The deep-rooted Christian extremism in erstwhile indigenous tribal state of Nagaland reared its ugly head again when protests broke out in the state over BJP’s plan to immerse ashes of deceased PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. BJP Nagaland unit chief even received death threats on social media.
BJP is immersing Atal ji’s ashes in all states of Bharat as a mark of respect to the departed leader who led the first full-term non-Congress Government in the country’s history.
BJP’s Nagaland unit had planned the immersion to take place in the state’s longest river, the Doyang, in Wokha district which is dominated by the Lotha Nagas. However, protests by opposition Congress, Church and some tribal organisations forced the BJP leadership to conduct the ritual at a smaller river beyond the municipal limits of Dimapur. The protesters were opposing immersion in the Christian-majority state on the ground that it was an “alien ritual”.
As per this The Hindu report, the Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee (NPCC) on Friday said the immersion of Vajpayee’s ashes in a river in the State was an insult to “our way of life”, as well as to the memory of the former Prime mInister. In a statement, the NPCC said the BJP and its Nagaland unit had turned the immersion of ashes into a “circus” for petty political gains.
The Nagaland Joint Christian Forum too said they were deeply concerned about the issue of immersion of Vajpayee’s ashes. “We are not against any homage or practice of the party but to insist on carrying out the religious rite and culture of a certain religion which BJP keenly affiliates itself to, is suspect,” forum’s vice president N. Paphino said in a statement.
The Lotha Hoho, which is the apex organisation of Lotha tribe, had earlier said the immersion of the ashes was neither a cultural practice nor religious belief. It said the Nagas’ distinct culture should not be “diluted”.
BJP Nagaland unit chief Temjen Imna Along Longkumer told The New Indian Express that despite the opposition, the immersion was performed in a very proper manner without hurting the sentiments of any.
“People are making a mountain out of a molehill without knowing the reality. Atalji’s issue is not a religious issue but a national issue. It is an issue of an icon. The minority morcha of BJP Nagaland took the lead in immersing the ashes in my presence and in the presence of party workers and leaders. As Christians, we all prayed. The priests did what they had to do,” Longkumer told TNIE.
“In my conscience, I have done what I thought was right. Trouble may come and go. We should be ready to face brickbats along with kudos. There are talks going on social media that I may be killed. However, I am clean in my conscience. All states, including Mizoram (another Christian majority state), performed the immersion. What’s wrong in Nagaland? Social media is being misused here,” Longkumer said.
Why immerse ashes?
The Hindu cremation ceremony is intended to dissolve the material bond (attachment) between the Atman (not soul, as atman is a non-translatable Dharmic word) and the physical body so that the Atman can have a smooth transition to the astral world & onward journey, upon the death of the physical body. Even after cremation, the Atman continues to have attachment to the ashes, so the ashes are immersed in rivers to break that final bond.
Rise of Christian fanaticism in Nagaland
88% of Nagaland’s population is Christian as per Census 2011, and Hindus are the largest minority religion at ~ 9%. As this Swarajya report shows, Nagaland was Christianised in just a few decades leading to and following Independence – share of Christians in the population of the state grew astronomically from mere 2% in 1911, to 46% in 1951, and 87% by 1991. By that time, the tribal population of Nagaland was nearly fully Christianised. Of the Scheduled Tribes population of 10.61 lakh counted in that year, 10.44 lakh were Christians, and they formed more than 98 percent of the population of the Scheduled Tribes.
The Lotha tribe, at the forefront of protests in this case, is mostly Protestant Christian (Baptist -an aggressively evangelical Protestant sect with its base in Southern US).
As the Church grew in influence, it began to inspire and lead the various militant assertions of tribal and regional sub-nationalism in the North-East region. Nagaland has witnessed a separatist insurgency for many decades led by The Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), a Christian Naga nationalist terror group whose main aim is to establish a sovereign Christian state, “Nagalim”, unifying all the areas inhabited by the Naga people in Northeast Bharat and Myanmar. The organization’s slogan is “Nagaland for Christ”. In some of their documents the NSCN has called for recognising only the Baptist religion in Nagalim. The Baptist Church also backs other terror groups in the region like The National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT).
Last year, taking exception to the mentioning of “Hindu Basti” Tseminyu in a press release by the Indian Army after an HIV & AIDS awareness programme in the Tseminyu area of Nagaland, a Naga student body said, “No village under the Rengma region or Tseminyu territory falls under the domain of Hinduism…..Nagaland is not a Hindu State and we will never allow fanatics to dictate our Christian State with baseless statements.”
Before this year’s assembly elections, the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) asked believers to choose between ‘Trishul’ and ‘Cross’ and urged voters to uphold ‘Christian principles’ and vote against ‘Hindu forces’.
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