The ceremony was simple, no match to the significance, when two villagers, a brother and his sister, were re-converted to the faith they belonged.
It was a realisation of a mistake, of innocence and ignorance when at Omchina, Chukha yesterday, a Hindu priest, on their request, converted the siblings back to Hindu from Christianity. The event lasted less than an hour. But at the end of it, there was appreciation, a sense of achievement and satisfaction among the small group gathered.
There is freedom of religion. It is guaranteed by the Constitution, the mother of all laws in the country. Notwithstanding our smallness, we have different groups following different faiths. All religions are equal and all coexist in complete harmony.
The same law, Constitution does not allow proselytisation or coercing people to follow another faith. Unfortunately, some overzealous people thought otherwise. A lot of people were enticed through different ways to change their faith. How Aiti Maya Rai became a Christian is a typical story among many converts.
She was vulnerable. Her daughter was sick and she was convinced that changing her faith would cure her daughter. The best bet would have been taking her to the nearest BHU or the hospital. But it is innocent people like Aiti Maya who are easily targeted.
This is not new. For decades, a big concern among the people, especially those in southern Bhutan, was that the harmony within their small communities could be seriously affected by attempts at large-scale conversion by some Christian groups. These groups were alleged to coerce people by offering money or promising economic opportunities. Many vulnerable groups have believed and had forgone a religion passed down from their ancestors.
There is no such thing as good or bad religion. In fact, the state religion, Buddhism, promotes harmony and tolerance. If people are realising that they have gone wrong and converting back to their own faith, it is a good sign. About 66 people in the same village had reverted to Hindu, their original faith.
A big problem in our region is a result of mixing politics and religion. Our farsighted leaders ensured that religions should always be above politics. This had ensured that there is no sectarian violence.
After Buddhism, a sizable proportion of Bhutan’s citizens practice Hinduism. We had no problems as the two religions co-existed harmoniously. There is a growing concern of conversion to Christianity. Again, if it is by choice, it should not worry us. The problem is when people are forced or when it is politicised.
Quite often, we hear rumours of suppressing Christians in the country. This is then exaggerated by interest groups or picked up by solidarity groups who have better reach and influence. Such rumours are harmful as intolerance to religion is sensitive. And the social media allows any individual to reach a large number of groups or organisations.
If there is one thing that Bhutanese- Buddhist, Hindu or Christians should be proud of, it is the right to faith and the tolerance in the society.