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Updated: August 12, 1990 05:00 PM GMT
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Arunachal Pradesh (AP), a hilly tract on India´s northeastern boundary with Bhutan, Burma and China, has a predominantly tribal population of about 632,000 people, with about 20 major tribes, each divided further into sub-tribes.

The Adis, one of the region´s tribespeople, worship Donyi-Polo, the Sun-Moon God, whom they consider "the upholder of all truth."

Of Donyi-Polo, Verrier Elwin, an anthropologist and chief adviser on tribal affairs to India´s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote, "Although this august being does not seem to have created the world, he remains unchallenged in the heavens ... His name is invoked on every occasion."

An Adi myth says there were two suns when the world was created. One rose after the other, giving humans no respite from their activities. On popular demand, a famous archer shot one of the suns down just when it was about to rise. Darkness descended and the surviving sun refused to shine in protest.

Finally, a cock, sent as an emissary, flew to the top of a hill and crowed aloud, asking the sun to shed its light. The sun agreed provided 1,000 lives were offered to him -- 500 when it rose and 500 when it set.

The ´dead´ sun was resurrected as the moon.

For the Adis, "every part of the world is sacred or pure, for they are creations of the Almighty," says Kaling Borang of the Donyi-Polo Mission in Itanagar, the capital of AP. Hence, he says, the Adis do not believe in having a permanent place of worship.

They also have a strict code of ethics embracing concepts such as love, justice, cooperation, respect for everything animate and inanimate, honesty, and selfless devotion to Donyi-Polo.

There are no restrictions or taboos on food. They believe in a life after death, only for virtuous beings. They have no caste system.

-- In his capacity as adviser to Nehru, Elwin formulated a "religious policy" for AP to ensure that tribals there preserve their culture, including the Donyi-Polo faith.

"But this faith of the tribals is being given such obvious overtones of Hinduism, that to most people in Arunachal Pradesh it seems no different from Hinduism," Sanjay Takam, All Nishing Students´ Union general secretary told UCA News.

The AP Freedom of Religion Act, 1978, said the tribals´ indigenous faith includes Buddhism, Vaishnavism (a form of Hinduism) and Donyi-Polo.

Government officials, however, do not distinguish between Donyi-Polo and Hinduism, but any one who adopts Christianity is considered a convert and hence punishable by law.

There are about 25,000 Adi Christian tribals in AP today, according to Tarain Tere, an Adi Catholic from AP.

Christian youth in AP are pressuring the government to grant them the freedom to practice their faith, on par with Hindus, Buddhists and Donyi-Polo.


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