Christian prayer hall dismantled for encroachment in restricted “holy” land
Representational image

Agartala: A prayer hall-like makeshift structure of the Christian community was “arbitrarily” dismantled at a Jamatia tribe-inhabited village called Kamlai in Ampi under the Amarpur subdivision of Gomati district. The structure was dismantled as it reportedly fell within the jurisdiction of the “holy boundaries” of the area that was used for Ker Puja, traditionally performed in August.

The incident coincided with Durga Puja, the biggest festival for Hindus in the state. The police officials said the structure needed to be cleared as it was constructed on government land where as per law no encroachment should be permitted. 

 “As soon as we were apprised of the situation prevailing in the village, we reached there and convened a peace meeting between the villagers of both the communities. Sub-divisional magistrate Ampi was also informed to take proper action against the violators. After the meeting, the issue was amicably resolved but anticipating further trouble sufficient Tripura State Rifles troopers and cops were deployed for the whole night,” SDPO Ampi Uttam Banik said.

The Kamlai village is home to about 150 Jamatia families. While the majority practice the Hindu religion, about 25 families follow the Christian faith.

To perform their religious rituals, the Christian villagers constructed a makeshift prayer hall in the government land but faced objections from their Hindu neighbours. The Hindus argued that the prayer hall falls under the boundaries of Ker Puja land. 

The video of the structure getting dismantled by the local villagers went viral on social media platforms, also giving wind to rumours of violent face-offs between the two communities.

The police administration, however, denied any reports of clashes.

“There were no clashes. It was a bamboo structure on Khas land that was built only ten days ago. The Hindu Jamatias have requested the Christians to move their structure out of the boundaries of the village. Police went there and did not let the disagreement blow out of proportions,” SP Gomati Tripura Sasvat Kumar told EastMojo

EastMojo tried contacting Mani Sastha Jamatia, the community head of the village as per the Jamatia tradition but did not receive a response. His family members also declined to speak about the issue. 

However, Swarna Kar Jamatia, Organizing Secretary of Jamatia Hoda, the apex body of the tribe, explained that as per the Jamatia tradition, such prayer halls can’t be constructed within the boundaries of the Ker Puja. 

“Ker, a Kokborok word that translates to purification, is a festival of the indigenous people of Tripura. A week after the Puja is performed in the royal palace, it is observed at the village level. During the Puja days, entry and exit of people are completely banned. Even at other times of the year, people who believe in other faiths are advised to hold their religious practices outside the area that falls under the jurisdiction of the holy Ker. This is a traditional practice and villagers are keen to protect their culture,” Jamatia told EastMojo.

Eminent indigenous scholar and author Chandra Kanta Murasingh said Ker Puja rituals vary from community to community. “During the time of Ker Puja only, no one is permitted to enter or exit the village boundaries. The boundaries are also created followed by some rituals a few days after the Puja. I am not aware of what has happened in the village but these Ker Puja rules are different in different communities,” Murasingh informed EastMojo.

JD Mawia, head of Jampui Hills Baptist Christian Union Church while reacting to the incident said, “We are yet to receive full details of the incident. We don’t know whether it is our church or not. We are very concerned about the incident and in any civilized society such kinds of conflicts in the name of religion should be avoided.”

Speaking to EastMojo, Father Leejesh from Amarpur Parish Church said the problems had been resolved.

“We have seen that people are terming it a church on social media. It was a small prayer hall erected using local resources. The matter has been resolved in presence of the authorities and the Christians of the area will now pray in a church located in the adjacent village. I have visited there and also talked to the authorities for proper action,” he said. 

Also Read | Tripura: Durga Puja in Muslim-dominated slum bears message of communal harmony


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