Missionary is not a popular word in India. But in the Khasi hills, it holds a different meaning

Asia's Tech News Daily

© Provided by The Print

A house of prayer next to a boutique. A coal truck that has been repurposed for a Christmas procession. And a roadside monument to Thomas Jones, a Welsh missionary Meghalaya never forgot.

These are just some of the striking frames from artist Tarun Bhartiya’s Niam/Faith/Hynniewtrep exhibition of 100 ‘constructed’ picture postcards with both contemporary and archival images of faith in the Khasi hills hanging at the BayArt Gallery, in Cardiff, Wales, this month (between 1 and 22 October) as part of a collaboration between Chennai Photo Biennial and Diffusion: Wales International Festival of Photography.

© Provided by The Print The flip-side of the ‘constructed’ picture postcards. | Photo Credit: Tarun Bhartiya The flip-side of the ‘constructed’ picture postcards. | Photo Credit: Tarun Bhartiya

In 1841, Jones, a 31-year-old Welshman, went up the Khasi hills, present-day Meghalaya, to be a missionary. He would come down these hills eight years later, a rebel, to die in Calcutta (now Kolkata), hounded by the East India Company. Jones gave the Khasis – the majority tribes of these hills – a written script, translated part of the Bible, useful carpentry skills, and the knowledge of how to distil alcohol to treat wounds. But he had not one convert to his name. Jones, so goes Church lore, was more focussed on practical matters than in ‘saving’ the Khasi soul.

Missionaries that followed had better success in converting Khasis from their old faith, Niam Tynrai, but Jones perhaps set the “tone” of what is unique in the “Christian encounter” in these hills, says Bhartiya, a documentary filmmaker, photographer and activist, who grew up in Shillong.

Bhartiya stays in Meghalaya’s capital and is married into a Khasi family. His films include La Mana (Not Allowed, 2017), The Last Train in Nepal (2015, BBC4, Royal Television Society Award, Best Director 2015), and Jashn-e-Azadi (2007), which he edited. His current exhibition is an alternative window into thinking about faith, organised religion, its followers, and proselytisers.

“Missionary is not a popular word in India today. In the archives I looked through, I saw photos that somehow reinforce that image — they being carried up the hill on the back of the natives,” says Bhartiya. “And yet this image of a Sahib missionary is incomplete when it comes to Welsh missionaries in our hills.”

© Provided by The Print Open air Sunday service on Khasi hills. | Photo Credit: Tarun Bhartiya Open-air Sunday service on Khasi hills. | Photo Credit: Tarun Bhartiya

The Welsh pastors, from when Wales was colonised by the British, were sons of farmers and carpenters. It is perhaps his working-class origins that stirred Jones, when he saw Company officials exploiting the Khasis, and he “sided” with them.

Bhartiya’s exhibition also highlights another less-talked-about aspect of Christianity’s brush with the local population — the converts and pastors who accessed remote areas in the hills, which the missionaries could not. Check out the photo of U Larsing, Khasi evangelist, standing behind his mentor, Welsh pastor William Lewis, and his wife Anna. For a contemporary reference, there is the dapper Reverend J.R. Makdoh, wearing a cowboy hat standing with one hand on his horse and ready to set off for Sunday service.

The exhibition of black and white photographs also maps how faith is not easily given up or followed. Bhartiya’s documentation from the last 14 years of Meghalaya, when the Khasi hills witnessed a wave of ‘Christian revival’, keeps that tension alive. If there are photos of a huge congregation in an open field, there are also photos with followers asleep during a church sermon. Children of families that follow the indigenous faith are seen waving the Seng Khasi flag, as are Christian children in the grip of religious ecstasy.

Also Read: Vijay Kumar, the art blogger & enthusiast who helped Modi bring back 157 artefacts from US

Christian Khasis and Niam Khasis

© Provided by The Print Caste Hindu icons painted on tribal monoliths in Khasi-Jaintia hills borders. | Photo Credit: Tarun Bhartiya Caste Hindu icons painted on tribal monoliths in Khasi-Jaintia hills borders. | Photo Credit: Tarun Bhartiya

The Seng Khasi is a cultural and religious organisation that was formed in 1899 by the indigenous Niam Khasis of the “old faith” who followed the pre-Christian Khasi religion. A 2014 report in Hindustan Times, quoting a Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA) functionary, says that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) “funds and supports” several independently run Seng Khasi schools in the state. VKAs are at the forefront of anti-conversion campaigns and they are “RSS-backed”.

Paia B. Synrem, assistant general secretary, Seng Khasi Kmie, Shillong, however, clarifies: “With like-minded organisations aligned to our ideology, we may have relationships but we maintain our independence. Our organisation was essentially built to protect and preserve our faith from attack on our faith by religious thoughts and ideas brought in by the British. But we are not Hindus though some of our practices are similar.”

The Niam Khasis too had their ‘revival’ when it began to intensify and expand its activities in the late ’70s and ’80s. 23 November began to be celebrated as Foundation Day in Shillong. The Seng Khasi organisation has by now more than 300 branches all over the Khasi hills, says Synrem.

Bhartiya’s curation suggests that the moving away from one’s ‘original faith’ did not happen in the Khasi hills through straightforward “conversion” or “coercion”, as missionary activities are set out to be by the Hindu Right. The exhibition also draws on the contemporary conversation on these topics by referring to Uttar Pradesh’s anti-conversion Bill in many of the photographs’ captions.

There have been attempts at rewriting socio-religious traditions from the other side as well. “Monoliths are a unique marker of Khasi-Jaintia secular and sacral history. They point to their ancient traditions,” says the filmmaker. During his documentation in the hills in 2019, he found monoliths that – he has featured one in his exhibition – painted over with Hindu imagery in the Ri Bhoi area of the Khasi Hills.

“In the Hinduised notion of faith, conversion is seen as an encounter between ignorant people and powerful missionaries,” says Bhartiya. “In the Khasi hills, however, converting to Christianity was a difficult proposition. Converts risked breaking traditional kinship and family ties. But even when they converted, they did not automatically accept the western Christian worldview. They could challenge even the missionaries if they saw that the missionaries did not hold up to the Christian values. Khasis want to be Christians on their own terms.”

Khasimon Phanbuh, a Seng Khasi community leader, who had been vice-president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s women’s wing in Meghalaya in 2007, however, says the push for indigenisation or a Khasi cultural assertion among Christian Khasis (comprising about 75 per cent of Meghalaya’s population) actually came from “an indirect pressure” from its small but influential non-Christian Niam Khasi population (about 25 per cent).

Indigenisation also seems to be a result of the accommodation of various faiths in a single family that is uniquely Khasi. So, the push for Khasisation may have come from ‘within’.

Pastor Kysoibor Pyrtuh says his grandfather “became a Presbyterian by choice in his 80s”.

When writer and music producer K. Mark Swer’s grandfather died, his funeral rites were half Christian – in deference to some of the family members who were Christians – and half of the indigenous faith he was born into. “When his son, my uncle, died he was given a proper Khasi traditional funeral because he actively followed the traditional faith. Another uncle was given a Christian burial because he ‘followed’ his wife’s faith, though he never converted. There’s no big conflict. Lots of Khasi families have this mix,” says Swer.

Also Read: Stone Age tools, cave paintings discovered in Haryana could be clues to ‘prehistoric factory’

Reviving the revival

© Provided by The Print Lambok Toi, Khasi Evangelist, Revival Service, Shillong. | Photo Credit: Tarun Bhartiya Lambok Toi, Khasi Evangelist, Revival Service, Shillong. | Photo Credit: Tarun Bhartiya Lambok Toi, Khasi Evangelist, Revival Service, Shillong. | Photo Credit: Tarun Bhartiya

A greater challenge that is facing Christianity in the hills is faithlessness among the young, said Bhartiya. What is true for all organised religions is true for Christianity in these hills. This is why he was surprised by the signs of a ‘revival’ especially among the Presbyterians — mass hysteria, children declaring themselves prophets, being touched by the Holy Spirit, the seeing of angels, and daily full-house attendance at church — washing over the Khasi hills in 2006. The majority of Khasis are Presbyterians followed by Catholics and Anglicans.

“There is of course the historical reason, they were celebrating 100 years of the coming of Christianity to the hills. Deeply convinced of their relationship with God, the young were channelling the pain and tribulations of their community. As an atheist, I could have dismissed this event as ‘delusion’, but I chose to believe in their belief,” he says.

Writer Avner Pariat of Shillong, whose grandfather was a church elder, says many Church families were “astounded, quite shocked” by the unfolding of events. “Even now, there have been reports of attempts to sustain the revival in certain personality-driven religious cults.”

Revival is, however, no longer a mass phenomenon, adds Bhartiya, but “people keep praying for it. The search for salvation is, after all, a constant struggle.”

© Provided by The Print Open-air Sunday service in Khasi Jaintia Presbyterian synod, Khasi hills. | Photo Credit: Tarun Bhartiya Open-air Sunday service in Khasi Jaintia Presbyterian synod, Khasi hills. | Photo Credit: Tarun Bhartiya

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

Internet Explorer Channel Network
Asia's Tech News Daily
News Related

OTHER NEWS

UEFA Champions League 2021-22 AC Milan vs Liverpool LIVE Streaming: When and Where to Watch Online, TV Telecast, Team News

© Provided by News18 Liverpool will aim to make it six in a row in the UEFA Champions League 2021-22 when they travel to lock horns with AC Milan at ... Read more »

Tommy Fury shares x-ray of broken rib that's forcing him out of the Jake Paul fight

© GiveMeSport p1fma2cfi71g731ms9166h1rler3tf.jpg Tommy Fury was due to take on Jake Paul in Florida on December 18, but the former has pulled out of the fight with a little under ... Read more »

Police Officers Who Took Photos Of Dead Sisters' Bodies Receive Prison Sentence

© Getty Images Two Metropolitan police officers who photographed the bodies of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman after their murder last year have been fired from the force. Article updated ... Read more »

UEFA Champions League PSG vs Club Brugge LIVE Streaming: When and Where to Watch Online, TV Telecast, Team News

© Provided by News18 Paris Saint-Germain have confirmed their spot in the UEFA Champions League knockout round, however, their performances in the UCL this season has not been consistent –sitting ... Read more »

Susanna Reid breaks down in tears speaking to tragic Arthur Labinjo-Hughes' gran

Susanna Reid broke down in tears today while speaking to tragic Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’ gran on Good Morning Britain today. Madeleine Halcrow said that her grandson’s evil stepmum and dad will ... Read more »

Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka Chopra among those tested, jabbed for COVID in Bihar!

Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka Chopra and Akshay Kumar – these are the names of residents of a non-descript rural area of an impoverished south Bihar district. If ... Read more »

Never Forget That Trump Purged the Pentagon Leadership Between the Election and January 6

© brent stirton – Getty Images And that the new leadership he installed seized direct control over deploying the National Guard that day. And that deployment was delayed for hours. ... Read more »

New Hampshire Is Trying to Protect Itself From 'Subversive Doctrines.' Can You Guess Which Ones?

© GraphicaArtis – Getty Images It’s almost scientifically impossible to be so wrong about so many things in such a short amount of time. I thank the Great Whoever that ... Read more »

Stacey Solomon shows sons the exact moment she met Joe Swash on I'm A Celeb

Stacey Solomon showed her sons the exact moment she met her soon to be husband Joe Swash on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! eleven years earlier. Back ... Read more »

Levelling up must begin with better policies for children in the North of England, report warns

Widening inequalities for children in the North of England are increasing poverty, costing childrens’ lives and billions of pounds, a landmark report on outcomes for young people in the region ... Read more »

Jose Mourinho's blunt dig at Arsenal appointing Mikel Arteta as manager in rant

Jose Mourinho isn’t one to mince his words. And back when Arsenal were in the process of hiring Mikel Arteta as their new manager in December 2019, the current Roma ... Read more »

Viewers are saying the same thing about Martin Lewis presenting Good Morning Britain

© Provided by Hello! martin-lewis-minutes Good Morning Britain presenter Martin Lewis has taken over presenting duties opposite Susannah Reid on the hit breakfast show – but how are viewers finding ... Read more »

Veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman to stand down at next election

© PA ‘Mother of the House’ Harman will stand down after over 40 years in parliament – PA Labour MP and former minister Harriet Harman has announced that she will ... Read more »

How to get the Skies of Friendship Commendation in Sea of Thieves

© Provided by GamePur The Skies of Friendship Commendation in Sea of Thieves requires you to set off Fireworks while in an Alliance. Check whether you’ve already done this or ... Read more »

LBC's Steve Allen cleared by Ofcom after calling Strictly's Tilly Ramsay ‘chubby'

© Provided by The Independent LBC presenter Steve Allen has been cleared by Ofcom following complaints over derogatory comments he made about Strictly Come Dancing star Tilly Ramsay. The radio ... Read more »

Jussie Smollett says 'there was no hoax' as he testifies in court

© Bang Showbiz Jussie Smollett testified in court this week Jussie Smollett has insisted “there was no hoax” as he testified in court over claims he staged a racist and ... Read more »

Beijing Winter Olympics: China threatens US with retaliation over diplomatic boycott

China has threatened the Biden administration with retaliation over its decision to impose a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, warning the move could harm bilateral relations. ... Read more »

Harsher Covid restrictions like working from home still aren't required despite spread of Omicron, insists deputy PM

HARSHER Covid restrictions aren't required despite the rapid spread of the Omicron variant across Britain, Dominic Raab declared today. The deputy PM said there's still no need to introduce tougher ... Read more »

Chilling moment road rage killer calmly heads off on holiday moments after stabbing dad to death in front of his son, 4

A MONSTER who stabbed a dad to death in front of his four-year-old son was caught on camera minutes after the brutal attack – calmly setting off on holiday. Chilling ... Read more »

Facebook to simplify online payments via Messenger

With the holiday season fast approaching, Facebook wants to give its users the ability to handle finances and easily divide funds and get back payments online from other users all ... Read more »

‘Invisible, worthless, disempowered!' WASPI women outline state pension age plight

State pension age previously stood at 60 for women in the UK but the Pensions Acts of 1995 and 2011, respectively, changed this. The state pension age for women increased ... Read more »

'His performance is better than Kumble, Laker': Ex-NZ bowler explains why Ajaz Patel's 10-wicket haul was 'amazing'

© Provided by Hindustan Times New Zealand’s Ajaz Patel celebrates the dismissal of India’s Mohammed Siraj on the second day of the 2nd Test match between India and New Zealand, ... Read more »

Elon Musk says there are "not enough people" and that the falling birthrate could threaten human civilization

Tesla CEO Elon Musk.REUTERS/Michele Tantussi/File Photo “If people don't have more children, civilization is going to crumble, mark my words,” said Elon Musk. Musk was responding to a question about ... Read more »

The North Face X Gucci second collaboration arrives in a surprise drop

© Provided by The National A technical hooded top from the second collection of The North Face X Gucci collaboration. Photo: The North Face X Gucci Gucci has unveiled its ... Read more »

Boy, 4, killed in horror crash after suffering fatal head injuries as cops appeal for witnesses

A FOUR-year-old boy has died after suffering fatal head injuries in a horror car crash in Warwickshire. Cops are desperately appealing for witnesses after the tragic smash on A452 Kenilworth ... Read more »

Elon Musk Calls CEO a ‘Made-Up Title'

Elon Musk Calls CEO a ‘Made-Up Title’ Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk said that “chief executive officer” is “made-up title” and sidestepped questions about his future at the electric-vehicle ... Read more »

Charge My Street joins Zap-Pay network for electric car owners

A new agreement will see the Charge My Street EV charging network now compatible with Zap-Pay. © Provided by Motoring Electric Zap Pay and Charge My Street It means those ... Read more »

Impax Environmental Markets: What does it invest in?

© Provided by This Is Money MailOnline logo Specialist investment trusts can be a good place for investors interested in sustainability and Impax Environmental Markets Fund is a firm, established ... Read more »

Heart Evangelista celebrates "Bling Empire" star Kane Lim's birthday in Los Angeles

Heart Evangelista and Kane Lim in LA Heart Evangelista was with “Bling Empire” star Kane Lim as he celebrated his birthday in Los Angeles, California. In an Instagram post on ... Read more »

This rare SA-developed Alfa Romeo GTV6 3.0 just sold for R1.1 million

© Provided by Independent Online (IOL) Johannesburg – South African motoring history is dotted with unique and iconic cars, many of which which were created as homologation specials for motor ... Read more »

Cycle lanes made London most congested city in world

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo Miles of new cycle lanes built since the start of the pandemic have contributed to London becoming the world’s most congested city, a study ... Read more »

Get your own personal digital trainer with HUAWEI Watch Fit New

Nowadays, people have been starting to take care of their health even more. A lot have been doing home workouts to stay fit, active and some even try to build ... Read more »

PS5 Currys, Very, Argos, GAME, BT, Amazon and PlayStation Direct live UK stock alerts

© GETTY SONY PS5 Christmas restock live alerts UPDATE: It’s already shaping up to be an excellent week for PS5 stock drops, as Currys and Very both restock the device. ... Read more »

Marcos disqualification petitions 'nuisance cases', says spokesman

THE camp of former senator and presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Tuesday maintained that the disqualification (DQ) petitions against him were nothing but “nuisance cases.” Marcos’ spokesman, lawyer ... Read more »

Ukraine: Biden and Putin set to hold call at critical moment of escalating tensions

President Joe Biden will hold a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday in what is expected to be a highly consequential meeting for the two leaders amid escalating ... Read more »

Überraschender Rückgang der Arbeitslosigkeit im November

© KEYSTONE/CHRISTIAN BEUTLER Die Arbeitslosigkeit in der Schweiz ist im November weiter zurückgegangen, obwohl es in dieser Jahreszeit üblicherweise einen Anstieg gibt. Die aktuelle Coronawelle hat bis jetzt keine Auswirkungen. ... Read more »

Lyndhurst cops shared body cam footage of medical emergency, lawsuit says

A onetime Lyndhurst gadfly who repeatedly butted heads with the township's government and its Police Department has alleged in a lawsuit that officers viewed and disseminated sensitive body camera footage ... Read more »

Storm Barra: Heavy snow & urgent ‘danger to life' warning as EIGHT INCHES of white stuff to fall with wild 80mph winds

BRITS are buckling up as the Met Office issued an urgent danger to life warning as eight inches of the white stuff is set to fall with 80mph winds. A ... Read more »

What time does the Ashes start in the UK and how can I watch it on TV and online?

England begin their tall order of trying to win back the Ashes in Australia in the early hours of Wednesday morning. © Getty Images for Cricket Austral GettyImages-1357228739.jpg The tourists, ... Read more »

UAE working week will change to Monday-Friday

The official working week in the United Arab Emirates is moving to Monday to Friday. © Stefan Rousseau Abu Dhabi and other places in the UAE will shift to a ... Read more »
On free-english-test.com you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic