Trespass threat to Myanmar temple

by JULIUS GOMES, The Telegraph (India) , Nov 24, 2004

Calcutta, India -- Encroachers are not leaving even temples in the city alone, if the situation at the 76-year-old Myanmar Buddhist Temple, the only one of its kind in Calcutta, is anything to go by.

The ground floor of the four-storeyed building, located off Central Avenue, in the Bowbazar police station area, has been allegedly occupied by people who are refusing to vacate the premises or legalise occupancy by paying rent.

?We have lived with the problem for years. But the situation is becoming worse. We feel threatened and have to keep our gates locked all the time,? said Ashin Thireinda, head priest of the temple.

?There is a statue of Lord Buddha, made of gold leaf, at the temple altar and we do not want any harm to come to it,? he added.

Moreover, pilgrims from Myanmar, many of them women, do not feel secure in the temple,? the priest added.

A local welfare group is taking up the matter with police and the administration in an attempt to throw out the unwanted elements and allow the temple authorities to clean up and redesign the exterior.

?We have decided to send memorandums to the local police station and councillor, informing them about the predicament of the temple authorities,? said Manabendra Mondal, secretary of Citizens? Welfare Committee (Bowbazar).

?It is not fair that such a small and harmless community should feel threatened for no fault of their own.?

The only indication of the discreet existence of the temple is a billboard that hangs over the entrance of 10A, Eden Hospital Road.

Yet, behind the nondescript exterior, a full-fledged temple and dharamshala function in silence. Groups of Myanmarese tourists visiting the Buddhist shrines in India make a stop-over here.

According to Thireinda, ?The temple was established by U San Min, an extra assistant commissioner during the British Raj. He had acquired the building, and till date, the electricity bill comes in his name. The ground floor was utilised by Myanmarese students, pilgrims and the traders who would frequent Calcutta port.?

Since the temple and its priests had no source of income, two families were allowed to stay on the ground floor for nominal donations. Over the years, more people started occupying the ground floor.

?Things have come to such a state that the guests have started feeling insecure,? said Chandu Sen, a member of the local welfare committee, who was born and brought up in Myanmar.
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