When citizens claim the state back

By HH Mohrmen

None of the members of the Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum (MTDF) would have ever thought that their decision to down the curtaisn of the autumn fest 2011 on Sunday the second time around, would spark an important debate in the state of Meghalaya. The outcome of the is going to determine the policy of the government with regards to Sunday and most importantly change the attitude of the people towards recreation and keeping the day holy. Let us not get into the debate with regard to the origin of observing Sunday as a holy day, but what is important to remind ourselves is Sunday is not the only holy day observed by the citizen of this state.

For so long our state has been run by politician who wore their religion on their sleeves and flaunt their church credentials as tymmen basan, nongialam seng rangbah, nongialam seng longkmie and rangbah balang at will and with pride. Leaders in the above mentioned category sometimes even forget which hat to wear and when? It reminds me of an incident in Khliehriat some years ago when police had to resort to firing in a land dispute case which involved the local church. An important minister in the cabinet then declared that he would take to the streets if the government did not take action against those responsible. I immediately sent a letter to the editor of an esteemed Guwahati-based daily in the state and basically asked two questions. If a cabinet minister second only to the chief minister has to take matters to the street then who going to govern? The second and the most important question I asked JD Pohrmen the minister in question was whether as a minister he owes his allegiance to the constitution he swears to every five years or to the church in which he was then an important lay leader? The issue died down. Obviously Mr Pohrmen knew where to place his allegiance.

Even now we have many politicians who wear different hats, I am not saying that it is wrong to be an important member of a church, but the important point for the leaders to know is when to wear which hat? Take a recent example; the MPCC President also sends a letter to protest against closing the Autumn Fest on Sunday. I don’t know how the MPCC functions because in my life I have never joined any political party but I assume that the President is entitled to issue a statement in his capacity as a President. If that is the case then it is not difficult to arrive at the conclusion just by the very fact of knowing who the current President of the Congress party in Meghalaya is. Mr Friday Lyngdoh is not only an MLA and President of the MPCC but he is also a tymmen basan of a church. Again don’t get me wrong; I am not saying a tymmen basan cannot be an MLA (although I have my reservations with their age of retirement) but the question is, am I wrong to say that in this case his allegiance is obviously tilting towards the church than to the state and the party which also claims to be a secular party? No wonder the BJP dismisses the Congress’s secular claims as – pseudo secularism.

Ever since the Meghalaya was created there have been situations when church and government have got entangled in almost every strata of the government. We have cases of various government departments’ involvement in church conferences, synods, religious festivals or processions. There is even a saying that does the rounds that if a village wishes to see instant development, then it only needs to play host to a conference, a synod, a festival or important religious gathering. Why? There are two answers to the question. First it’s vote bank politics and second, because the MLA himself is the leaders of the church and being a leader of a religious group in an important decision making body of the state; he is bound to incline to something that will benefit his religion. In the western world before any faith group plans to construct their house of worship they have to prove to the government that the church also has ample parking space. Unlike in Meghalaya, church goers cannot just park in any available space on the road and cause traffic jam. The church is responsible for its own actions and is taken to task if it is found to fail on its obligations.

In Meghalaya we have leaders who wear religion on their sleeves and these leaders walk tall to the church pulpit or altar saying they have full faith in the church and trust in God but at the same time have their armed personal security guards close by. This is the kind of trust on God our leaders have even in the place of worship. Citizens have the right to question why our leaders have to bring security personnel to the place of worship. Or, can they in the first place use government vehicles to go to church when it is not even an official function? And these same politicians are calling to postpone the closing of the Fest because it falls on Sunday! Does that mean politicians will not squander government resources like using government vehicles, using their PSOs etc on Sunday? The fundamental question is separating state from religion.

It is time that the government separate state activities from religious functions. Perhaps the state should start asking the church to pay for using government resources for religious activities. Like paying for using the state machineries like the police for religious mega gatherings, pujas or festivals and use the money to pay bonus to our hard working policemen who sometime have to forego their day off to attend to the call of duty even on Sundays.

Why this obsession with Sunday? Does it mean that our being religious starts and ends in the church and only on Sundays? If Sunday is the only holy day of the week does it mean that week days are less holy hence we can do anything during the week except Sunday? It is too shallow an understanding to limit our being Christians only to one single day – Sunday. Do we also need to remind our Christian brethren that everybody knows Sunday is their holy day but that other faith groups too have their own holy days – the Sabbath of the Jews and the Seventh Day Adventists, Friday for those who follow Islam and Tuesday for Hindus? Will the NCP and the NGOs protest if the festival concludes on Saturday which is the holy day of our Seventh Day Adventist brethren? Will the same people protest if it is pre-poned to Friday which is the holy day of our Muslim brethrens (and FKJGP don’t tell me there are no Khasi followers of Islam) Or by implication are we trying to say that only Sunday is a holy day and that the holy days of other religions is not as holy?

Let us for example see what Jesus has to say about keeping the Sabbath. (KJV Mark 2: 27) “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”, (KJV Mark 3: 4) “And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?” (NKJV Luke 6:9) “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?” These are few verses in the gospel in which Jesus talked about the Sabbath. And mind you he was not even talking about Sunday.

Meghalaya is a secular state; it belongs to its citizens irrespective of one’s caste, creed or religious affiliation. No one has the right to impose his religious views on others. Democracy does not grant those in the majority the right to impose their will on the minority. Democracy is about respecting the right to freedom of the citizen and will function well only when we all respect one another’s rights. Even among Christians those (supposedly) good Christians who are of the opinion that is unchristian to close the fest on Sunday, have no right to impose a ban on those they believe are ‘not so good Christians’ who think that it is within their right to decide what to do on one fine Autumn Sunday afternoon.

And finally, thank goodness, at long last we have a Chief Minister who is a citizen first; a Chief Minister who does not wear his religion on his sleeves and with Dr Mukul Sangma in the helm of power, the citizens of the state are beginning to claim their rightful place in the government.

(The writer is a researcher and social thinker. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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