Godman under siege and boycotted by locals over land dispute
IMPHAL, April 20: Self acclaimed godman Panthou and his followers have been boycotted by locals of Wangkhei Hijam Leirak following a land dispute since April 17 last.
Meanwhile, Imphal East police failed to evacuate 33 children who are presently kept at the temple.
As the godman’s residence cum temple has been laid under siege by the public since the last three day, 33 children who have been ‘gifted’ by their parents to be kept at the temple premises have remained traumatized following the series of violent incidents and the current impasse, according to child rights activists.
To take stock of the situation, a team consisting of Child Welfare Committee (Imphal East), Manipur Alliance for Child Rights, Manipur Committee on Protection of Child Rights and District Child Protection Unit (Social Welfare) went to the godman’s residence this morning.
An interaction with the activists and the members of Panthou and further talks with the children led to the conclusion that the children need to be taken to a safe spot by the Child Welfare Committee.
At first interaction, the members of Panthou said that the children were sickly and there was scarcity of food.
They were apprehensive of letting the children leave the temple as the irate public might do them harm; however, the child rights activists talked to the locals and confirmed that there was no problem in anyone leaving the temple as their only stance was that none of the followers of Panthou are allowed to come inside the locality.
However, the members asserted that the activists and the government representatives cannot leave with the children. They insisted that the parents should be called first and the children should be handed over to them in person.
The term was also complied and a time was set for parents to arrive; however, after the parents failed to turn up by the end o the set time, the team again approached the Panthou followers.
They told the activists that the parents replied that they had ‘gifted’ their children to the godman and they can stay under the care of the godman.
The Child Welfare Committee members who are sanctioned by the government to procure the help of police in aiding them in a case reached out to Imphal East police.
They had recommended that the children should be taken to a safe place and that the present location is not safe for them and for the police to facilitate the transportation of the children.
“We feel that the parents have abandoned their children, how can they be offered up to God. The parents also need counseling and the children needs to be taken to a safe location. It is our priority to look after the children first” a CWC member mentioned. Afterwards, Imphal East OC came to the place and told the Panthou followers that the children must be taken to a safe place according to the law, at which, the followers threw verbal abuses against the police and the CWC members.
They said that the police can seek the children’s opinion of whether they want to stay or not.
The concept of juvenile justice and rights was not digested by the members who plainly said that they don’t care about the laws of the land.
At the tense situation and the members’ insistence, the activists and the police had to back off from the fanatical stance and failed to secure the safety of the children.
However, it was mentioned that the children may be further traumatized if force was used and it was in the larger interest of the children that the police and activists had to back off.
The media also sought to interact with godman Panthou and his opinion about the series of incidents. However, he remained shy of the media and advised that the leaders of the temple be consulted instead. Locals of the area charged that Panthou was grabbing up land which is not purchased by him and sought an apology from him. But, the godman had replied and insisted that if they wanted to meet him, it would either be at the bungalow of the Chief Minister or Deputy Chief Minister, the locals alleged. At present, the irked locals have closed down the road leading to the temple and boycotted the cult members from coming to the locality.