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Indian Catholic lawyers seek help for Manipur’s suffering masses

Sectarian violence in the northeast Indian state has left at least 71 dead and more than 45,000 people displaced
People wait at a temporary shelter in a military camp, after being evacuated by the Indian army, as they flee ethnic violence that has hit the northeastern Indian state of Manipur on May 7

People wait at a temporary shelter in a military camp, after being evacuated by the Indian army, as they flee ethnic violence that has hit the northeastern Indian state of Manipur on May 7. (Photo: AFP/ UCAN files)

Published: May 17, 2023 10:48 AM GMT
Updated: May 17, 2023 10:50 AM GMT

A body of Catholic priests and nuns practicing law has appealed to a federal legal service agency to send its team to assist victims who survived the recent sectarian violence in Manipur state in northeast India.

In a letter to Chief Justice of India D. Y. Chandrachud, the National Lawyers Forum of Priests and Religious (NLFRP) called for an immediate response as thousands of people including women and children still languish in overcrowded relief camps.

The chief justice is the patron-in-chief of the National Legal Service Authority (NALSA).

About 200 Catholic priests and nuns are members of the NLFRP.

The forum’s convenor Jesuit priest Father A. Santhanam, a lawyer practicing in Madurai high court in Tamil Nadu state in southern India, signed the letter dated May 16.

He called for sending teams of lawyers to the strife-torn Manipur state to provide legal help to ease the suffering of people.

In the letter, the priest said that the violence that broke out in the state on May 3 so far claimed 71 lives and pushed more than 45,000 persons into relief camps.

Some reports suggested that more than 1,700 houses and 121 churches of different denominations burnt down beside other institutions managed especially by Christians during the violence.

More than 5,000 people from the state reportedly took shelter in neighboring states such as Meghalaya and Assam and many are now finding it difficult to come back as their houses have been burnt down and other properties looted.

“At this juncture, there is a responsibility for the legal fraternity to extend its services to the victims of Manipur violence,” the priest said with an appeal to the NALSA, “to send a team of advocates to provide legal assistance to the victims”.

“This could be coordinated with the Manipur Legal Services Authority, the provincial body,” he said.

The team, according to the priest, could help the victims of the violence “to register their losses” after due verification.

Besides this, the team could play a vital role in helping the victims in case of requirements for drafting their petitions and placing them before appropriate authorities for claiming compensation for the damages and losses.

Earlier, Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh had assured to provide 500,000 rupees (US$6,067) each to the families of the deceased, 200,000 rupees (US$2,467) to those who suffered major injuries, and 25,000 rupees to those with minor injuries.

Besides, Singh said his government was committed to rebuilding the houses destroyed during the violence and paying a compensation of 200,000 rupees for each of the affected households.

The lawyers’ team would also be able to formulate a fact-finding report that would help the government with a real picture of the losses of the people and compensate them in a timely manner, the letter said.

The priest also suggested setting up a round-the-clock mobile helpline by the lawyers to help the victims of the violence at a time of fear of retribution from rival groups.

The priest also offered the services of the priest and nun lawyers to the federal legal service authority for the purpose.

The federal legal authority provides free legal aid to weaker sections of society and organizes Lok Adalats (peoples’ tribunals) for the amicable settlement of disputes.

“In this kind of situation, legal service authority can render effective services as a trustworthy facilitator and therefore, I sent this letter to the Chief Justice,” Father Santhanam told UCA News on May 16.

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