India's Supreme Court has told the state of Orissa, on India's east coast, that it will not "tolerate persecution of religious minorities" and that if the state government cannot protect Christians, then it should "quit office."
A three-judge panel of the Supreme Court issued the warning Jan. 5, following a petition filed by Roman Catholic Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, who requested protection for his flock in Orissa and compensation for church properties that have been damaged in the ongoing violence.
Such rulings by judges of Indian courts may not always have the force of law, but they carry considerable weight and often influence the future actions of lawmakers and government officials.
The violence between Hindus and the minority Christian population began after the Aug. 23 murder of Swami Laxmanananda, a Hindu religious leader, in Orissa's Kandhamal district.
The Supreme Court said the retaliatory violence against Christians in Orissa could no longer be tolerated, and it criticized the state government for failing to stop the violence earlier.
Justice Markandey Katju told the lawyer for Orissa state, K.K. Venugopal, "If your government is unable to protect Christians, you better resign. We are a secular country, and no minority should feel insecure in our country."
At an earlier hearing last October, the high court said paramilitary forces should be stationed in the riot-hit areas and that churches and other institutions that were damaged should be compensated.