In a landmark verdict, the High Court in Tripura state issued a significant order to cease the persecution of two tribal families who embraced Christianity, marking a critical moment for religious freedom in the region.
The families of Purnomoy Chakma and Tarun Chakma from the Pashchim Andarcherra village under Unakoti district faced severe social embargoes following their conversion from Buddhism to Christianity last November.
The order, issued on October 17, directed government authorities to intervene if necessary to safeguard the families and to make arrests if required. The Chakma customary institutions were instructed to halt the issuance of what the court termed as “unconstitutional diktats.” Justice Arindam Lodh, who presided over the case, unequivocally stated, “The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to the citizens. The Chakma bodies’ activities in the name of religion are unconstitutional.”
The Catholic Church, through Father Ivan D’Silva, the secretary for social communication at Agartala diocese, expressed its satisfaction with the judgment, applauding the court’s commitment to upholding the fundamental principles of the Indian constitution. “Indeed, it is a highly commendable job by the high court of Tripura because it will give a message not only in our state but entire northeastern India,” Father D’Silva affirmed.
He emphasized the importance of respecting the rights of individuals to choose their faith, reiterating that no one has the authority to infringe upon these rights. Clarifying the Church’s stance, Father D’Silva asserted that the Church was not engaged in any form of coercive religious conversion activities, and he expressed hope that the judgment would serve as a deterrent to other groups attempting to intimidate those who choose the Christian faith.
The ordeal faced by the two families, as highlighted in media reports, shed light on the egregious social boycott they endured. Both Purnomoy Chakma, an unskilled laborer, and Tarun Chakma, an auto-rickshaw driver, detailed the denial of basic rights and opportunities, including employment and the ability to offer their services due to the discriminatory actions of the community institutions.
The Chakmas, an ethnic group with a notable presence in the northeastern states and the Chittagong Hill Tracts region of neighboring Bangladesh, have faced significant challenges in asserting their right to religious freedom. With 159,882 Christians in Tripura forming 4.35 percent of the state’s total population, the Christian community is predominantly composed of indigenous groups such as the Tripuri, Lushai, Kuki, Darlong, and Halam, including various denominations like the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics, alongside other evangelical groups.
This judgment serves as a milestone in the protection of religious liberties, setting a precedent for the preservation of the constitutional rights of citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs.
The Catholic Church and various other religious and human rights groups have hailed the decision as a significant step forward in ensuring the rights and dignity of individuals in the region. As the verdict sets a crucial precedent, it is hoped that it will promote a climate of tolerance and respect for diverse religious beliefs in the state and beyond.