Mr. Amit Shah,
Bharatiya Janata Party,
First of all, thank you for this opportunity to meet you on your maiden visit to the North East and to Shillong, the Scotland of the East which is also the national headquarters of the Presbyterian Church of India which population is 1.4 million and established 174 years ago with the first congregation being Nongsawlia Presbyterian Church at Sohra (Cherrapunjee), the famed tourist destination of Meghalaya with its cascading waterfalls, world renowned caves and from where one can have a panoramic view of the plains of Bangladesh.
It can be mentioned that the indigenous peoples of the North East are what they are today, in terms of progress and development are due to the efforts of the erstwhile Christian missionaries from the West who spared no effort to empower the peoples though infrequently, they had faced opposition from the British rulers but which fact, has been conveniently brushed under the carpet.
In an independent and free India with democratic governance and enshrining the principles of fraternity, equality and justice in the Constitution as also stating in its Preamble that India is a secular nation with respect to all adherents of varied religious persuasions and provided with a number of Articles in the Constitution, as Christians, we have been feeling safe and secure to practice and follow the precepts and tenets of our faith-teachings though we are a microscopic minority in the whole of India.
We have also been responding to issues of national needs and solidarity in times of crises, viz. wars, famine, natural calamities and even take up the issue of peace making when conflicts arise between communities and ethnic groups in the region.
As our Christian teachings and conscience dictate, we are still continuing with our mission to the have-nots, the marginalized, the vulnerable so that they will have equal space and opportunity with human dignity as well enjoy sustainable development and sustainable livelihood. Unfortunately, such endeavours have been misconstrued and misinterpreted with a lot of misinformation and disinformation. The negative outcome of such misdemeanour, the whole of India has heard, seen and witnessed through attacks on churches and their institutions, intimidating Christian priests and nuns to change nomenclature of their designations as per their respective religious order, rape and so called ‘ghar wapsi’ events.
It is not necessary for us to relate to you all such matters for you would know better than us and we are fortunate that such unwanted events have not taken place in the North East though racial profiling of the people from the region was quite prevalent in the National Capital Region (NCR) and in Bengaluru.
Through you Sir, we would like for the Union Government to take the following initiatives and proactive action.
1. For Honourable Prime Minister to make Statement in Parliament on upholding and maintaining secular credentials and religious plurality to co-exist as usual without threat and curtailment:
That what the Honourable Prime Minister had stated at the meeting of the Syro-Malabar Church in February, 2015, should be stated in Parliament which has reconvened on 20 April, 2015. Then only would we be assured that the present Government upholds secular credentials of the nation and that religious minorities and their institutions and personnel will not be intimidated, threatened, coerced including putting a stop to malicious misinformation and disinformation campaigns against them.
2. That Government should not contemplate bringing an anti-conversion law:
It is learned that the Union Government is contemplated bringing a law to ban conversion or change of one’s faith/religion to another. We hope that this is only a rumour. However, should the matter is on the anvil, then we would urge upon the government to bring such into law in the country for it very much goes against the basic rights for one to follow and adhere to a religious of his/her choice without any force, intimidation and threat, even to change.
Religious faith is a personal matter and cannot be based on generational legacy through birth alone. One has the freedom to take another path opposite from that trailed by his/her parents and earlier generations, based on his convictions and understanding of truth, even to the extent of not accepting the fact that God exists.
If such a law is enacted then it implies that one is not allowed to be released from the confines of his/her caste and other oppressive structures as per dictates of his/her religious teaching.
It also contradicts with the changes taking place, viz. (a) one changes his/her political affiliation and ideology to what he/she thinks is more service oriented and people centric, etc., (b) does not necessarily vote for the same candidate and/party in each and every election and, (c) seeks up gradation of his/her social and economic status.
When these are allowed and encouraged, what is the logic in banning one from changing his/her religious belief?
3. That Government should not bring a national law to ban killing and export of cattle:
We do not want to enter into a debate on the pros and cons on banning of cow slaughter enforced in Haryana and Maharashtra though plenty of analysis have been done on its economic fallout. However, such unilateral banning is an encroachment on the rights of those whose religious belief does not dictate non-eating of beef or pork or any other meats. People have every right to make their own choice on what they eat and what they do not want to eat either from religious or health perspective as also from one’s personal choice.
Such actions by States and possible action by the Centre is taking a religious majoritarian approach and defeats the very spirit of the Constitution enshrined in the Freedom Rights under Arts. 19, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30. Instead, if killing of cows, etc. is offensive to persons adhering to one particular religious persuasion, there must be designated places for such acts, and specific markets for commercial transactions.
Rev. W. C. Khongwir