse cultural and religious practices and belief systems of the Hindus, which have been diluted of their original Vedic essence through co-option into Christianity.
In order to eventually Christianise the Hindus, the initial attempt of the Church is to establish separate identities among them, by showing their linguistic separation from devbhasha Sanskrit. The next important step is to reinterpret their oral narratives, stories, and diverse forms of nature worship in a manner that maximises the difference from or opposition to Sanatan culture and civilisation. Eventually, those aspects of Hindu Sanatan Dharma that can be accommodated within Christianity are credited to Christian influences, whereas those that contradict it are denigrated as the distortions by greedy Brahmanas. A separate history is then developed to show that the ancestors of these communities (especially janajatis) were the inhabitants of the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation, prior to the hypothetical colonisation perpetrated on them by the ‘foreign Aryans’.
This represents the beginning of the formation of a politicised sub-national identity among these communities, who then position themselves as historical victims in their relationships to the rest of the Indian population. It becomes a trigger to the eventual rise of secessionist movements, as we have seen in the states of Nagaland and Mizoram in particular, in Uttar Purba Bharat. The Constitution of India declares that the ‘Right to Propagate’ one’s religion does not include the right to convert another person through means, fair or foul. It is because religious conversions impinge upon the ‘freedom of conscience’ guaranteed to all persons alike, i.e. the inner freedom of an individual to mould his/her relationship with Ishwar or other living/non-living creatures in whatever way he/she desires.
We need to understand that a very well-organised and powerful global machinery is in operation behind people like Ranjan Chutiya and many others. Both Islam and Christianity are non-Indic faiths that have imposed themselves on Bharat through military conquest and political domination. The grand narrative of our country is rooted in Hindu/Indic values based on acceptance (not tolerance), rather than a copy-cat version of Western (European) secularism. In the matter of religious conversions, what is ‘forcible’ and what constitutes ‘voluntary’ is a rather shady area that is very much dependent upon people’s subjective feelings and emotions at a particular point of time with regard to a matter as sensitive as religion. ‘Forcible’ relates to against one’s own will, while ‘voluntary’ comes closer to individual choice.
Although some sections of the Christian converts in Assam and elsewhere claim that they voluntarily chose to convert into Christianity, but the irony remains as to whether such a choice has really been an informed one. The issue is whether the religious belief systems of one community have been critiqued in an honest and comprehensive light or always portrayed in a disparaging manner by the other. If the idea is to prove the superiority of one faith by projecting it as more simplistic, less complicated and less time-consuming than the other, the targeted person lacking a proper understanding of his own faith is ultimately made to feel apologetic about it in his subconscious mind. Understanding religious conversions in the light of freedom of choice, but re-conversion back to one’s original faith as communalism and a divisive policy has, for long, been a tactic of the Church to tap into the fault-lines of caste and community divide of the Hindu society.
- Census of India, 2011. Ministry of Home Affairs. Government of India.
- Malhotra, Rajiv & Neelakandan, Aravindan. (2011). Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines. New Delhi: Manjul Publishing House.
- Sahat, K.N. (1990). A Theoretical Model for the Study of the Christianization Process among the Tribals of Chotanagpur, in Buddhadeb Chaudhuri (ed). Tribal Transformation in India (Five Volumes). New Delhi: Inter-India Publishers.
(The writer holds a PhD in Political Science and regularly writes on issues related to Assam and Uttar Purba Bharat).