The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The damage done to Indian civilisation by evangelisation in northeastern region

By R. K. Ohri , IPS (Retd)

Independent India had its first brush with armed insurgency in Nagaland, a strategic part of the sensitive northeastern region. Nagaland is a very picturesque part of our country bounded by the plains of Assam to its west and north, Manipur in the south and Tirap division of Arunachal Pradesh and Myanamar to its east.. This small state comprising a population of 2 million people has lush green forests and a difficult terrain with hills rising from 3000 feet to 9000 feet. For centuries it remained inhabited by more than a dozen hardy Naga tribes of whom Angami, Sema, Ao, Chakosang, Rengma, Sangatam, Teliang, Konyaks and Kukis are the prominent ones. Before the advent of British rule the Nagas had maintained their tribal way of life and preserved their rustic ancient culture, within the broad spectrum of all encompassing Indic civilization. With the arrival of Christian missionaries in the nineteenth century, however, the scene started changing drastically. Soon the process of evangelisation started and by the year 1931 nearly 13 percent of the population of Nagaland was converted to Christianity. The independence decade of 1941-51 saw a quantum jump in conversions and by 1951 the percentage of Christians rose to 46. Ever since then the evangelists have not looked back and by now the Christians comprise nearly 90 percent of the State's population. A similar scenario of religious conversions of tribals by Christian missionaries had started unfolding in another inadequately administered district of Assam, i.e. Mizoram, and by 1921 more than 28 percent population was converted to Christianity. In fact, during one single decade of 1941-1951 there was a quantum jump in conversions and the 1951 census recorded the Christian percentge at 90.5 percent in Mizoram district of Assam.

This brief introduction is necessary to comprehend the phenomenon of armed militancy breaking out in the northeast within a few years of independence. Apart from poor and ineffective governance, the major cause was the alienation of the tribals from their indigenous roots due to large scale conversions in these two strategic areas of the northeast (now states). That explains how Nagaland and Mizoram became the storm centres of aggressive militancy which erupted in the region in 1950s and 1960s and thereafter set the pace for subsequent outbreak of multiple insurgencies which continue to bedevil the northeastern region till date.

Prior to outbreak of large scale militancy in 1955, the area now known as Nagaland consisted of Naga Hill district and Tuensang Frontier division of N.E.F.A. (North Eastern Frontier Agency). The Naga Hill district, made up of Kohima and Mokokchung sub-divisions. was administered by a Deputy Commissioner who reported to the Government of Assam, while Tuensang division was controlled by a Political Officer belonging to Indian Frontier Service. The latter reported to the head of the North East Frontier Agency. It was a somewhat loosely administered region, conditioned by the philosophy of Verrier Ellwyn, in which Gaon Burrahs (elderly villagers) and Dobhashis (interpretators) played a key role as intermediaries between the government and the tribal population. Similarly Mizoram district of Assam, bounded in the north by Manipur, in the south by Myanamar, and in the west by Bangladesh and Tripura was administered quite loosely and ineffectively in deference to the Nehruvian policy of non interference by the administrative apparatus with the lives and culture of tribal people. But significantly no attempt was made at any stage, not even after independence, to prevent Christian missionaries from interfering with the lives and cultural ethos of the local populace while preaching in the region. Though the British rulers had placed the tribal territories of Naga Hills, North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and the Lushai Hills (present Mizoram) under the Inner Line Regulations of 1872-73, to restrict the entry of non-tribals into these areas, Christian missionaries were given free run of the region for preaching the gospel to tribal population. On the contrary, all Indian citizens, excepting government officials, were required to get an Inner Line Permit before entering the sensitive region. After independence the Government of India continued the same policy. The result is that even today Indian citizens required a permit to visit the region.

After independence A.Z. Phizo, a former lower level functionary of the Indian National Army of Subhash Chandra Bose, managed to wrest control of the N.N.C. (Naga National Council) and started seeing the vision of an independent Christian state of Nagaland. Even before India gained freedom he had led a delegation to see Mahatma Gandhi in 1947 to press for the creation of an independent Nagaland. Shortly before independence the then Governor of Assam, Sir Akbar Haydri, signed a nine point agreement with the Naga National Council which postulated that the Naga Council will be allowed "to develop themselves according to their freely expressed wishes". Unfortunately it included a clause which allowed that at the end of a ten year period "the Naga Council will be asked whether they require the above agreement to be extended for a further period, or a new agreement regarding the future of the Naga people arrived at" which Phizo claimed was tantamount to the acceptance of Naga demand for total independence. On August 14, 1947, the N.N.C., under the leadership of Phizo, declared independence for the Naga Hills. He had already done substantial groundwork to strengthen the Naga underground movement and started a militant campaign against the Indian state. For his subversive activities Phizo was arrested on July 9, 1948, but was released after sometime when his wife was seriously injured in a car accident and his son got killed. He was able to muster support for the Naga cause of most Christian missionaries and the Baptist Church, including the highly influential and well known evangelist, Rev. Michael Scott. The demand for an independent Nagaland was propagated on the ground that the Nagas needed a separate independent homeland because of their Christian identity. As a result of evangelisation and close contact with the British a large number of educated Naga elite started viewing themselves as people with a different cultural identity, far removed from the Indian nation, but close to their erstwhile British masters. Many of them thus started subscribing to Phizo's ideology of a separate Christian State of Nagaland. Several office bearers and members of the Nagaland Baptist Church Council openly supported Phizo and his secessionist ideology. Finding that there was no response from the Government of India to his demand for granting independence to Nagaland, in 1951 Phizo threatened to raise the issue in the United Nations. Simultaneously he started articulating the demand for a plebiscite. Unfortunately the weak-kneed and ambivalent attitude of the central government gave a fillip to the underground movement of Phizo and his associates. Soon they were able to extend their influence and sow the seeds of militancy right up to Indo-Myanmar border. In 1952 he was arrested once again, this time in Myanmar (known as Burma at that time) but was released in 1953. Soon thereafter he went underground. In the first week of May 1953 a massive raid was organized by the Assam Rifles and security forces at Khonoma, Phizo's native village, but Phizo could not be arrested. By the end of 1954 he managed to set up a ragtag underground government in Tuensang sub-division and succeeded in drawing a large number of Naga youth into his network which ultimately took the shape of an armed rebellion against the State. Interestingly a miniscule minority group of non-Christians were the followers of Rani Gaidiliu who had sporadically opposed the British rule and resisted the attempts of evangelists to convert them. They did not subscribe to the secessionist movement launched by A.Z. Phizo. By Febraury 1956 Phizo and his team were able to frame a separate constitution for Nagaland and in March 1956 once again declared independence. Soon thereafter the army was inducted into Nagaland to put down the raging insurgency.

After receiving arms from the government of East Pakistan the insurgents managed to set up a parallel government styled as the Federal Government of Nagaland (F.G.N.) which claimed to have a Naga army of eight thousand guerillas divided into 3 army commands with 27 battalions - the battalion size varying from 300 to 500 armed men. Meanwhile Phizo managed to escape to East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1957 and from there he migrated to the U.K., never to come back. But he continued to direct the secessionist insurgency from abroad and plead the cause of Naga independence at international fora till his death in 1990.

From 1957 to 1964 the Naga militancy continued to ravage the countryside, with alternating spells of amnesty and peace parleys. In April 1964 a Peace Mission was constituted which included among others the veteran Socialist freedom fighter, Jai Prakash Narayan, and Rev. Michael Scott, a highly influential Baptist missionary of Nagaland. In the first week of September 1964 the Peace Mission was able to put in place a ceasefire because slowly a viewpoint had emerged that the Naga people were yearning for peace and wanted to negotiate a political settlement in which endeavour they were backed by the "public opinion as a whole and influential Church leaders". But soon thereafter the Peace Mission stopped functioning because the activities of Rev. Michael Scott were found to be suspect and blatantly anti-Indian. He was therefore asked to leave the country. On his return to the United Kingdom Rev. Scott showed his true colours by taking up the cause of Naga independence and carried the Naga brief right upto the United Nations, but could not succeed in his nefarious design.

Meanwhile the peace brokered in 1964 by Jai Prakash Narayan 's group did not last beyond February 1967 when hostilities broke out again. For a change this time the Indian security forces came down heavily on the insurgents.

It may be recalled that after the serious debacle of 1962 Indo-China war, some Naga insurgents managed to cross over into China to equip themselves with modern weapons, ostensibly with the blessings of Phizo from abroad. But that ill-advised attempt to join hands with communist regime in China led to a split in the ranks of insurgents because of strong commitment of the rank and file of Naga insurgents to Christian faith. Despite Phizo's advice the local Naga leadership decided not to have anything to do with

"Godless" communist ideology which they felt was repugnant to the Christian conscience of Naga community. Thus, the split between the pro-China leader Tatar Hoho and the anti communist group led by a Naga leader, Mhassieu, helped the government in strengthening the administrative structure at the grassroots level.

For the last 50 years insurgency has continued to erupt across the region at regular intervals. Presently the Naga militants are divided into two different groups known as N.S.C.N.(Isak-Muivah) and N.S.C.N. (Khaplang). The former groups has been running an underground Government of the Peoples Republic of Nagalim. To emphasise their Christian identity the letterheads of the militant outfit are stamped with the legend "Nagalim for Christ".

In the last week of February 1966 a similar outbreak of armed insurgency shook Mizoram, formerly known as the Lushai Hills which area was formally annexed and included in the British India on September 6, 1885. A new Lushai Hills district was formed in April 1888 with Aizwal as its headquarters. In April 1946 a political party, known as the Mizo Common Peoples Union came into existence. On the eve of independence it issued a statement emphasizing that the Mizo people were opposed to the retention of their district as a political area under independent India but were agreeable to join the Provincial legislature. They demanded that excepting the current subjects no legislation passed by the Provincial Assembly should apply to the Lushai Hills and that they reserve all rights and privileges of their internal administration. A demand was voiced that the Mizo district should include all neighbouring areas of Manipur, Tripura and Chittagong Hills which had sizeable Mizo population. Soon a dissident group was born which demanded that the Lushai Hills should join Burma because they were ethnically closer to the tribes of northern Burma (now Myanamar). In a short while yet another party, known as the United Mizo Freedom Organisation (U.M.F.O.) came to be formed with the help of the chiefs of various Mizo tribes who felt uncomfortable in the Mizo Union. In fact, due to fierce hostility towards each other and serious dissensions between various groups no flag hoisting ceremony could be held in Aizwal on 15th August 1947.

The initial provocation for Mizo rebellion came from one of the worst famines (called "Mautam" in the local dialect) in 1959 which caused widespread distress to Mizo people. It is believed that the Mautam, or rodent-created famine, breaks out in the Lushai Hills once in 60 years owing to flowering of wild bamboos. The bamboo flowers greatly relished by rodents are supposed to increase fertility of rats who in turn eat the crops extensively thereby leading to famine. Unfortunately due to administrative inefficiency and inadequacy of relief there was widespread discontent which caused the Mizo Union M.L.As. to resign from the Congress legislature party and a new party, Mizo National Famine Front, was formed by some hot heads. The new outfit was able to get strong support from the local populace and in October 1961 it converted itself into a political party and dropped the word "Famine" from its nomenclature and came to be known as Mizo National Front, or MNF. Its leadership was assumed by Laldenga, a former havildar of Indian army, then working as a Clerk in the District Council, who set up an armed wing called Mizo National Army (MNA), with the avowed aim of seeking independence. This group had drawn inspiration from the Naga insurgents and its members were imbued with the zeal of their new found love for Christian faith. They took recourse to frequent violence and intimidation due to which Laldenga was arrested in 1963. But later on the then Assam Chief Minister B.P. Chaliha, ordered his release in the hope that sooner or later he would be able to win Laldenga to his side. But things went wrong and during the next two years M.N.F. were able to consolidate their hold on the people. An armed wing, known as Mizo National Army, was organized the core group of which comprised disbanded soldiers of 2nd Assam Battalion who had mutineed while on duty in Jammu & Kashmir. These trained disgruntled ex-soldiers were able to induce many deserters and ex-servicement from Assam Rifles and Assam Regiment to join them. Initially they had only .303 rifles and some Japanese weapons of World War II vintage, but soon managed to get weapons from the neighbouring East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Thanks to the endeavours of Christian missionaries Mizos had acquired a high level of education which promoted religious consciousness and political ambition among them. Laldenga was therefore able to organize a dedicated underground movement.

The government was caught virtually napping when on February 28, 1966, trained MNF insurgents rose in rebellion simultaneously in Aizwal, Lunglei, Vairangate and Chhimluang. They attacked and virtually overran the Assam Rifles post at Lunglei and killed some Jawans of Assam Rifles and kidnapped the Sub-Divisional Officer, Sri Pillai. They also plundered the sub treasury at Lunglei and seized the treasury at Aizwal in a well coordinated surprise attack. On March 1, 1966, the MNF made a formal announcement declaring Mizoram as an independent State. The rebels took complete control of the Aizwal district headquarters. In another swift move the rebels overran Vairengte and cut off the main border road connecting Mizo Hills with the rest of the country. It took the Assam government and the central government quite sometime to gather their wits. On March 2, 1966, Mizoram district was declared a disturbed area by Assam government and a contingent of 61st Mountain Brigade set out for the trouble zone. The army contingent reached Kolasib on March 4 and managed to free from the captivity of the rebels a large number of government employees. But the situation was so bad that ultimately IAF had to be requisitioned to bomb the fortified positions of the rebels which caused considerable loss of property. It was only on March 12 that the authority of the Assam government could be re-established in and around Aizwal. Ultimately a brigade of Indian army was stationed in Aizwal. Even so widespread insurgency continued in the rural areas. Meanwhile the new state of Bangaldesh came into being due to which Mizo rebels found it difficult to get weapons and logisticts support from there. Ultimately the MNF shifted their armed units to Arakans in Mayanmar (i.e. Burma). Finally Mizoram was constituted into a Union Territory on January 21, 1972. Due to intervention of some intermediaries negotiations between the rebels and the government started which only enabled the MNF to consolidate their position and recruit and train more rebels.

After a short spell of lull the MNF started their depredations almost with a vengeance. In April 1973 Superintendent of Police (Special Branch) A.K. Roy was shot at thrice in Aizwal city and the Administrative Officer of Thenzewal. Within the next three months a number of government functionaries were targeted and killed. In the middle of 1974 the then Lt. Governor of Mizoram, Shri Mukherjee was ambushed and wounded.

In December 1974 the rebels issued "QUIT MIZORAM" notices ordering all non-Mizos to leave the Union Territory failing which they might face death. These threatening notices created quite a scare. A diabolical plan was drawn up to further terrorise the non-Mizo government officials by targeting senior police and security officers. In furtherance of their plans Col. Baikvela, Adjutant General of Mizo National Army, visited Aizwal and deputed a handpicked MNF officer, Capt Lalhliea, to execute the secret plan under the guidance of Major Kapchhunga of Mizo National Army. The whole MNA garrison of Aizwal town was placed at his disposal. Capt. Lalhliea and his armed gang equipped with automatic weapons set themselves up in the house of Miss Zari, a Lady Clerk of the IGP's office. On January 13, 1975 around 1600 hrs when the then IGP of Mizoram, late Shri Arya was holding a meeting with his DIG Police L B Sewa and S.P. CID (Spl. Branch) Panchpagesan, 5 insurgents led by aforesaid Capt Lalhlie of MNF drove into the Police Headquarters wearing police uniforms. Facing no resistance from the armed guards they barged into IGP's office and shot dead the 3 senior police officers in cold blood. Surprisingly they were able to escape without being engaged in fire by the armed contingent of Mizoram Armed Police stationed outside the IGP's office. It was a shocking incident which greatly demoralized the entire administration. Brig. G.S. Randhawa, the new IG Police, ordered extensive anti insurgency operations in which Major Kapchhunga of MNA, who was privy to the murder of 3 senior police officers and had been functioning as Town Commander of Aizwal, was arrested. Soon thereafter Capt Lalhlie was killed in an encounter by the BSF outside Aizwal town, while his another accomplice in the crime, Capt Ronuna, was shot dead by an intrepid contingent of 55 Bn. of CRPF. Subsequently Miss Zari and MNA's Aizwal Town Commander, Major Kapchhunga, were arrested and tried in court. Finally they were awarded life imprisonment for cold blooded assassination of 3 senior police officers.

The insurgency continued for a number of years and heat was turned by rebels against non-Christians quite often. In the process thousands of Riangs (an ethnic Hindu/Buddhist tribe) and Chakmas were forced to migrate out of the state. The menacing "Quit Mizoram" notices kept on appearing from time to time. The main targets were non-Mizo and non-Christians, mostly government employees. For instance on June 1, 1979, an order was issued which read as follows:


"It is hereby ordered that all non-Mizos who are degrading Mizo nationalism, should leave Mizoram before lst July 1979. Govt of Mizoram will take action aginst those who violate this order and still remain in Mizoram.

This order does not concern/apply to those who are born in Mizoram and are Christians involved in the Chruch activities."

To sum up, after several decades of anti insurgency operations the evangelist-inspired insurgency in Mizoram was effectively put down. Now Mizos are surely and steadily joining the national mainstream. But the problem in Nagaland remains unresolved. In Tripura, too, an ISI-aided terrorist organization, National Liberation Front of Tripura, has been spearheading an anti-Hindu campaign.

In another alarming development the Nagaland government led by Neiphiu Rio is recently reported to have drawn up a proposal to replace the national emblem, i.e., the Ashoka Chakra, with a Naga motif. A suggested motif for the State emblem of Nagaland depicts "Mithun" (a species of bison) along with the words "Unity Nagalim", or the words "Greater Sovereign Nagaland" inscribed thereunder. As already mentioned, the NSCN (Muivah-Isaac group) rebels have been using letterheads with the inscription "Nagalim for Christ" right on the top to emphasize their Christian identity.

That is what evangelisation has done to Nagaland and Mizoram - two important states nestling across India's northeastern frontier ! The change in religion has turned these peace-loving ethnic tribals into rebels against their motherland.


Copyright@ R.K. Ohri


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At 9/07/2011 09:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what motherland-trillions of god and godessssssssssss ur motherland have,urmotherland burns graham staines alive in orissa,who camefromaustralia to serve the poor not for urrupees,think mother terasa,william carey and britsh christain missionaries who gave educational systems in india,otherwise fucking assholes u would be in gutters lazy indians ,who uplifted u ,mother fuckers,dontblame christian missionaries for naga or n.east indiaconversions,u blame fucking hindu bharatindian govt,u know y east timor separatedfrom indonesia,israel-fron arab world,naga for christ -from india.,relegion,we christians basically dont like hindu systems in india,by,american christian,i was born in india but support onlyyyyyyyyyyyyyy,conversions all over the world,tell ur god and godessssss to take avatar in muslim country oramerica ,europe or aus ,new zealand,repent andbelieve in onlt true living god not millions ofgod andgodessssssssssss[jesuschrist isthe only way to heaven]y u indians go tobritan,america,and christian countries fordollars and pounds,if u rtruehindu as iamachristian i wil give u one gud idea,takr one plte and beg for job in india,dont go to christain nations and beg for job,see christain nations see also israael,bleesedrichly by god in heaven, notlike ur gutter country,when british ruled there were like thames river, nowbritish gone rivers to gutters,ugutter minded indian first u change ur india thru hindu systemsamd afterrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrthe world will change seeing u


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