MECHUKA: Arunachal Pradesh is a land of three principal faiths, two global and one local. Christianity and Buddhism are the 'big' religions. The third is Donyi-Polo (meaning sun-moon) is a coalition of indigenous animist belief systems centred around the worship of the sun and the moon.
In the face of inroads being made by Christianity, Donyi Polo has seen a steady decline in the number of its adherents. Much of it can be attributed to followers abandoning the faith due to its expensive rituals.
“It’s a Donyi-Polo tradition that a follower must perform a special ritual if a member of the family is critically ill. It is performed to seek god’s blessings for the person’s speedy recovery. The puja is incomplete without the sacrifice of a mithun (a bovine animal). There are other expenses too, entailing an expenditure up to Rs. 70,000,” said Maling Koje, a resident of Mechukha, on ethe border with Tibet.
A lot of followers of Donyi Polo convert to Christianity as a way out of such expenses. Plus Christianity offers free education for children at many places in rural and remote Arunachal.
According to the 2011 census, Mechukha has a population of 13,200 of which some 3,200 are Buddhists. Not many Buddhist adherents leave the faith, said Lama P C Kigar, a Buddhist leader of Mechukha, but nearly 80 per cent of the people belonging to the Ramo, Pailibo, Tagin and Bokar tribes have converted to Christianity, mostly the Roman Catholic denomination.
I went to Lipko, located some 67 km from Mechuka, to see a village where there had seen largescale conversions some 20 years ago. Tali Yorma, a native of the village, said people converted to Christianity when they saw missionaries healing the sick with medicines and not by spending money vis-à-vis sacrificing animals.
“After conversion, a lot of good things happened in our village. Child marriage and drinking stopped and education became better,” he said.
Tony Koyu, an Itanagar-based leader of the Donyi Polo faith, admitted that expensive rituals have driven many to Christianity. But he also alleged that people were being influenced through “healing crusades”.
“They (missionaries) targeted remote villages in central Arunachal. In our prayer centres, we tell people about the threat of conversion. Those who attend the prayers don’t convert. But we haven’t been able to reach out to people in far-flung areas. We couldn’t build the prayer centres there for lack of funds,” he said.
Arunachal has a population of 13 lakhs. Koyu said around eight lakh people are tribals, of which four-five lakhs are followers of the Donyi-Polo faith.
“I’ve written a book and composed songs to create awareness against conversion but it’s going on. Conversion has become a vicious cycle here,” he said.
Fr. Felix, media in-charge of the Miao diocese, Arunachal, said, “Christianity shouldn’t be blamed for this. It’s not taking place due to enticement or force. People are fully convinced what they are doing.”