Two opposing groups in a village of West Jaintia Hills district (in Meghalaya) has been directed by the Meghalaya High Court to conduct Durga Puja celebrations in a “pious and proper manner” after they clashed over the control of a centuries-old temple to the Hindu goddess.
A report published in the Hindustan Times stated that the court’s intervention on Tuesday night came after two groups of residents of Nartiang Village in the district clashed with each other leading to over 40 people from both sides being injured. The incident happened at around 2am on Tuesday.
The report further stated that police arrived to control the situation but faced stiff resistance from the warring sides. And even as reinforcements were on their way, the Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP)
P Syiem and a woman assistant commandant of the Meghalaya Police SF10 commandos, Querie Facon, were injured in the melee.
As the standoff lasted through the day and with no immediate relief in sight, the High Court held an emergent hearing on Tuesday evening to take charge and resolve the matter. The single Bench court of Justice SR Sen directed that other rituals should also be conducted as per the desire of the people of Nartiang.
Justice Sen also directed the West Jaintia Hills district administration to take stringent action against the headman of Nartiang and a priest brought from outside the village by the headman if they further create any “nuisance and foster trouble”.
“The DC and SP of West Jaintia Hills district are hereby directed to ensure strictly that the headman should not bring his own priest and create law and order problems. If the headman and the priest Swappon Bhattacharjee or any other person unnecessarily creates a problem, they should be put behind bars and to ensure that the puja should be performed in a pious and proper manner,” Justice Sen said in his order.
The nearly six-century-old temple is known for being run by the direct descendants of Deshmukh Brahmins, who were brought to Meghalaya by the Jaintia chieftains from Maharashtra centuries ago. That practice was being followed till the death of the chief priest Uttam Deshmukh in March this year.
Most residents of Nartiang decided to accept Oni Maskut Deshmukh, the next of kin who was already assisting the Late chief priest of the temple considered to be one of the six Shakti Peeths of Goddess Durga. But some wanted otherwise.
This paved the way for the village headman to interfere by bringing in a priest from outside the village, which was strongly opposed by the majority. The matter came before Justice Sen through a petition filed by Salong Byrmein and others and on October 9 last, the judge ruled in favour of the existing priest as per the wishes of the vast majority of residents.
Despite this order, the matter did not die down and escalated into full-blown clashes on Tuesday morning warranting immediate intervention by the High Court again.