Guwahati: In the backdrop of clashes between the Kuki-Meitei communities in the northeastern state of Manipur, the Assam government has initiated a survey on the various denominations of the Christian churches in the state.
In a new directive to the officer-in-charge of various police stations, the state home department urgently sought information on the number of churches under their jurisdiction.
“As directed you are requested to furnish the list of churches under your respective jurisdiction indicating of establishment, names, and addresses of persons associated with their mobile numbers as per the prescribed formats given below. Your reply should reach this office on or before May 29 positively for onward submission. Treat the matter as most urgent,” the government order had stated.
When contacted, a senior police official said, “Such surveys were conducted by the police earlier also. A survey on mosques was also conducted. The objective of this survey is welfare. The government is planning to rake up welfare measures for the churches, especially those who have been set up before this century.”
“Religious institutions of all faiths promote human values and lead people to spiritual awakening. The state government is planning to extend financial assistance to the churches. Mosques and other religious shrines in reforming the mind and building a value-based society,” the official said.
Under the Assam Darshan project, the state government extended financial assistance to 910 various religious shrines, including 458 temples, 186 sattras, 123 namghars, 47 mosques and 26 churches on February 22, 2020.
In 2019-20, the state government released Rs 91.50 crore under its Assam Darshan project. In 2020-21, the government released Rs 37.70 crore to 377 religious institutions.
However, the Christian community apprehended that this survey is aimed at targeting the Christian community in the state.
“We are not seeking any help from the government. We depend on God for everything. We do not want any welfare measures from the government. But the government is targeting us for the reasons best known to them,” said Padma Pegu, president, United Christian Forum, Majuli.
In the backdrop of Manipur ethnic violence, the state government has apprehension about similar occurrences in the two hill districts of Dima Hasao and Karbi Anglong. There is a Kuki population of 62,000 in Dima Hasao, while the population of the community in Karbi Anglong is around 30,000.
In December 2022, a letter was issued from the Special Branch of Assam Police seeking information from all SPs of various districts on religious conversion and the number of churches set up in their respective districts in the last year.
The letter was issued by the superintendent of police of the Special Branch on December 16 asking all SPs to submit their report along with suggestions on “countermeasures” on religious conversion by December 22.
The letter also asked the SP to furnish information on the allotment of land to these churches, key persons associated with these churches, instances of conversion in the last six years, community and other patterns of religious conversion and the prime factors for such conversions.
However, on December 24, Assam chief minister disassociated with this letter and assured that corrective measures will be taken for it.
“I do not know in what context the SP had issued the letter. I have already asked DGP to inquire and take corrective measures because in Assam we want to live in peace and harmony,” Sarma had said.
“We do not want to offend the religious sentiments of any community. In short, I completely disassociate from the letter. It was never discussed in the government forum. The letter is wholly unwarranted,” the chief minister had added.
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United Christian Forum of North East India (UCFNEO) reacted sharply to it and said it is aggrieved and pained at the notice that sent a wrong narrative to the society.
“Before last Christmas, the Assam Police had issued a similar circular. But our chief minister disassociated himself from this circular. Not again after six months, a similar circular was issued. Now we want to hear the comment of our chief minister,” said Allen Brooks, spokesperson, UCFNEI.
“We want to discuss broadly this circular in a meeting on the day after tomorrow,” Brooks added.
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