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Church Fatwas in Meghalaya

14 November 2011

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The Times of India

Mass, not masti

[by] Jaideep Mazumdar, TNN | Nov 13, 2011

Church groups in Meghalaya want followers to pray, and not play music on Sunday. From politics to the arts, religious leaders want to control all spheres of public life. But people are fighting back equally hard.

This festival is known for good music and great atmosphere - riffing of guitar mixed with the sounds of drum roll and hysterical shouts. This year, however, before the show could begin, the popular Autumn Festival in Shillong was almost called off. Reason: The concluding day of the festival fell on a Sunday and the local churches didn’t like it. They issued a diktat : Christians, who are in a majority in the state, ought not to be making merry on the day of ’Sabbath’ . The music and culture-loving people of the state revolted; civil society leaders mobilized public opinion against the ’festival-free Sunday’ concept, and the Shillong Press Club organized a debate which was telecast live by local TV channels.

As speaker after speaker blasted the Shillong Khasi Jaintia Church Leaders Forum (SKJCLF) for imposing their will on the people, the church leaders were nowhere to be seen. Meghalaya’s former home minister Robert G Lyngdoh, who heads the Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum (MTDF) which organizes the festival along with the state government, criticized the church for "imposing its views on people in a secular state" . Finally, the church bodies backed off and the Festival concluded on a grand note - on a Sunday.

The church leaders might have retreated this time but the SKJCLF had, in the past, successfully got this festival’s dates changed on similar grounds. Last year, organizers were forced to bring forward the festivities by a day because the concluding day was a Sunday. Last year, the SKJCLF and other bodies like the North East India Christian Council mobilized support to oppose festivities on Sunday and the pressure had worked. The youth wing of the Nationalist Congress Party had gone to the extent of saying it would oppose the festivities on a Sunday since Meghalaya was a "Christian state". Earlier, in 2006, the church bodies had opposed the world’s largest drum ensemble organized by the MTDF in Shillong - a performance that gained an entry into the Guinness Book of Records - by calling it "devilish" and "pagan".

This time the MTDF and civil society leaders are in a combative mood. But church groups haven’t given up either. They’ve issued statements that they would continue to oppose public functions on Sundays when Christians are meant to pray and rest as per their orthodox interpretation of the Old Testament.

That the church wields a lot of influence in public matters in Meghalaya is well known. And church bodies have not shied away from taking on a larger role in society that had evoked criticism from some quarters. In 2002, the SKJCLF had asked the Meghalaya government to designate the body as the "official negotiator" to talk peace with the militant Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council . The state agreed and the SKJCLF helped bring the HNLC to the negotiating table. Similarly, the Garo Baptist Convention also sought and got the primary role in negotiating a ceasefire with the A’Chik National Volunteer Council in the Garo Hills districts. Just last week, the National Council of Churches of India asked the Centre to lift the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from Jammu & Kashmir and the North Eastern states.

Church bodies are powerful in Nagaland and Mizoram, too, and often issue explicit codes of conduct to their followers. Last year, in Dimapur, Nagaland’s commercial town, all of a sudden markets started remaining shut on Sundays. "Though nothing was stated explicitly, a whisper campaign against keeping shops and business establishments open on Sundayswent on and we were told the powerful Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) was behind the shutdown move. So we complied. But people started getting inconvenienced because Sunday is the day of shopping for most, and so it was back to normal after some weeks," says a prominent trader from Dimapur.


NOV 2011 |

Leading Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband advises Muslims against celebrating birthdays, contending in a fatwa that Islam does not permit such a practice which is a "tradition of western countries"

JUNE 2010 |

The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam announces a ban on jeans, shorts, minis, sleeveless tops, bermudas and any western outfit exposing body parts in order to prevent "skin show by pilgrims" at Lord Venkateswara temple

JULY 2009 |

Even as Delhi High Court reads down section 377 that penalizes sex between homosexuals, the Akal Takht secretariat issues directions to all gurdwara management committees of the world to not solemnize gay unions "as it is against Gurmat and has no place in Sikhism"


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