ITANAGAR, ARUNACHAL PRADESH, February 4, 2014 (New York Times): Though the event they advertised had passed a month earlier, the neon-colored posters remained, clinging to the state capital's walls, lampposts and storefronts. On them were invitations to Indigenous Faith Day celebrations on Dec. 1, with slogans like "Culture without faith is body without soul," and, more pointedly, "Imitation of alien faith is slavery." Implicit in the slogans for the event, which began in 2011, is the idea that this northeastern state, populated mostly by tribal people, is being stripped of its distinctive religious identity as hundreds of thousands have converted to Christianity.
The trend in this sparsely populated state has accelerated exponentially over the past four decades. The 1971 census showed less than 1 percent of Arunachal Pradesh's residents called themselves Christian, but in 2001, 19 percent of the state's total population and 26 percent of the tribal population put themselves in that category. While religious data for the 2011 census hasn't been released yet, many observers say that it is likely that Christians now form a majority of the approximately 1.4 million people in the state, with some tribes almost fully converted.
In the 1980s and earlier, barely any convents or Christian institutions existed in Arunachal as missionary work was, as it still is, outlawed under the Freedom of Indigenous Faith Act of 1978. These days, in spite of the law, Christian schools, hospitals and churches abound, particularly in central Arunachal, where the state's most populous and powerful tribe, the Nyishis, live.
Nani Bath, a professor of political science at Rajiv Gandhi University near Itanagar, said many tribals converted out of a desire to be modern, since Christianity was often seen in the same boat as modernity.
"See, at these churches, you'd have guys playing guitar and pretty girls singing in English, and no one was allowed to drink, which was very rampant both then and now in this state," he said.
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