Syed Zarir Hussain
Tribal Hindus in Tripura have formed vigilante groups to thwart attempts by separatist militants to convert people to Christianity at gunpoint, community leaders said on Thursday.
"It is a very serious threat to Hinduism with armed militants of the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura forcibly converting tribal villagers to Christianity," said Rampada Jamatia, a leader of the Jamatia tribe.
"We believe up to 5,000 tribal villagers were converted to Christianity by the NLFT in the past two years," Jamatia told IANS in Jirania, 25 km east of Agartala.
At least 20 Hindu tribals, including a senior priest of the Jirania Ashram, Santi Kali Maharaj, have been killed by NLFT rebels in the past two years for disobeying orders.
Tribals constitute about 30 per cent of Tripura's population of 3.19 million. Christians form a meager 10 per cent of the total, while the majority are Hindus.
Community chiefs and religious heads of 19 tribes, who met recently, have now formed the Tribal Culture Protection Committee to counter the threat posed by the NLFT.
"The forum would discuss ways and means to tackle the threat to our religion and culture," Bikram Bahadur Jamatia, a tribal chieftain said.
The NLFT, fighting for an independent tribal homeland since 1989, has issued diktats asking Hindu villagers against celebrating religious festivals.
"The NLFT has been trying to foment sectarian tension between the tribal and non-tribal population in Tripura, a trend that has serious implications," a senior police officer said.
Church leaders, however, deny any forcible conversions in Tripura.
"In fact, a number of our priests and missionaries have been the target of attacks by unidentified miscreants over the past couple of years," a senior priest of the Roman Catholic church in Tripura said.
"We cannot, however, vouch on behalf of the NLFT which is a rebel group."
Insurgency in Tripura can be traced to the massive influx of Bengali-speaking refugees from east Pakistan following the Partition in 1947.
The tribals, who accounted for 95 per cent of the population of Tripura in the 1931 census, have now been reduced to a mere 30 per cent.
"This change in the demographic pattern has led to serious discontent among the tribals," Bijoy Hrangkhawl, former chief of the separatist Tripura National Volunteers told IANS.
Radical Hindu religious groups in the region have all along been accusing Christian missionaries of forceful conversions.
Indo-Asian News Service
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