Churches in North East India
Thirty percent of the Christians in our country live in North East India. The hill country of North East India is inhabited by more than four hundred tribes, each tribe unique in its culture and mores. The tribal ethos is so strong that an observer from outside gets the impression that for them tribal sentiments supercede Christian faith.
Search for identity and struggle for freedom have been integral to tribal life. These find expression through conflicts and strong concerted movements which the outsiders call insurgence. However, Christians of North East are highly missionary in their attitude and approach. What is required is a deeper understanding of the life and ethos of the people in this area.
Standing on her own tribal context Miss Awala Longkumer has made a systematic and critical effort to interpret the situation of the Christians in North East India. She has evaluated the common paradigm of looking at religious life and demanded a paradigm shift especially regarding women's concerns. We are sure that this booklet will be a resource for all those who are involved in ecumenical ministry in India .
I. The Land and its People.
[a] Social-Political life'
[b] Religion and Culture.
II. The Church.
III. The Position of Women in the Church and Society.
IV. Church as the Agent of Social Transformation.
I. The Land and its People
North East India is an almost unexplored land. It is a tourist destination, Its starkly remote terrain and beautiful scenery makes it a place worth a visit for those adventurous in spirit. North East India as a geopolitical unit comprise of seven states of Indian Union. They are: Assam , Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura-commonly referred and as seven sisters. It has an area of 2,55,036 sq km. The region has 31,6 million population  Arunachal Pradesh 9 lakhs, Assam 224 lakhs, Manipur 18 lakhs, Meghalaya 18 lakhs, Mizoram 7 lakhs, Nagaland 12 lakhs, and Tripura 28 lakhs. The region lies between 22ºN Latitude, and 29.5º N Latitude. And 89.7º E Longitude, and 97.3º E. Longitude.
The region is surrounded by four countries: Bhutan , Bangladesh , China , and Myanmar . It is linked with main land India by a narrow corridor lying in the northern part of West Bengal . In the region there are about 442 languages and dialects speaking groups of people with distinct cultural and ethnic identity. Therefore they are not homogeneous though most of them are from the same root.
Racially, despite intrusion of Aryans, or Austric blood, the people of this region are of Mongoloid stock and are characteristically tribal. Yet all races are present here in a characteristic ethnic blend to be identified as North East Indian people, who are easily distinguishable from the mainland people. Any casual visitor can easily recognize it. These ethno linguistic and cultural groups came from different directions since time immemorial. If we examine the process of peopling of the region, we can find at least eleven major waves and streams of migrations have built up the present Northeast India .
It is believed that the Mon Khmer speaking Austro-Asiatic [present Khasis and Jaintias] were the first group that migrated from South East Asia to set foot first into this region. They were followed by the Tibeto-Burman speaking people of Sino-Tibetan Mongoloid family. Now they are spread all over seven states in the North East India. When the Tibeto-Burman entered from North, North East and East, there came in a trickle of migration of the Indo-Aryans from the West from the Ganges Valley . They brought with them Vedic culture and Hindu religion. It was these group of people who inhabited Northeast India till the beginning of the 13 th Century. It should however be noted that while the Austro-Asiatic migration stopped after the first prehistoric wave the Tibeto-Burman and Indo-Aryan migration streams continued in small trickles adding new elements to their respective groups.
All of the Austro-Asiatic and Mongoloid families are categories as tribal except the Ahoms and Meiteis [plain Manipuris] who were Sanskritized by the Brahman priests. There are about three million tribal in North East India of which about 90% are Christians. The hill people of the North East India never identify themselves as tribal but as Nagas, Mizos, Kukis, Khasis, Garos etc. The term and idea of “tribal” was given by the non-tribal anthropologists to describe the characteristics of certain groups of people whom they thought to be primitive.
[ Source from Good New for North East India : A Theological Reader.
Edited by Renthy Keitzar; By Rev. K.Thanzauva p.104 ]
I a. Socio-Political life
Social: In the North East India there exists two social systems. The Nagas, Mizos, Garos, Kukis etc. follow the patrilineal and patriarchal society and Khasi-Jaintia and Garos of Meghalaya follow the matrilineal system and society. There is no caste and dowry practice in the North East Indian society especially among the hill tribes. The hill tribes of Northeast are a community-oriented people. To them community is first and the individual comes next. In other word, the tribal people of Northeast consider the welfare of the community first. They are much community oriented. The general characteristic of the hill people of North East; are respect to the elders, generosity, willingness to help others in time of difficulties, sharing ones own belongings and resources, co-operation with others, simple mindedness and honesty, truthfulness, willingness to sacrifice.
Before the advent of Christianity in this region people were living peacefully without any foreign interference. They were independent and were living in their own world. They predominantly belonged to tribal and primal religion and they were living isolated from the other parts of the world. Most of them were hunters, fighters, raiders and headhunters.
With the coming of Christianity into this region the social life of the people changed drastically. Education came with the Gospel. Wherever a Church was established a school was also founded. In some instances, even before the Church was established school was already established. The education undertaken by the missionaries brought significant changes to the lives of the people in the North East. The high literacy rate is the result of the hard and sacrificial work of the foreign Missionaries in this once forgotten world.
The present literacy status is better in this region than the rest of the country seen from the national literacy status of 1991 census. Except Arunachal Pradesh [42%] and Meghalaya [49%]; the other five states have higher total literacy than the national norm. Mizoram is the most literate state in the region [82%]; followed by Nagaland [62%]; Tripura 60%; Manipur [60%]; and Assam [53%].
I b. Political
Before the British rule came in the North East India, the people living in this region were living an independent life. The village council was and is very strong and the whole matters regarding the administration are taken care of by the members of the village council. Any body who did not abide by the rules and regulations of the council, required heavy punishment. However, with the coming of civilization and modernization many changes have taken place in the political sphere.
Because of the sensitiveness of North East India as a border region with Burma, China and Bangladesh, restriction were made during the British regime to entry of outsiders to this region. Till today this is continued by the government of India to protect the borders from foreign intrusion. Often the Central government suspects a foreign hand in any agitation taking place in the North East India. Thus foreigners are very much restricted to this region. To some extend Indians from other parts of India are pouring in as the North East is seen as a vast field of untapped resources not only for forest, oil and mineral wealth, but also for job opportunities, for marketing the finished products and manipulate northeast people. Often that extortion, robbery, rape are done by these non-locals [plain people].
With the realization that the plains people exploit the innocence of the hill tribe people the state governments put restriction even for the entry of Indians from mainland India . In regard to employment in Govt. jobs, the plains people take all the opportunities. Therefore, here also the state government had to make some policy so as to protect the rights to employment and seats for technical studies for the local people. For instance, any one seeking admission in the institution for technical studies or seeking Govt. jobs now must produce an indigenous certificate. This is to ascertain whether you are a person and possess own land. Laws to protect land rights of the local people in Meghalaya is a case in point. By and by when the people of North East India open their eyes and realize that they were manipulated in many spheres of their life and their rights were denied they began to demand their due rights to be a full human being.
The present political scenario of the North East India is that of an unrest situation. Ethnic clashes and conflicting groups have taken their toll and virtually halted development in this region. The most tragic aspect of the situation is a growing ruthless approach to human suffering. Hatred is planted deep in the hearts of the people against each other ethnic groups and peace and security of the ordinary people is threatened. The reasons for the turmoil are many. Geographical isolation, communication gap, long years of neglect, unimaginative government policies, ignorance of tribal cultures and values, increasing militarization and rampant violations of human rights are some of the cause. In this conflicting situation, women, young people and children suffer the most. Innocent people are being beaten and killed, women are being raped and there is loss of family wealth/property, and hence increased economic problems. School dropouts, drug and alcohol addiction, HIV and AIDS are alarming and the unemployment problem is severe. These situations led to the emergence of many political movements. Naga National Council [NNC], The Mizo National Front [MNF], the Tripper National Volunteers [TNV], the National Socialist Council of Nagaland [NSCN], the Peoples Liberation Army of Manipur [PLAM], the Peoples Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak of Manipur [PREPAK], the All Assam Student Union [ASSU], and the United Liberation Front of Assam [ULFA], All Bodo Students Movement [ABS], Karbi-Anglong Students Association [KSA], the Khasi Students Union [KSU], the North Cachar Barak Valley Students Union [NCVSU] are the main ones among them.
The government of India calls these movements as Insurgent groups and mishandles the situation and people of the North Eastern states, which worsen the situations in many cases. North East India is saturated with military, CRP and BSF. In any operation or any incident these personnel are sent to curb the violent agitation. Often this becomes an occasion for these army personnel to become repressive and as a result lives are lost, women are raped and property destroyed and turned into ashes. If I were to write what damages are being done by the Indian armies to the people of North East, I can write volumes of books but here I give only few examples which are very recent.
In the year 1987 the Assam Rifles camp in Oniam village of Senapati District of Manipur was attacked by some outfit group, killing nine of the army and carrying away their arms and ammunition. The Assam Rifles personnel descended and caused havoc, killing nine persons, tortured many innocent villagers, raped women, used Churches as toilets, in the 30 villages of that districts. Even pregnant women were not spared. A woman gave birth in the open field where the Assam Rifles gathered the villagers and the Assam Rifles jawans enjoyed witnessing giving birth of the baby. I really wonder whether they have a human heart.
In the year 1988 during the course of quarreling the Boro-Kachari agitation women were raped at the Boko of Goalpara district of Assam by Assam police. In Jhakara of Darrand district of Assam police entered the Church and destroyed the sacred books and beaten up the Christians gathered for a marriage ceremony.
Another incident which would pain the heart was on December 27 th 1994 . The 16 th MLI Indian army jawans and the 10 th Assam Rifles torched Mokokchung town of Nagaland at around 10:00 hours in the morning while people were busy shopping for the New Year. The army jawans burned down 80 shops and resident, 8 peoples were burned alive inside the shops. It is in the heart of the town people were sheltered inside the shops. The army people closed the door from outside and torched the houses, 4 persons were shot to death, 8 women were raped, inflicting not only physical torture but serious mental trauma upon the victims. The army personnel also robbed cash and jewelry.
When critical analysis is done about the reasons for agitation, one cannot simply justify the saying it is insurgence with their eyes and ears closed killing the innocent people just like hunting animals and ignoring Human Rights. But when analyzed carefully these agitation shows some definite causes behind them.
All the problems are not general. Each state has its own demands for rights. Therefore we cannot put all of them into one and same category because the struggle is against the government or outsider or outside influence threatening their future. For instances, in Assam against ‘Foreigners” as result of the emergence of self-identity factor [Assamese, Naga, Mizo]. In some cases the demand is for separate nationhood Assam ,Nagaland, Mizoram ]. While in some cases the demand is separate statehood [Bodoland, Karbi-Anglong]. In some other cases it is the demand for privileges, royalties for natural resources like oil and tea in Assam, Nagaland, all Assembly seats for Khasis in Meghalaya government, one third seats in assembly for the Tripura National Volunteers community in Tripura. In Tripura Nationalist Volunteers fight against the Bengali influx and occupation of their land in Tripura. The Peoples Liberation Army of Manipur against the Sanskritization of their Meitei traditional religion and loss of their original scripts. The Arunachalist is against the spread of Christianization through conversion, which led to the enactment of indigenous religious bills.
When we critically analyse the agitations and reasons as to why they are roused by many socio-political movements, the answer is very simple. All the agitations are the demand for self-identity. The government of India terms it as Insurgence, but one cannot simply take it that way. What is needed critical evaluation.
II. The Church
The Christianity has brought radical change to the life of the people in the North East region specially among the hill tribe people. Their whole world view has been changed drastically. Before the coming of Christianity to this land the people of this land were Animists except the people of Assam , Plain Tripura and Meiteis of Manipur who were sanskritized by the Hindu priests. The general character of the people in the hill is of self-dependence and hence when they embrace Christian religion they did not depend on the missionaries but stood by themselves. For instance the pioneering evangelist to the Ao land in Nagaland was an Assemese Godhula. Dr. E.W.Clark sent him first to inspect the situation to Dekahaimong [present Molungkimong ]. Evangelist Godhula shared the gospel to the villagers and could win their hearts within three days. He went back to Rev. Dr. E.W. Clack with great joy and the good news. Then Missionary Clark went to the village and 15 people decided to accept Christian religion and Rev. Clark baptized them in Sibsagar Church in Assam on December 23 rd 1872 . This was the beginning of Christian Church in Naga soil. But when we look at the present Christian percentage Nagaland is 87.47% while Assam Christian percentage still remain 3.32%. In the same manner Christianity spread like wild fire in the hill areas of the Northeast. Still the growth is so high in Arunachal Pradesh and of course, in Assam especially among the hill tribe people.
Statistic below shows the growth of Christianity in the Northeast region.
The chart shows that the Church growth in the hill is faster than of it is in the plain. One peculiar character among the North East Christians is the mission-mind . Even a drunkard is willing to share the gospel to the non- believer and bring to Church. The Churches are doing Missionary work that both Home and Foreign/Cross cultural mission. Churches can do great Missionary work because the believers give. Christian giving is another peculiar characteristic among the believers in the
Northeast. For instance the Presbyterian Church of India collected Rs 26,27,5,234 for one year for
Missionary projects. In the same way other churches also do. Yet economically North East people are not rich like many of the other Indian churches. However churches emphases on Christian giving and Tithe hence every individual understands very well about Christian giving. The believers tithe from all their possessions from firewood or rice a housewife uses in her kitchen to their salaries and other income.
Another peculiar character about the people of North East is Music. North East people can really sing so melodiously. The late Dr. Chandran Devanesan, former Vice-Chancellor of North Eastern Hill University [NEHU] once said after he visited Nagaland “ The tribal of North East India have a bamboo flute in their throat”. He said this referring to their natural talents in music. Music therefore forms a major part in their Christian worship service.
In North East India there are about 25 denominations/Church tradition. They include NCCI member churches and non-members of which Baptist and Presbyterian are the majority. Below is the churches that exists in Northeast.
[ Source from India Project. A partnership project of Mission 21 India and people India .
Sponsored by Mission 21 and prepared by people India , Chennai ].
NCCI Member Churches
• Council of Baptist Churches in North East India [CBCNEI].
• Presbyterian Church of India [PCI]
• Presbyterian Synod of Mizoram.
• Khasi-Jaintia Presbyterian Synod of Meghalaya
• Presbyterian Synod of Manipu.
• North Bank Baptist Christian Association.
• Baptist Church of Mizoram.
• Cachar Hill Tribe Presbyterian Synod.
• Church of God [ Ecclesia ].
• Church of God Meghalaya and Assam .
• Church of North India Assam Diocese.
• Church of North India Darjeeling Diocese.
• Lower Assam Baptist Union .
• Bodo Lutheran Church .
• Tripura Baptist Christian Union.
• Evangelical Church of Maraland.
• Salvation Army.
• Christ National Church .
• Northern Lutheran church.
• Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church .
• North East India Christian Endeavour Union .
• Kuki Christian Church.
• Mar Thoma Church .
• Orthodox Church.
• Eastern Evangelical Lutheran Church .
• North East India Christian Council.
• Bible Society of India [NEI Auxiliary]
• Young Men Christian Association [N.E.Region].
• Shillong Christian Youth Organization and Conference.
• Union Christian College , Barapani.
• Roman Catholic.
• Evangelical Baptist Convention of Manipur.
• Assembly of God.
• Baptist Revival Church .
• Ceylon Pentecostal Church .
Of all these churches in the Northeast region, Baptist Church [CBCNEI] and Presbyterian Church of India [PCI] are majority and therefore I want to highlight little bit about the ministry of these two churches.
Council of Baptist Churches in North East India [CBCNEI]
The Council of Baptist Churches in North East India is one of the largest Baptist groups in South East Asia . The seed of the Gospel was planted by the first American Baptist Missionaries at Sadiya, Upper Assam in 1836. Since then the CBCNEI has had a long history of partnership with the American Baptist Churches in its life and mission in carrying out the commission of the Lord. The transfer of responsibility from the “foreign mission” to “national leadership” took place in 1950.
CBCNEI primary function is “to bring the great diversity of its people into unity of single denominational structure”. It is an instrument of unity for mutual assistance, fellowship, inspiration and above all else, mission. The Council is actively involved in mission and evangelism, Theological education, Campus and Hostel Ministries, Healing Ministry, Christian Education, Peace Building , Relief and Development, Leadership Development Training Programs and Seminars.
The Council has grown both in quantity and quality and has a membership of 7,53,606. It has Regional conventions in five states in the North East India- Arunachal Pradesh Baptist Convention, Assam Baptist Convention, Manipur Baptist Convention, Garo Baptist Convention [Meghalaya], Karbi-Anglong Baptist Convention, and Nagaland Baptist Church Council.There are altogether 84 Associations, 5446 local Churches, 6 Hospitals and 7 recognized Theological Colleges. The CBCNEI Head Quarter is in Guwahati , Assam .
Assam Baptist Convention
Christianity first took its root in Assam from where it branched out to neighboring people groups. The first missionary to the Nagas was sent from the Sibsagar Baptist Church . Yet till today Assam remains the most un-reached state with the gospel of the North East India with only 3.32%. The majority 67% of the population is Hindu and 28.43% is Muslim. This present a challenge for outreach and growth to this Convention which consist of five Associations, with 340 local Churches 34,673 baptized members and 39 full time workers.
Arunachal Pradesh Baptist Convention
Arunachal Pradesh, the mountainous state bordering China , has a population consisting approximately 37 ethnic groups, most of which are yet to receive the gospel. The APBC, formed in 1995, is the youngest in the CBCNEI family but it is the fastest growing despite persecution and hardships. It is now estimated that 10.30% of the population is Christian. The APBC consists of 9 Associations, 505 local churches and 35,000 baptized members.
Garo Baptist Convention.
The first converts Omed and Ramke of the Garos were baptized on February 8,1863 at Sukdeswar Ghat on the bank of Brahmaputra river. They both were the first missionaries to their own people. The Garos are matrilineal tribe primarily located in the Western region of the Meghalaya state. At present the Garo Baptist Convention has 10 Krimas [Association], 1,820 local churches, a baptized membership of 1,72, 779 and 47,186 Christian families.
Karbi Anglong Baptist Convention.
The Karbis are the tribal located in the state of Assam . This Convention was established in 1981. The Karbis are predominantly animist with the current
Christian population estimated only about 5%. The Karbi Anglong Baptist Convention comprises of 8 Association with 205 local churches and baptized membership is 13,425.
Manipur Baptist Convention.
Christianity in Manipur was introduced in 1896 through Rev.&Mrs. William Pettigrew and other dedicated servants of the Lord. The gospel of love spread through to the hill areas to the multi-tribe groups. The MBC, in spite of facing many hardships due to the ethnic conflicts among the people of the state, is actively involved in promoting peace and reconciliation. The Convention continues in outreach mission to the Meiteis of the plains of Manipur. The Convention has 26 Associations, 1,247 local churches with 1,44,556 baptized members.
Nagaland Baptist Church Council.
Rev.Dr.E.W.Clark, pioneer American missionary, with the help of Godhula, an Assemese Christian established the first church in Molungkimong in 1872. Through the untiring efforts and sacrifices of the local Christians and foreign missionaries the light of the gospel reached all Naga tribes. Today Nagas are approximately 90% Christians and still actively involved in outreach mission with Naga missionaries throughout India , Nepal , Bhutan , Myanmar , and as far as Cambodia . The present membership of NBCC is 3,17410 with 20 Associations and 1,264 local churches.
CBCNEI Medical Institutions
Satribari Christian Hospital, Guwahati, ASSAM opened in1925 with a missionary nurse and her four students as staff, earning the unique distinction of initiating a nursing training program from its inception. Today the 190 beds Hospital has 8 Doctors and 101 staff, who in 1997 treated 12,407 Hindus, 1,433 Christians and 1375 Muslims . The Nursing School offers degree course with 80 students at the moment. Hospital operates a rural community Health Center .
Jorhat Christian Medical Center , Assam was founded in 1924 and now run with 170 beds, 6 Doctors and 73 support staff. A School of nursing currently has 84 students and 4 staff.
Tura Christian Hospital Meghalaya is a 70 beds facility with 5 Doctors and 44 staff. The Nursing Training School provides a Female Health Worker Course for 36 students. The hospital maintains an orphanage with 18 babies presently.
Kangpokpi Christian Hospital, Manipur with 40 beds is served by 1 full time and 1 part time Doctor with 17 support staff. A Nursing School is conducted with 4 staff and 43 students.
Impur Christian Hospital, Nagaland imparts service through the 2 Doctors and 8 staff a ministry beyond the 30 beds facility, supplyinng free medications and treatment in villages when some epidemic spreads, and provides Seminars in the villages on relevant health care such as First Aid, Family Planning, HIV & Aids etc.
Babupara Christian Hospital located on the border of Meghalaya and Assam will serve the needs of both communities. This facility will become functional upon the availability of a Doctor.
Of the Theological Colleges, Eastern Theological College Jorhat is the only college sponsored by BCBCEI, while the remaining are sponsored by the Conventions. The ETC currently offers courses as the Bachelor of Divinity, Master of Theology and Doctor of Ministry Degree. The student body of 250 represents all the North East States as well as Myanmar.
Presbyterian Church of India.
The Presbyterian Church of India began with the mission work of the “Welsh Calvinistic Methodist or Presbyterian Church of Wales” in Khasi Jaintia area of Meghalaya, with the arrival of Rev. Thomas Jones and his wife in Khasi hills on June 22 nd 1941 . The mission work expanded to Sylhet-Cachar plains, Cachar Hills of Assam and Mizoram, and later to Manipur. With the rapid progress of the work, the Synod of the Presbyterian Church in Assam was officially constituted in the year 1926.
In 1935 the Synod came to be called Assembly, and the Assemblies of the time were renamed as Synods. Under the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church of India, the Assembly is the supreme body exercising authority over all the churches within its fold. It is the only authority to effect changes or to modify the constitution. Its interpretation of any clauses thereof is final. It ordinarily function as a coordinating body of the life and activities of the whole church. It establishes new Synods when necessary. The Assembly takes care of the matters relating to other church bodies including ecumenical organization like Council for World Mission, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Christian Conference of Asia, National Council of Churches in India etc. to which Presbyterian Church of India is a member.
The Presbyterian church of India is spread over a large area covering the entire North Eastern region, comprising Assam , Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. The PCI has mission
field stations in some of the major cities of India and even in Nepal , with more than one thousand Mission field workers. The important mission field stations are in Katmandu, Nepal; Khaso, Assam; Noagang, Tripura; Siliguri, West Bengal; Karbi-Anglong, Assam; Synod House, Lunglie, Mizoram; Mission House, New Delhi; 2-Urquart Square, Calcutta; Silchar, Assam; Imphal, and Manipur.
[ Source from CBCNEI office , Guwahati ]
According to the 1998 statistic, the Presbyterian Church of India has a total of 8,23,456 members in the church, with 459 pastors and 89 probationary pastors. There are 2568 local churches and the Synods look after the churches. The Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of India is divided into six Synods for smooth running of the administration and pastoral ministry. The Synods has the autonomy as far as the function and ministry is concerned. The names of the Synods are as follows: Khasi-Jaintia Synod, Shillong. Mizoram Synod, Aizawl. Cachar Hills Tribe Synod, Halflong. Manipur Synod. Churachandpur. Biateram Synod, Fiangpui. Ri Boi Synod, Meghalaya.
The Assembly of Presbyterian Church of India comprises of 23 languages and dialects speaking groups. For instance, Khasi, Hmar, Mizo, Kuki, Naga, Karbi, Biate, Hraugkhol, Assemese, Bengali, Dimasa, Nepali etc. Therefore for better communication we use English as official language. The assembly has its Central Office in Shillong, with two full time Administrative Secretaries in the office. The Presbyterian Church of India has 580 ordained pastors. The Assembly also has five Colleges, 49 High Schools, 133 Middle Schools and 570 Primary Schools.
III. Position of Women in the Church and Society
Dr. K Rajaratnam, the President of National Council of Churches in India , in his presidential address during the North East India Women Ecumenical Enablers Workshop held in Shillong from November 20 th 23 rd 99, repeatedly said that women in the North East are more fortunate than their counterpart elsewhere. They have more freedom and equality with men. There is no distinction between men and women in the North East church and society. They have what the rest of the women in the country do not enjoy. However there is other side also. As Mrs. Hnuni said,“ In the NEI we practice social freedom. Men and women live and mix together openly and freely. This is often mistaken by outsiders-specially those from a Hindu or Muslim background to mean that there is no sexism in the society or in the church”. However, in real sense it is not, therefore, let us try to look bit deeper into the reality.
In the year 1977 June I joined the Eastern Theological College Jorhat, Assam to undergo theological study. I studied four years to get my degree with my other male classmates. I sat and learned the same subjects, from the same professor/ Lecturers the same amount of time. With the completion of the course we all received the Degree Certificate conferred by the Senate of Serampore University on the same day. When I returned to my church with great enthusiasm to serve God through serving the church. I was not qualified for the important position in the church because of my gender. I was placed only in the women's department to work among the women. My appointment to the Ministry was not according to my ability or potential but according to my gender. Today almost all of my male contemporaries are holding important positions in the church and organizations. Many of them are also ordained. Of course I am proud of them. But I do not see my female contemporaries are in any important position in the Ministry.
When critical analysis is done about the position of women in the church and society in NEI, women are still treated as subordinate to men. Church should take the lead but when compared again, the situation in the society is better than in the church. In secular world women also can be in the same position with the man if only she can compete the examination/interview. But in the church even if there are capable women they are not given the opportunity in the high position because they are women.
The Christian Missionaries brought Education with the gospel in the NEI specially among the hill tribe people. Before that they were living isolated from the other parts of the world. Education played important role in the life of the people of North East India and women are not exempted from this. Even among the Missionaries, women were the first who took initiative in education in many cases. For instance, in Nagaland it was Mrs. Clark who first started the school for girls and later added boys. Likewise in other areas also women were the pioneers in educating the people.
Education has brought significant changes to the life of the people in the NEI. Yet in the beginning parents were so reluctant in sending their daughters to school thinking that educating a girl child is waste of time and money, because they will be married off to some one else and they will not be their anymore. Thus girl child was not sent to school but kept at home to help parents in the field and domestic works and to take care of her younger brothers and sisters while her brothers were send to school. Even today in remote rural villages some parents have still the same understanding and do not want their girl child to be educated.
Pioneering missionaries however, took the challenge and offered their untiring service in educating parents trying to let the parents understand the importance of education. Gradually the hearts of the many parents were won by the missionaries hence girl child was also allowed to get education. Today changes have taken place tremendously in women's education in the North East India. I would like to highlight the improvement of women's literacy rate between 1981-1991 census in the North East India. Which also indicates the decrease status of women and men in literacy in the region.
[Source from PCI office Shillong]
Christian Missionaries hold the sole responsibility in bringing changes to the life of women. Education offered women tremendous opportunity for leadership from which they were excluded for decades due to tradition. Today women began to look beyond their horizon and realized how much ability and potential they have to be leader in the church and society. Thus education brought drastic change to the life of the women in the North East. Today many educated women take up good position in the society and government. However they are still yet to reach the level of where they can take equal participation with men in decision-making body, inheritance of property and rights of ownership. In many areas women are also treated well but in general women are still oppressed and marginalized.
In terms of inheritance of ancestral property, daughters inherit and the female lineage is followed in the family in the matrilineal societies of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo of Meghayala. Thus a girl child is welcome in the family. But even among their society women do not enjoy total freedom/liberty men controls the whole social system and practices. To absorb from out side women seems to be enjoying maximum freedom and liberty in the leadership position in church and society. But when we take a closer look and analyze their social system it is not better than the other patriarchal society especially in the church.
As mentioned above, women position in the society is improving much as she can be in the high position if she can compete and pass the examination or interview. But when it comes to the political arena of hill people of North East India, it still practices the patriarchal male dominated society. The political life in the hill people is democratic but exclude women. For instance, there are no women in the village council which is the highest political meeting also. Only men age above 18 years are eligible to attend the public meeting. Recently government also advised and suggested that at least one or two women representative should be in the village council but this is not implement till now. The deliberation of the matter belongs to men. Women's responsibility is to simply accept the decision/policy made by men and follow them without any complaint.
In other societies the inheritance by women is not possible. In the North East the hill people the practice of Customary Law is still very strong which denies many right to women which also does not allow inheritance to women. Only sons can inherit family properties. Even in the absence of sons, the daughters or mother [wife] cannot inherit the family properties but the nearest kinsman of the father [husband] becomes the recipient. This is another injustice done to women by society. If we are to be honest, family properties were not collected by the man [husband] alone but both husband and wife put the labor together. In fact wife's labor will be more if we calculated the working hours, but because of the tradition she is victimized. In spite of the advancement in education and modernization the same traditional practices continue. Women's legal rights are deprived and denied. In the society, women are always the looser and she is the victim of the social injustice.
[ Source from Literacy Rate of All States and Union Territories of India 1993.
Produced and Published by the Directorate of Economic and Statistic of Manipur. Pp. 53-54. ]
When it comes to the church the role of women is little lower than in the secular society. Mentioned have made above, in the secular society if she qualify the examination or interview conducted by the concerned department she can be in the high position like her male folk. But in the Church, women play only a secondary role. Whenever there is some vacancy for Executive/General secretary or pastor of some local church, the organization or church will never think of appointing women to the post. It is understood that these posts are only for men and not for women. Even if there are capable women, the appointment will always go to men even if he is not very capable because he is a man. I can confidently say that the activeness of the churches in the North East is mostly because of women's leadership. Women are so active, they are faithful and hardworking. But they are placed only in the women's department. Men are so reluctant to share with women the privileges and responsibilities as pastor, members of Board of deacons, Executive/General secretaries etc.
Many people get hold on St. Paul 's advice that women should keep silent, be submissive to her husband etc. Some men take shelter on these passages to dominate women. The only problem/question is whether Christians believes and follow Jesus Christ, who was born among people, lived among people, gave liberation to the people suffering from different problems, physical, Spiritual, emotional, psychological etc, includes the sick, poor and women, the oppressed and marginalized social out caste, and he restored their identity in the society. And died for the redemption of all of humankind in the world. Should Christian believe and follow St. Paul ? If Christians believe and follow Christ, and Church is the body of Christ and Christ is the head of the church, then church has to follow the teaching/instruction of Christ. Jesus said there are many rooms in my father's mansion. There are enough rooms for both women and men in the ministry of the church.
The existing theological paradigms in India seem inadequate to meet the challenges the churches are facing today. The inadequate clerical and academicals paradigms in this fast changing situation compel us to look for a new theological paradigms which can address the various issues that the people of God are facing in their socio-economic, and religio-cultural contexts and realities of life crisis. The present theological thinkers are trying to develop the theology of empowering people, the theology of unifying force, and the theology of liberating force. In the North East there is need of a paradigm of contextual theological approach so as to allow full participation of women in the ministry of the church. In the North East there are two distinct different social set up. Among the Khasi=Jaintia and Garo of Meghalaya, the social practice in the matrilineal system while others follow the patriarchal social system. Therefore the approach and the Biblical interpretation should also need to be contextual zed to meet the needs of the people. However, it is affirmed that even Khasi-Jaintia and Garo whose social system is matrilineal do not offer equal participation to the women in the ministry in the church where she can use her God given talents to the full. The situation calls us to evaluate the whole system and remodel wherever necessary according to the need and context of the church and society.
When we take a careful study of the ministry of the Church, there are many loopholes. Some of the Church leaders men/women hold on the position too long. Where as he/she is not very successful yet does not want to give away the position to a younger generation, which hinders the growth of the Church. We talk so much of leadership development but we do not want give away the leadership position to other younger ones who are far much equipped and well informed about what is going around. This is an urgent need that the Church should take seriously if we are faithful to the Lord and to our calling.
Today the majority of the theologically trained women in India are from the North East India. There are nearly one thousand if not more theologically trained women in the North East Indian churches. Every year young committed women graduates are coming out of the theological Colleges and Seminaries. However, it is very unfortunate and sad to see that many of the graduates do not get chances to work in the Church. In the churches of North East India the present main role plays by the theologically trained women are: Secretary of the women fellowship local association/synod and convention level. Teacher in Mission Schools, lecturer in the theological Colleges and Seminary, some chaplains, teacher in Mission School, lecturers in theological Colleges, some chaplains, some librarian in theological colleges and missionaries.
The above shows that the vacancies are very limited and that also in subordinate jobs only. Therefore women cannot exercise their academic knowledge and God given gifts to the full in the ministry of the Church. Above all, since the openings are very limited, the majority of the theologically trained women do not get jobs in the Church, hence working in other private and government schools or offices. When they take up government jobs they are being criticise by saying that after studying theology why do they work in government offices. What answer can the Church give in this juncture to the theologically trained women in the churches of North East India?
The gifts of the Spirit are distributed to all God's people, women and men, and that their partnership in Ministry must be welcomed for common good. We are not talking only with respect to women but the move is towards partnership in all areas away from domination and hierarchy. The paradigm has been changed/changing from traditional male dominated hierarchal to ecumenical ministry paradigm. In a forward look the 21 st Century Church ministry will certainly be far more diverse than their counterparts in any period of Church history. They will include laity and clergy, women and men, and people of every race and ethnic background. They will include poor and the rich, the uneducated and educated, the powerless and powerful, the weak and strong. They will come from every denominations and every Christian traditions. In other words, the ministry of the Church in the 21 st Century will be “the ministry of partnership or equal participation”. Women and men will work together hand in hand. Participation will be according to the ability and human value and not according to the social structure and gender.
Thus the ministry of the Church in the 21 st Century will mean that the ministry of the Churches planted which will model the new community with the kingdom style inaugurated by Jesus. In this new community earthly values are overturned, status depends on service and value to the community and not on social standing. We should be prepared to suffer any consequences in order to affirm and solidarity with women. Our witness in the new millennium should include living demonstration in our Church and organization, and our marriages of biblical model of partnership between women and men. Thus we will preach a gospel which is truly good news of abundant life promised in Christ and a new society He came to bring about.
Church as the Agent of Social Transformation.
The concept of transformation is to restore the strength of life. It is in contradiction to killing or dying, which are ways in which life is destroyed. There is also the community freedom from harm, good order is part of security. However, there is only trouble and disorder in the land, there is oppression to minority group, there is corruption, blood sheet, no one can go and come in safety. Your roads are deserted [Isaiah33:7ff ]. Bible does not say specifically about transformation but the Bible is the message of God's promises for restoration. God will transform the situation of the people and society. Isaiah 61:1ff speaks about the restoration of society, to get freedom in society, and new ability to see your way, to decide where you are going and what you are going to do.
Luke 4:16 -21- The Messianic message as declared in this passage is about:
- the restoration of the broken victims of humanity.
- the restoration of people to wholeness in themselves as fully participating, effectively functioning and freely accepted members of human societies.
-the transformation of the societies which by their sinfulness, create the broken victims and have to change radically if people are to be restored to wholeness. The message is good news to the poor, to heal the broken heart and to give sight to the blind. The heart is the whole person. Hence the broken-hearted are those whose lives have been broken. They have lost the power to will and act, because of the futility of doing so in view of the power surrounding them which have broken them. To bind up the broken hearted is to restore the people's inner functional capacity and character. To release the prisoners means to liberate them from the captive of the dungeon to the freedom of society.
From the blindness in the darkness of dungeon to the light of day. Therefore the references to the poor, the broken hearted speaks about the social transformation, where each person have a place for full participation in the society freed from the crushing of dominating power. That is what Jesus mean “Good News “ is all about.
The Church is the agent of social transformation, in a place like North East where there is ethnic conflict, killing among brothers and sisters. Only the Church can give the answer to the people longingness for social transformation for a just society. Each ethnic group in our region today has conscious of the power it can exert, it is aware that it counts for something and can influence to shape its future. However, in making various claims, some groups went too far in the view of others.
The present scenario of region of North East India is almost every day the roads are blocked. Public have to observe bandh imposed by either group. Prices rise because of local taxes imposed by youth groups. Extortions have broken the backbone of the economy. The disturbed conditions have destroyed the academic atmosphere among students. Development programs are not easy to carry on due to collection of taxes. In spite all these situations, in turn, bridges are blown up, public buildings are damaged, telephone wires are cut, electric lines are stolen and sold, traveling by buses and rail is not safe. Yet remedial voices are silent, media men are warned, judiciary is threatened. No defense is offered against extortion. The most tragic aspect of the situation is the growing insensitivity to human suffering. In the midst of all these circumstances, people long for social transformation and peace. Even the most violent men long for peace. Peace and harmony can come only through social transformation and Church is the answer if we are to be sensitive to the situation.
Christian response to the pain and suffering is not retaliation. It is also not the philosophy of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”. Suffering and pain has a redemptive value. Tears have power. Blood of the victim that falls to the ground, calls for attention from God and fellow beings. Christ identified himself with the suffering victims of violence. He is the suffering servant. He was a refugee in Egypt . Christ become one with every tribe and tongue and people of all nations. He opens our eyes to the evils in our society and enables us to react to the need of the hour. We have to develop a philosophy of transformation and a theology of restoration in the region of North East India.
Our society is people-based, not Institution-based. The Church is often identified with the Church hierarchy and the clergy. We need to recapture the idea of the Church as the people. References to the Church both by Christians and outsiders are in terms of the people, such as ‘these men' (Acts 5:35 ) ‘unlearned and ignorant men' (Acts 4:13 ).
As we enter this new millennium, many are asking - does the Church still play a role in social transformation of our society? Many would ask if the Churches have a future at all and might go on to predict that the Churches might be put to death and disappear.
Openness to the future and social transformation is integral to nature of the Church which conceives itself as a pilgrim Church , never referred to any particular historical moment and situation. As an open Church, open to the future, its movement can be described as a process of growing towards maturity.
The Church as an agent of social transformation is directed to the world. The primary focus of Jesus' concern was not an end in itself but only a means of the salvation of the whole creation. Humanity is not for the Church whereas the Church exists for humanity. “The Church exists for its non-members” (William Temple). Unfortunately, most of the churches in North East exist as closed religious communities catering solely to the personal psychological needs and fancies of some of the Church as a community that is primarily concerned about certain religious tradition and beliefs. Sin, Salvation, heaven, peace of mind etc. dominates our religious language. The teaching of the Church has more concern about life after death but life before death is more important to address. The Church is hardly concern about the issues of justice, human rights and truth. However, the Church's mission as the agent of social transformation should be directed to the whole habited world. God alone draws the boundaries of the world [ Lk.9:49-50 ]. The Church also should open to the direction of the Spirit of God.
Since we live in the industrialized and economically affluent society or in the third world situation, all of us are in one way or another infected by the fever of modern consumerism. Propaganda, psychology, and modern techniques of advertisement endlessly stimulate our sense of acquisitiveness.
The future of the Church in India depends on its own openness. It has to be a Church rotted in love, a Church of courage enough to utter a prophetic warning to our nation and to the people. It is such a Church that can ensure the future life and creative witness of Christian community. In these times of cataclysmic changes we face the new millennium, the Church must take the lead to make better society. The Church must transform itself so as to play a transforming role in the life of the people and the world where they live.
The Church is called to be the Church in times of great political, economic and cultural shift. She is invited to evaluate and re-define its missionary task so that it can continue to be a servant community relevant and responsive to the challenges of the time. There life-affirming forces at work today. The mission of God is mission in the affirmation and protection of life. The Church can join this life-affirming force. In a world govern by market values human dignity and community value becomes valueless in the context of North East India. The people in the North East are used to all forms of violence, corruption, abuse of women and children, expedient politics etc. In this situation can the Church be a conscious giver?
Can the Church preach the prophetic message that Yahweh is not an “ ethnic God ” but an “ ethical God” to the people of North East particularly. People needs to understand that they are Christian in the first place then ethnic comes the next. The prophetic message in the Old Testament is about justice and to upheld justice, but today justice has been fallen to the ground in our community. The prophetic mission of Jesus has to be understood as the continuation of the mission of the prophets. It is urgent that we need to recover this prophetic strand of the biblical faith. The Church in the North East for too long had found it convenient to emphasis the mystic element of Christian spirituality. It is now she emphasis the prophetic nature of struggle of the people for a “ Just” and “New”North East.
The Church is fragmented, the society is fragmented, to overcome this dangerous trend, Church Union is the only answer since Church Union is imperative for healthy Church of Christ and should Church Union be rejected, then Christ is rejected. Since a Mizo, a Naga, a Kuki, a Garo Christ of least value to any one. The strong should care for the weak even though it would be much more convenient not to do so, but we are called to be one. And the form of Church Union is a negotiable matter hence ethnic differences should be at the cost of one-ness in Christ. The Church role as agent of social transformation therefore depends on the future of her congregations, because the Church is people based not Institution based.
• In the North East India 80% population lives in the rural villages. They are simple minded people, innocent, honest, and faithful to God and to Church. However, often the village congregations are not properly taken care, therefore it is important that Churches take note of it seriously and concentration should be given so as to reach the grass root systematically.
• Just and Peace section be established in the Churches to offer remedial help if someone is unlawfully arrested or beaten by Armies or some conflict arises between different groups the issue can be reported to the Council or Convention so that a legal procedure can be done.
• The hill tribe people are very simple they are also innocent/ignorant about their rights. Moreover they like to live peacefully with people and nature, thus, when faced with human rights violation, they usually do not want to protest. The pastors, other Christian ministers, and social activists have to work hard to educate people about human rights violation and encourage people to learn from their experiences. As Christian we cannot ignore all kinds of human rights violations which destroy our human dignity. It is our responsibility to call for justice and peace in the society.
• Advocacy for human rights protection and promotion through education is everybody's concern. And so, networking and solidarity with other human rights advocates is therefore essential to serve to spring of human rights culture. The Church therefore need to establish good rapport and programs link-up with other human rights organizations, institutions, agencies and committed individuals and professionals, who unceasingly keep the light of human rights shinning.
• An urgent task/response to the problems encountered by churches is to conduct human rights education for Church leaders and members. It is necessary to enhance their understanding on human rights. So that they will protect themselves from oppression and exploitation.
- Ms. Awala Longkumer
Executive Secretary, NEI Concerns, NCCI
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