Fear of the devil blocking the passage to heaven has forced members of a Christian cult in Mizoram not to send their children to schools.
An education department spokesman said they identified 34 children in two villages in the southern district of Lunglei whose tribal parents refuse to let their kids go to school saying mingling with other children was against their religious beliefs.
“A few families in two villages practiae what they called Zero Christianity, and they do not send their children to schools,” said H. Lalzarliana, the Lunglei district education officer.
“They fear that allowing their children to attend schools would enable the devil to lead them to hell instead of heaven.”
A predominantly Christian tribal state bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh, Mizoram is India’s second highest literate state next only to Kerala.
“Zero Christianity is nothing but a cult followed by a handful of families without any denominations. These people are following a wrong doctrine, something like heresy,” said Reverend Liaangaia, a church leader.
“Nothing much is known about Zero Christianity and their religious beliefs and practices as the followers lead a very private life.”
There are an estimated 50-odd families practising Zero Christianity in the two villages of Rawlvang and Chhuahthum in Lunglei district, about 200 km south of the capital Aizawl.
The cult’s practice of not sending their children to school has come as a major hindrance in Mizoram’s bid to attain 100 percent literacy.
According to the 2001 census, Mizoram’s literacy rate is 88.49 percent, a shade lower than Kerala’s 89.91 percent. India’s average literacy rate is 52.21 percent.
“We need to motivate the followers of Zero Christianity to educate their children. We have a target to surpass Kerala’s literacy rate and become India’s highest literate state by the end of this year and a 100 percent literate state by 2010,” Education Minister R. Lalthangliana told IANS.
From being a tribe without any written language to becoming one of India’s most literate states, the tribal Mizos were great warriors and led a very primitive life until a century ago.
“It is no less a miracle to find the Mizo people transforming themselves into a model community in a little more than four generations and we owe all this to the British missionaries who taught us how to read and write,” said Boicchingpuii, Mizoram’s director of art and culture department.
British Baptist missionaries William Frederick Savidge ad J.H. Lorrain arrived in the hills of Mizoram in 1894 and soon turned the Mizo dialect into a written form, taught many to read and write, besides opening schools and imparting education for the people.
“It is a shame that in a state like Mizoram where Christianity is so dominant and people yearn for knowledge and education, one finds people still holding on to primitive beliefs and superstitions,” the minister said.