12 vehicles torched, temple complex vandalized
IMPHAL, May 2: Irate locals of Wangkhei Hijam Leirak, Imphal East attacked the residence cum temple of godman Panthou alias Hijam Ratan today at about 9 am. The mob torched 12 vehicles belonging to the devotees of Panthou and caused substantive damages to the other infrastructures located within the godman’s complex.
Panthou along and his devotees were rescued by the timely arrival of Imphal East police personnel from the crowd.
It may be mentioned that owing to a land dispute, the locals of Hijam Leirak had boycotted the godman since April 17.
The locals had charged Ratan and his followers of grabbing up land which was used by the local meira paibis.
The locals had stormed the temple premises then and damaged the gate and some vehicles. They had demanded an apology from Panthou and had given May 1 as a deadline. However, there was no positive response from either the godman or his official spokespersons.
In the ensuing boycott, the locals barred devotees of Panthou from entering Hijam Leirak. However, there was no diktat against devotees leaving the premises.
There was another altercation on April 20 when child rights activists along with Child Welfare Committee came to check the health of 33 children who were supposedly stranded inside the temple complex. The police and activists were prevented from taking out the children as they were preparing for Panthou’s annual festival and their parents had ‘offered’ them to the godman.
The activists had to deliver essential supplies for the children and provide medical attention till recently.
It was learnt from reliable sources that since the godman’s 10 day festival concluded on May 1, the children were set to leave the temple premises on May 2. It may be mentioned that the locals of Hijam Leirak had no complaints about the children leaving earlier.
Today, parents came to take their children, during which some were interviewed by the media.
A girl when asked on the impasse had stated that they were not allowed to leave the premises by the locality.
This seemed to have provoked the women and other locals who then stormed inside Panthou’s temple and started the arson.
Rocks were pelted from the northern side and two devotees were hurt. The mob burned down a generator, torched 12 vehicles including Maruti 800 make cars, autos, a gypsy etc and damaged several other vehicles.
A kitchen, a shop and a community hall inside the compound were also torched.
Panthou devotees alleged that the marauders took away 2 laptops, 3 video cameras, 5 stand-fans, Rs. 1 lakh in cash among others. The attackers also shattered 2 desk top computers, they further alleged.
Fire tenders were delayed in reaching the spot as they were blocked by the mob. After reaching the spot, they managed to save other structures from being razed to the ground.
They could not, however, manage to douse the flames of the burning vehicles.
Police teams of Imphal East including the SDPO and OC arrived at the spot and tried to pacify the crowd.
In their effort to cool down the heated situation the police team tried to force the mob outside the gate.
In the ensuing tussle, stones were pelted by the mob towards the police personnel, several policemen were hurt inclusive of the SDPO Ramgopal and OC Shantikumar.
The police retorted by blank firing to disperse the mob. Mock bombs were used later.
Afterwards, curfew was clamped at Wangkhei Hijam Leirak , Wangkhei Pukhrambam Leirak, Wangkhei Ayangpalli Road, Wangkhei – Imphal Yairipok road to control the mob situation.
The locals are still demanding an apology from the godman and are unwilling to lift the boycott until then.
The media also sought to interact with godman Panthou and ask his opinion about the series of incidents. However, he remained shy of the media.