On October 17, a single-judge bench of the Tripura High Court rebuked the Chakma Customary Institutions for persecuting and boycotting Christian converts and prohibited them from issuing “unconstitutional” diktats against coverts. In the said case, the petitioners had, by their own accord, converted from Buddhism to Christianity. The High Court further made strong remarks, asking the Chakma institutions to “respect the Indian Constitution”. As reported in the LiveLaw, the bench of the High Court stated “India is a secular country and everybody has the fundamental right to preach, profess and choose his own religion.” Terming the dikats being issued by the said organisations against the Christian converts as “unconstitutional activity”, Justice Arindam Lodh further remarked that such organisations are violating the Indian Constitution by trying to infringe fundamental rights of the citizens of India.
The Tripura High Court was hearing two writ petitions moved by Purnomoy Chakma and Tarun Chakma who had approached the high court after purportedly facing discrimination from members of their own tribe for exercising their fundamental right to convert. As per the petition, the petitioner along with their respective families had converted to Christianity in West Andharcherra village in Unakoti district in November 2022. Soon after that, Uttar Andharcharra Chakma Samajik Bichar Committee in Unakoti district and Kanchancherra Chakma Samajik Adam Panchayat in North Tripura district had ‘expelled’ the two families from the community. Both of the aforementioned organisations are allegedly customary Chakma tribal social institutions. The petitioners had provided in the petitions that the social embargoes placed against them by these two organisations have put their lives and subsistence at stake.
“Following their conversion, the Chakma headman and the entire Chakma community targeted them. According to their customary law, they have been ostracised from society and are facing severe religious persecution,” Senior advocate Samrat Kar Bhowmik, representing the petitioners, stated in the court.
As per the report of the Indian Express, some Chakma social bodies like Uttar Andharcherra Chakma Samajik Bichar Committee said the Christian converts would be accepted back into the community only if they returned to Buddhism.
Justice Lodh swiftly took action in the current case and issued a resolute order to immediately halt such religious persecution conducted in the name of religion. The stay order on the “unconstitutional” diktats of Chakma customary bodies will be in place until further orders.
Additionally, the court directed the State Government to take appropriate measures in response to this alarming situation. Upon hearing the petitions, the High Court also urged the administration to take necessary measures to stop the persecution of the two tribal Chakma families. As per LiveLaw, it directed the State Administration to take action against any of the members of any communities and protect the “spirit and ethos of Indian Constitution”. Notices were also dispatched to the Chakma headman and other individuals involved in these unlawful activities, ordering them to cease their actions.
Advocate Bhowmik said that upon hearing the ordeals that the petitioners have been facing, judge expressed his shock and was taken aback. As per the IE report, advocate Bhowmik said “The judge was surprised to see such incidents happening in a civilised society. The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of religion to all citizens. The activities of Chakma social customary bodies in the name of religion are entirely unconstitutional. The judge expressed discontent and issued a strict order to the said customary bodies to stop unconstitutional diktats at the earliest, failing which the administration and the police were asked to take strict steps against them.”
As per the report of the Northeast Today, the bench took a firm stand against harassment based on willing religious conversion and instructed the police to make arrests if necessary and bring the individuals responsible before the court. Advocate General Siddhartha Sankar Dey, who represented the state government during the court proceedings, affirmed full cooperation from the state machinery in addressing this matter.
The next hearing for this case has been scheduled after the Durga Puja vacation of the court.
The harassment faced by the Christian family:
Purnomoy Chakma, one of the petitioners, is a daily wager and used to perform unskilled labour under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). As per the IE report, Purnomoy alleged that he had not been given any work since his conversion to Christianity.
Tarun Chakma, the other petitioner, is an auto rickshaw driver. As provided by him, shortly after he converted to Christianity, the two Chakma organisations allegedly issued orders, asking locals to not take rides in his auto-rickshaw. The IE report provides that Tarun has alleged in his petition that anyone riding his auto-rickshaw was threatened with a fine of Rs 30,000-Rs 40,000.
As per the report of the Hindustan Times, the customary organisations had cited the customary laws and said the converts were being punished for the “crime” of being Christians and that they would be accepted again if they returned to the Buddhist fold.
Furthermore, the Christian Chakma families have also alleged that they were being prevented from attending Church services and following the customs of their new religion.
Inaction by the authorities on complaint of facing persecution:
As per the IE report, on June 26, 2023, the ‘expelled’ Chakma families had filed a complaint with the Kumarghat sub-divisional police officer (SDPO) seeking legal action against Chakma customary bodies for allegedly misusing customary laws to persecute them. The petitioners stated that despite lodging a complaint to the SDPO, no protection was given to the two families.
On July 7, 2023, the families also submitted a written complaint to the Kumarghat sub-divisional magistrate seeking protection against alleged abuse of power in the name of Chakma customary laws. Their petitions to the High Court have alleged that no action has been taken till date either by the civil administration or the police in respect to their complaints.