When it comes to extorting money, militants in Manipur spare no one. Not even God.
Priests across India have traditionally been entitled to a fraction of the prasad or eatable offerings devotees place before deities in temples. The custom is no different for the Meitei community in Manipur, most of whom adhere to Vaishnavism.
So in a bid to expand their ‘tax base’, various militant outfits — at least 17 are active — are now extracting their pound of flesh from religious offerings. Consequently, Manipur’s priests and temple governing bodies have passed the tax burden on to devotees. This has resulted in seeking extra offerings and raising the minimum slab for donations for holy causes.
Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh admitted this “disturbing” trend. “Militants are forcibly taking a percentage from donations and offerings given in the name of god to temples in Manipur,” he said.
According to the chief minister, temple committees had earlier charged Rs 30 per head for religious feasts and offerings. “The rate has now been hiked to Rs 50 with militant groups collecting Rs 5-10 per head as commission.”
The militants’ “temple tax” came to light prior to the visit of a high-level Central team to state capital Imphal last weekend. They were here to review Manipur’s deteriorating law and order situation.
Religious offerings have also been a source of embarrassment for the Left Front government in Tripura, which funds many temples. Many a time, priests in these temples are found to succumb to “bourgeoisie greed”. Earlier this month, priest Dulal Bhattacharjee was accused of taking away a golden locket worth Rs 1 lakh a newly-wed couple had offered at the state-run Durga Bari Temple in Agartala.
Following a complaint, the Place of Worship department under the West Tripura district administration confiscated the locket and let the priest off with a warning.