Christians in Arunachal Pradesh take to the streets to defend a church in Tawang
The north-eastern Indian state is home to a large Christian community. Local authorities in a Buddhist-dominated district have prevented the construction of a church for years. They claim that it is “illegal” and want it removed, yet have also not issued permits for it to be built elsewhere.
Itanagar (AsiaNews) – The Arunachal Christian Forum (ACF) organised protests across the state, including a march, last Saturday calling for action to solve a dispute over a church in Tawang, a town in a district dominated by the Monpa Buddhist community. Christians represent about 30 per cent of the state’s population.
In October 2020, local authorities in this north-eastern Indian state had the construction of a church halted, deeming it “illegal”, after two local groups – the Indigenous Faith and Cultural Society of Arunachal Pradesh and the Monpa Mimang Tsogpa – filed a complaint.
After ruling that the church lacked the necessary construction permit, they had the local pastor arrested; he was later released on bail.
However, Christians of Tawang countered that a church has been on that land since 1999 and that they had begun to rebuild it in 2015 and that the relevant authority “ignored our application for land allotment initiated in 2003”.
On 23 May, a local committee issued a report calling for compliance with a ruling by the Supreme Court to strictly follow the 2010 Unauthorised Religious Structures (Regulation, Removal and Relocation) Policy.
“We had been demanding a proper mechanism to resolve the issue,” said ACF president Toko Teki. However, “the recommendations of the panel the State government had set up are not acceptable. How can the Christian community in Tawang relocate the church within six months when there is no designated or clearly demarcated land in Tawang”.
For Teki, “The state government has failed to address our demand within the stipulated period which has led us to stage ‘state-wide’ mass movement which was unanimously decided among representatives of all denominations of the Christian community of the state.”
Protesters said they were ready to take the matter to court if the government does not respond to their request.