The phenomenon of Satanism or “devil worship” has over the past month triggered a variety of responses from different pockets of the Meghalayan public. Comments have not only emerged from Church leaders but also politicians, police officers as well as members of civil society. It is interesting to see how this supposedly growing form of religious practice has powerfully accelerated and intensified public debate in an otherwise largely apathetic and apolitical social atmosphere. Before any attempt to understand and analyse the social anxiety over Satanism, it is crucial to locate it within the context of a state which has a very large percentage of Christian population.
It is common knowledge that the attack on Satanism primarily springs from a Christian social paradigm, where the figure of Satan as represented in the Bible is the antithesis of Christ. However, even though Satan is identified as the “other” of the obedient “Son of God,” his existence is still confined to the parameters of a Christian signifying space. The opposition to Satanism by various Christian groups in Meghalaya could in one way be explained as a protest against those who break away from and defy Christian doctrine by those who abide by it. But what exactly is “Christian doctrine?” Does it entirely leave out all “evils” popularly associated with Satanism? Are the two categories truly mutually exclusive? Is it so simple to identify Christianity with virtue and Satanism with vice? I highly doubt it. For people who treat the Bible as a legitimate historical text, they should admit that some narratives cannot be cleansed from their overt endorsement of class and gender oppression as well as racial discrimination. Are not these also qualified forms of “evil?” The Meghalaya DGP PJP Haneman argues that, “the practice of worshipping evil is an unhealthy trend as it may lead to serious problems of sacrifice and others” (ST, 15th May 2014). Firstly, there has not been any valid evidence of human sacrifice performed by the so-called Satanists. Secondly, Haneman speaks as if we live in the midst of an Arcadian bliss, as if the “sacrifice” of human lives does not exist in the coal mines of Jaintia Hills, in slums all around the city or even in the evicted lands of New Shillong Township. The concept of evil is instead limited to individuals and groups, who smoke weed, listen to Heavy or Death Metal or those who have tattoos. It is safe to say that our definition of evil is thus quite misplaced by our privileged positions as upper-middle class Christians. Moreover, the stigmatization of the youth who indulge in the aforementioned activities and means of entertainment as Satanists who have been “taken away” by the Devil is simply repulsive. Such generalized notions of Death Metal and tattooed bodies as morally tainted are only representative of an uninformed, yet prejudiced judgement.
As an institutionalised religion, Christianity needs to be self-reflexive and learn that human societies cannot be easily evaluated on the basis of the Christian binary construction of “good” and “evil;” cultural difference is a reality which we constantly need to acknowledge. The reduction of practices which do not fit into Christian religious and cultural sensibility to “evil” is evident of a non-tolerant attitude which could be equated with other kinds of authoritarianism and religious extremism. The banning of alternative forms of worship (which Satanism is one) by the State is a complete jeopardization of the Constitutional provisions of Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech and Expression. Yet, we revel in the name of a democratic secular state.
The contention here is not against Christianity nor is it commendation of Satanism. Living in a state which portrays itself as a democracy, it is imperative to articulate against any kind of censorship or prohibition of religious and cultural practices which are not threats to any other individual or community. Moreover, the keen interest that the State has taken in this episode of Satan worship could also be looked at as a method of deviating peoples’ attention from other more important social issues. It is really quite amusing to observe how people speak so vehemently about the elimination of such cult groups when nobody cares or dares to speak out against violent acts of oppression by those who hold economic and political power in this social milieu. Satanism may exist merely as a fictive phenomenon constructed by various narratives across the state or as a cultural practice that people sincerely engage in; whatever hold true is irrelevant because as long as such a practice does not inflict public and private disharmony, injustice and exploitation, we have no right to condemn it. Instead of participating in a tirade over the righteousness of one belief system over another, we should move towards an acceptance of a moral framework which is rooted in our common sense of humanity.