Christians stage massive sit-in protest over Tawang church issue
Itanagar: Hundreds of Christians belonging to various denominations in Arunachal Pradesh November 2 staged a sit-in to demand “justice for Tawang church.”
The sloganeering protesters, under the aegis of the Arunachal Christian Forum (ACF), demanded that the government of the northeastern Indian state approve land allotment for construction of churches in Tawang.
On October 6, Tawang Revival Church pastor Joseph Singhi was arrested for constructing “an illegal” church. The police acted on a First Information Report filed by the district land revenue and survey officer
The arrest sparked widespread condemnation from the Christian community in the state.
Singhi was later released on bail and the police recorded the statements of eight other members who had accompanied him.
Addressing the protest November 2 rally, ACF president Toko Teki said that the Tawang church issue “is not a confrontation with Buddhist brothers and sisters of Tawang and other parts of the state.”
“Arunachal Christian Forum does not believe the issue is Buddhist versus Christian as a few people are trying to paint on social media,” said Teki.
“We have no intention to convert Buddhists into Christian and turn Tawang into a Christian district. We just need a place of worship in Tawang. There are Christian government employees, even health workers, who need a place for worshiping. That is our democratic right,” he said.
The ACF president further said that the Church is committed to maintaining peace and brotherhood in the state. “However, if our democratic right is denied, we will continue to fight,” Teki said. He said they resorted to the sit-in after their several memorandums to the government yielded no result.
Teki claimed that the government “is mooting to constitute a high-power committee to resolve the issue,” and added that the committee’s members would be from a “neutral party, without associating Christianity and Buddhism.”
“If high-power committee recommendation turns out unsatisfactory, we will continue our movements in every district headquarters across the state,” Teki said. He also claimed that the Tawang district administration had sent the allotment file for approval from the government two years ago.
The church is located behind the district planning officer’s quarters in AIR Colony in Tawang. The Christian community in the district is claiming that they have been occupying the plot since 1999 and the church was built in the same year. It is said that they had applied for land allotment, which is reportedly not approved yet.
The administration had issued a notice on the basis of the Supreme Court direction of 29 September, 2009, that no unauthorized construction shall be permitted in the name of temple, church, mosque, gurudwara, etc, on public streets, public parks, and other public places.
The DA reportedly invoked Section 4 (1) of the Arunachal Pradesh Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupant) Act, 2003, after the pastor allegedly failed to comply with the order.
It is said that on 27 October, 2003, the then APCRCC executive secretary, Toko Loma had submitted a representation to the then chief minister Gegong Apang, pleading for land allotment to build a church in Tawang. Loma claimed that the people of other faiths have their places of worship, like temple, monastery and mosque, in Tawang but the Christian community living in Tawang have no place of worship. Reportedly, Apang had asked the district administration to consider the representation.
There is a blanket ban on land allotment in Tawang for a decade and more than 200 land allotments issued to private and public parties had to be cancelled in 2007-08 after the district’s students’ union raised the issue.