Supreme Court appointed judges panel also directs state government to protect properties of displaced persons
The remains of a burnt church are seen in Langching village some 45 km from Imphal, the capital city of Manipur on May 31. The ongoing ethnic violence has kept India's northeastern state on the edge since May 3. (Photo: AFP / UCAN files)
A panel of former judges appointed by India’s apex court has directed the government of Manipur to identify and protect all religious buildings in the strife-torn northeastern state.
The panel asked the state government to identify religious buildings belonging to all religions, "whether existing at present or vandalized, damaged, burnt" in the violence with an aim to protect them, said local media reports.
Hundreds of religious buildings including churches, mosques, and temples were attacked in the violence that started on May 3.
The continuing religio-ethnic violence has so far claimed some 180 people and displaced some 60,000 people.
The panel also told the government to ensure the “protection of properties of displaced persons as well as properties which have been destroyed and burnt in the violence and prevent their encroachment.”
In a note to the Supreme Court, the judges urged it to issue "orders to this effect," adding that "failure to comply would result in the concerned individual being liable for contempt of court."
The three-member committee of former judges – Justice Gita Mittal of Jammu and Kashmir High Court, Justice Shalini Phansalkar Joshi of Bombay High Court, and Justice Asha Menon of Delhi High Court – was set up by the Supreme Court on Aug. 7 as violence continued unabated in Manipur.
“Once again the Supreme Court has given the right direction with regard to religious places in Manipur,” A. C. Michael, national coordinator of United Christian Forum (UCF) told UCA News on Oct. 2.
Michael, who is also president of the Federation of Catholic Associations of the Archdiocese of Delhi, said the Manipur government should also be asked to restore all religious places damaged or destroyed during the violence, “so people can start practicing their faith.”
The committee looked into the contents of a writ petition filed by Meitei Christian Churches Council, Manipur before the Supreme Court, reported the Indian Express newspaper.
The petition alleged that “240-247 churches stand vandalized, looted and burnt down” and “church property including furniture, valuables, and parish church registers and title documents [were] either looted or deliberately burnt,” it added.
The state police had said that 386 religious buildings were set on fire. Of these, 254 are churches and 132 temples. Some 5,132 cases of arson were registered across the state. These incidents of arson in religious buildings are among these, it added.
Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal in a letter to the heads of Christian groups in June claimed that 249 churches belonging to Meitei Christians had been destroyed within 36 hours since the start of the violence.
The violence began when ethnic Kuki tribal people and majority Meitei Hindus started fighting over a court proposal to grant special tribal status to the Meitei people. The move Kuki people say will help Meitei people get priority in government jobs, education and other affirmative programs meant for indigenous people.
Most Kuki people are Christians, though a few of the Meiteis are Christians, too.
Among the 3.2 million people in Manipur, 53 percent are Hindus, mostly Meiteis, while Christians make up 41 percent, most of them Kuki tribals.
The Imphal diocese based in the state capital covers the entire Church in Manipur state.
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