Category Archives: Social Issues

Returning Home: My Reconversion Story – by Shimtihun Lyngwa

No, it’s not the immediate “Ghar Wapsi” effect; nor has the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have an impact in my life. My decision to leave the Christian faith and return to Niam Khasi didn’t just happen because of a few negative conversations, or a few isolated events — my decision was made because I realized I’ve been staying in the “wrong house” all these years. Two years ago, there would be no way in fiery hell that I could ever conceive of leaving the Christian faith. But here I am today.


I have received a lot of mixed reactions from being honest about my religious beliefs. For over a year, I had been terrified to tell anyone that I wasn’t a Christian anymore, because I was afraid of all the relationships I would lose, and all the people that would distance themselves from me. To me it feels like there’s a tremendous stigma in a lot of Christian circles about people leaving the church, and this assumption that I’m not a good person, or a person Christians can be friends with, because my views are now so different.


A lot of Khasi Christians I had met would refer to other Khasis who still followed the indigenous faith as “non-believers” and talk about them in a sort of vernacular that reflected an “us versus them” attitude, as though these “non-believers” were a part of the community, and that the community was a dirty and unreligious place filled with all sorts of depravity. “We are of the Khasi Community, but not of the Khasi Community,” is a catch-phrase I often heard, and while I appreciate holding onto certain Christian values about one’s conduct in life, I didn’t want people to think of me as “of the Khasi Community” — when they were thinking of the Khasi Community as such a terrible, unreligious place.

I was really scared of telling people. What I started to realize though, is that people had been distancing themselves because of my religious views, and that I didn’t want those kind of people in my life. I would rather be friends with people who would love me, regardless of my religious beliefs. And I am very happy and grateful to say that I do still have friends that are Christians, and our beliefs and views are very different, but that hasn’t had an effect on our friendship. That was very huge and important to me, Other people have, yes, chosen to distance themselves from me, or let our friendship “fade away” or have told me they were disappointed in me, or even worse, call me a hypocrite or tell me I’m going to hell, or try and “re-convert” me.


A lot of Christians I know have used the bible to justify slavery. And I have no idea how to interpret the stories in the Bible where God commands people to commit genocide, or God destroys populations and wipes out cultures, and tears entire cities to the ground, or floods the world sparing only one family and a bunch of animals. But even fast-forwarding to today, it feels like so many Christians I met were content to pick-and-choose the parts of the Bible they would follow.


There is a clear double standard in many Christian denominations in this Christian State, and because of that, churches are actually not a place for fellowship for everyone. One person told me, in a conversation we were having about abortion and human rights, that if a child gets raped, she has to keep the baby. I know that these attitudes are reflective of the extreme and fundamentalist side of religious belief, but regardless, these were people I personally knew and connected with that said this to me, and I never thought I had come from a place and had relationships with people who could demonstrate such intolerance.


Morally and ethically, I cannot follow a religion that would advocate such hate, judgment, and ignorance. I know that a lot of Christians do a tremendous deal of good things in society, and advocate on behalf of many oppressed people, but I still really sorely miss the critical conversations where these double standards exist in the Bible, the interpretation, and how that enacts itself in the world, and wish for more Christian leaders to speak about these issues. So maybe it should be up to me to fix the church, but it got to a point where I started to realize this kind of hate is larger than just a problem that needs to be fixed, but that it is ingrained into a really big part of Christian culture in the so-called “Christian State” of Incredible India.


So many church denominations are content to split up if they disagree; people believe so strongly and fervently in their interpretation of the Bible that they would sooner split up their church denomination than actively dialogue and try to understand one another. And for all of the things I can do, I cannot go up against that kind of strength of belief — to many, it is church doctrine, and not something that simply changes.
But why did I decide to return home to Niam Tynrai? I could recall the time where I “was moved by an overwhelming presence” during a climb to Lum Sohpetbneng, where everything felt very different, and I clearly felt a “sacredness” to everything and everyone gathered there. I could feel that “holy presence” every time I’m at the sacred Lum Sohpetbneng, and I can never seem to forget that feeling. But I believe I’m not the only one. There are a lot of Khasi Christians out there who weren’t given a “choice”.

There seems to be an assumption that because I’m not a Christian anymore, I no longer believe in God, but I do very much, and still wish to be included in the dialogue. There is a very fine and delicate balance between the relationship of people based on their religious beliefs, allowing room for dialogue, and the opportunity to learn from one another. Like the lesson I learned so long ago, it is difficult, but so right to exist in the liminal experience that is being able to be wrong, and being willing to learn from one another, and, like that speaker who spoke at Lum Sohpetbneng, have the courage to hold your true faith and ideas in an open hand, and truly see what it is they are made of.


Mahatma Gandhi once asked Christian missionaries, “If you feel that only conversion to Christianity is the path to salvation, why don’t you start with me or Mahadev Desai? Why do you stress on conversion of the simple, illiterate, poor and forest-dwellers? These people can’t differentiate between Jesus and Mohammad and are not likely to understand your preachings. They are mute and simple, like cows. These simple, poor, Dalit and forest-dwellers, whom you make Christians, do so not for Jesus but for rice and their stomach.”

This quote on religious conversion by the Father of the Nation got the hackles up of the Christian community. If we would have asked a similar question to Christian missionaries who came to the Khasi Hills early in the 19th century, we could have avoided this mass religious conversion altogether. But it’s never too late to return back home. I have; so should you.


(Email: shimtilyngwa@gmail.com)

Source: The Shillong Times (https://theshillongtimes.com/2020/09/01/my-reconversion-story/)

State assisted conversions in AP? 70% of Christian pastors who received govt honorarium through Disaster Relief Fund hold SC/OBC caste certificates

In a startling revelation by Legal Rights Protection Forum (LRPF), 70% of the 29,841 Christian pastors who received one-time government honorarium of Rs.5, 000 through Disaster Relief Fund hold SC/OBC caste certificates. LRPF obtained the relevant details through an RTI which revealed that a large percentage of Christians who have been baptised and have undergone Pastor Training courses but holding Hindu Caste Certificates have obtained one-time relief honorarium of Rs. 5,000/- each.

The honorarium was given by the Andhra Pradesh government to all ‘Religious Service Renderers’ which includes Archakas, Imams, Mouzzams and Christian Pastors who were facing hardship and distress of various religious institutions, as a measure of relief arising out of break out of COVID-19 Pandemic. The AP government has spent close to Rs. 34 crores on the one-time honorariums on 31,017 Archakas, 7000 Imams & Mouzzams and 29,841 Pastors which was credited to the respective beneficiaries’ bank accounts.
 
LRPF investigation revealed that while the official estimate of population of the Christians in AP is 1.39%, 43.99% of the honorarium beneficiaries are Christian Pastors. The data clearly shows that a large percentage of Christians who have been baptised and have undergone Pastor Training courses continue to hold Hindu Caste Certificates only to obtain government benefits like the recent one-time relief honorarium during COVID lockdown. 

Since holding of dual religious identities for government benefits is punishable under law, LRPF has complained to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes to take action and immediately order Government of Andhra Pradesh to submit to the Commission the complete list of Christian Pastors who have received Rs. 5,000/- as one-time disaster relief as mentioned above, together with religion/community details of all the 29,841 pastors.
 
LRPF in its complaint letter says that their sample data has revealed that 58.14 % of Christian pastors are actually holding Hindu-SC community certificates and 13.37 percentage of the Christian pastors are holding Hindu OBC Community certificates. On a conservative basis, if it is assumed that 70 percent of the pastors listed above carry Hindu community certificates (sample data reveals 80.81%), the total figure of such pastors come to 20,900. The amount received by them at Rs. 5000 per head comes to Rs. 10.45 Crores which is clearly fraudulent misuse of public money, says the LRPF complaint. 

@lawinforce

LRPF has requested the commission to initiate appropriate action to safeguard the interests of Scheduled Caste communities of Andhra Pradesh and weed out converts who have illegally obtained SC/OBC Communities certificate through fraudulent misrepresentation of facts.

“We once again fervently appeal to you to send a fact-finding mission to the state of Andhra Pradesh and initiate steps to save the people of Scheduled Castes/OBC of Andhra Pradesh from becoming culturally extinct. The onslaught of Christian Evangelical lobby with financial support of thousands of crores of rupees through FCRA funds, hundreds of foreign evangelists coming to Andhra Pradesh indulging in brazen conversions, baptisms and a huge army of local native Christian pastors have set up on the ground in AP – all these have crushed the SCs of Andhra Pradesh and pushed them to the brink of extinction. SCs of Andhra Pradesh exist only on paper and in reality, our experience has shown that only 10-15 % of the SCs are real Hindu SCs clinging on to their ancestral religion, culture and civilisation. These people are small in number, politically insignificant and don’t count in vote bank politics. Hence, they require your valuable support”, urges LRPF in its letter.
 
State assisted conversions
 
LRPF complaint letter also shares details of the government appeasement of so-called minorities at the cost of Hindus and the finances of the state. The present government in Andhra Pradesh had proposed regular monthly payment to religious service renderers and applications were called from Christian pastors to apply for the same. Strangely, the state government has not made it mandatory to submit Christian community certificate by prospective beneficiaries while submitting applications.
 
“This has enabled a large number of Christians holding Hindu community certificates to apply and benefit from the one-time payment of Rs. 5,000/-. As and when the government fulfils its election promise of monthly payments to pastors, all these people will enjoy the benefit every month. This is serious abuse and defrauding of public exchequer”. Says LRPF. “This is direct encouragement of the present government to SCs to convert to Christianity yet corner all the constitutional benefits of SCs without any hassles”, says the letter to the SC Commission.

It can be recalled that the AP government recently released funds for construction/repair/renovation of 76 Churches at a cost of Rs. 5.00 lakhs each. The earlier government of Andhra Pradesh has, during the period 2014- 19, funded construction of 817 churches. Most of these are located in SC colonies or where large number of SCs are living. This is direct encouragement of conversions of SCs into Christianity. It is a matter of deep concern to us that successive governments have resorted to supporting conversions into Christianity.
 
LRPF data also reveals that recently an NGO – Samarasta Seva Foundation conducted a survey of SCs at Chilukuru Village, Ibrahimpatnam Mandal, Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh. The following are the telling statistics from the village.

Though the figures are shocking, the situation is more or less same across the districts of Krishna, Guntur, East Godavari and West Godavari in AP. “Today a pathetic situation has arisen wherein officials and common man have concluded that ‘All people of Scheduled Castes are are Christians unless proved otherwise’. Identity of the people of Scheduled Castes as Hindus has been washed away in the deluge of Evangelists’ tsunami.” says LRPF.
 
“We are deeply concerned at this development as the SCs/OBCs of Andhra Pradesh with thousands of years of cultural heritage, civilizational achievements and deep religious practices now face extinction. Their way of life, their daily religious worship, celebration of festivals – all are being wiped out in front of their own eyes, with active financial/administrative support from successive governments”, says LRPF.
 
LRPF investigation also reveals that there is a huge jump in population of SCs while there is sharp decline in number of Christians. This is possible only when large number of Christians have started declaring themselves as Hindu-SCs and obtaining relevant community certificates enabling them to illegally corner all the benefits designed to uplift the livelihood of SCs. Such a large-scale misuse is not possible without active connivance of the administration in the state.
 
LRPF says that not just the present regime in AP, but all previous governments from the past 5 decades are to be blamed for the same as they turned a blind eye or actively assisted such misuse of benefits of Scheduled Castes.
Urging the SC/ST commission to launch an immediate inquiry into the whole issue, the LRPF requests them to send a high-power fact-finding committee to Andhra Pradesh to study the issue of large scale misuse of reservation benefits of SCs/OBCs and help the genuine SCs to utilize their legitimate constitutional benefits.

Reference: https://www.organiser.org//Encyc/2020/9/10/Andhra-Pradesh-70-percent-Christian-pastors-who-received-govt-honorarium-hold-SC-OBC-caste-certificates.html

The pregnant elephant and the bomb in the pineapple

Student Opinion : Punarnava Malhotra

One female elephant wandered, away from her herd, in search of healthier pastures for the baby in her womb. If nine months is painful for humans, female elephants carry their young ones for over 22 months of the gestation period (longest of any mammal alive today). Soon as they’re born, like a ritual, where the herd collects around the female in labor to witness the miracle of birth, the mother helps the young one stand up on its legs.

They were living peacefully in the dense canopies of Nilgiri Hills, a tropical forest. It is unusually quiet, rarely buzzing with insects, hence the name Silent Valley. This place is a haven for animals and life sciences experts alike.

The 15-year-old female elephant was optimistic as she wandered outside her protected region. She found a harmless, sweet fruit. But, unknown to the art of deception, as she ate the forbidden pineapple, the bomb inside exploded, while severely wounded her mouth and tusks. No story ever mentioned such fruits in any tale of history. The explosive compound is called Panni-Padakkam, identified as a mix of Potassium Chlorate and Arsenic Sulphide held together by plastic wires.

These lethal explosives are wrapped in a cloth with fruits and then used as baits by farmers to protect their farmlands from wild bores and pigs. Several pigs die in similar mode every day when they chew the bait laden fruit. This certainly does not makes this practice any less evil when there are plenty of simple methods to protect the farm.

And it is also believed that elephants have a keen smell that detects water from 12 miles away and can even recognize bombs through the trunk. It was highly unlikely for an elephant to feed onto such fruits. And these baits were safer to use. Hence, the forest officials were shocked when they arrived at the river on 30th May.  They suspect a case of conspiracy against an elephant. The perpetrators deliberately cleared off the spikes from the pineapple and fed it to her.

The elephant wandered inside the village in pain and agony. She had blood flowing out of the wounds, yet without hurting anyone on her way, or breaking any village house, she continued through the streets. She was in severe pain, but that doesn’t mean that she would be inflicting the same pain on anybody else. Walking in torturous pain, seemingly severe burn, and she was suffering too much to feel any hunger now. This happened a few days before her death. She walked her way towards the Velliyar River. Hopeful that the water will cure her of the ailments. She was not wrong. Water is a marvelous drink, and hydration does heal a lot of kidneys, respiratory and yeast infections. But in her case, it helped keep all the further infectious flies away as she held her trunk dipped inside the river, with a slight relief from throbbing pain.

Until the forest officers found her, they employed two Kumki elephant in an attempt to draw her out of the water. These are the trained elephants who help capture wild elephants, sometimes to provide medical assistance. Sadly she discarded all advances. An officer said that she might have had a sixth sense compelling her that she will die soon.

It had already been nearly two weeks of excruciating pain, and these giant mammals have even greater memory. I believe she could not forget the intense trauma and the horrific moment when the compound exploded inside her mouth.

While tasting their own blood and tissues, how can someone still have any faith left in life?!

She spent the remaining days standing in the river, forgot all the hunger in this new quest of survival, which was unknown to her in the wild.

The autopsy report says she stopped eating, all she had was river water overflowing around her in abundance. And she died at 4 pm, 27th May, as she collapsed in the water, followed by inhalation of water, resulting in lung failure.

Nothing was peaceful at this point! She died with a strong will to survive.

Elephants play a significant role in the tourism industry of Kerala, where even the citizens travel from North towards South to view the giant mammals. These mammals are also often seen on roads. And they are often treated in every household they visit. Keralites are so obsessed with these enchanting beings.   Moreover, they are protected by Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Humanism is still intense, but once in a while, we hear a similar case of cruelty against animals. The people who commit these acts for their pleasure are a sadist and a threat to humanity everywhere. If they can’t treat an animal right, they will never learn to act ethically among humans.

The question is if justice shall be served? If we let this case go, there will be plenty more in the future. Can we risk these felons walking the streets again with no strings of the past? Or set a household example for people on what happened to the locals who fed harmless animals with crackers—telling them that the actions are strict against the animal cruelty in India!

Culprits can be prosecuted under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 with imprisonment no less than three years, extending up to 7 years and fine no less than 10,000 rupees or both.

This female elephant was respectfully cremated by the officials. And an FIR has been lodged against the unknown perpetrators. If the movement is strong enough, a real change will be seen—consequently, a better country for humans and animals alike.

Though a culprit has been arrested and other detained by the Forest Department of Kerala, however, it is yet to be seen that justice is delivered to the innocent jumbo and her unborn child.

References:

https://kerala.gov.in/total-literacy#:~:text=Kerala%20has%20the%20highest%20proportion,at%20the%20all%20India%20level.

https://elefootprintsblog.com/what-makes-elephants-so-cute/

http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A1972-53_0.pdf

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/Cracker-to-kill-wild-pigs-explodes-injures-2/articleshow/31814044.cms

Punarnava Malhotra studies literature at a college of Delhi University and is an environmentalist in her little way.