GUWAHATI: The Arunachal Pradesh cabinet’s move to create a separate department for protection and preservation of the state’s indigenous faiths and cultures has hit roadblocks.

Bowing to pressure from the Arunachal Christian Forum (ACF), the Pema Khandu-led BJP government has decided to rename it as the “Department of Indigenous Affairs”. The ACF will meet on October 29 to discuss the issue.

“As of now, neither we accept government’s decision nor reject it. We will meet on October 29 and take a call,” ACF general secretary Toko Teki told the New Indian Express.

In August, the state cabinet had approved the establishment of the “Department of Indigenous Faith & Cultural Affairs” at a meeting chaired by Khandu. He had categorically stated: “The indigenous communities of the state are getting disconnected from their rich culture and languages due to globalisation, exposure to external influences. As such, there have to be specific steps to preserve and protect them from disappearing into oblivion”.

Later, when Christian groups began protesting, he made it clear that the decision to create the separate department was “purely to preserve indigenous tribal beliefs and traditions” and that it was not directed against any religion.

But the Christians alleged that through its move to create a department to protect the indigenous faiths, the state government was taking aim at the Church.

“Their aim is to target the Church by putting pressure on it. But the government should not interfere in religious matters and treat all religious groups equally,” Teki asserted.

Claiming that the locals were getting attracted to Christianity due to various local problems, he said the teachings of Christ were giving people the peace of mind besides reforming them. That’s the reason why the number of new Christian believers is increasing every year, Teki said.

Asked why only the Christians – and not the Buddhists – are opposing the government’s move, he said: “The Buddhists make up only around 11-12 per cent of Arunachal’s population; whereas we are more than 30 per cent. Another reason why we are protesting is that the department will implement their ideas only in Christian areas”.

Groups representing indigenous faiths such as Donyi-Polo and Rangfraa pointed out that the vibrant indigenous customs, culture, faith and belief system have either disappeared or are eroding in the face of alien cultures.

“The indigenous faith cannot be equated with any organised religion. That is why it doesn’t come under the purview of Article 27,” the Rangfraa Faith Promotion Society said in a statement.

The Christians make up roughly 30 per cent of Arunachal’s population – up from 18.7 per cent in 2001. The performance of a costly puja, among others, is driving the believers of indigenous faiths to Christianity.