Two days of violence against Christians in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur has left an indeterminate number of Christians dead. Thousands more have been displaced by the unrest inflamed by Hindu nationalism. Churches have been vandalized or burned down. CSI’s local partner is evaluating the needs of the victims.
Churches were burned down in the attacks. csi
The attacks started on May 3, with incidents reported from areas including the Imphal Valley and Churachandpur. The attackers belong to the predominantly Hindu Meitei ethnic community, which has had longstanding tensions with Christians over land ownership and the government’s affirmative action policies, designed to help the most socially disadvanted groups.
According to unconfirmed reports on May 4, at least 15 Christians had been killed, and houses and churches were damaged, destroyed, or burned in 27 villages.
Despite the state government’s implementation of a curfew in the affected regions and the suspension of internet access on May 4, mobs continued their attacks on Christians.
“Christians are being attacked in the presence of the state police and commandos,” a local source told CSI. “It doesn’t seem as if there’s a curfew, as mobs can be seen roaming the streets. All of my family members and friends have fled to the forest.”
Due to the ongoing suspension of telecommunication services in Manipur, which borders Myanmar, it is difficult to accurately assess the full extent of the damage inflicted upon the Christian community.
The intensity and frequency of the attacks had decreased by the late evening of May 4 after military personnel were deployed to the affected areas and police were given shoot-at-sight orders. Military personnel reportedly evacuated thousands of people to safer locations.
“The pogrom we were fearing didn’t happen,” the source said the following morning, adding, however, that tensions prevailed and some minor incidents were still being reported.
Some media reports suggest that members of the Meitei community have also been attacked.
The United Christian Forum of North East India has appealed for peace. “As a Christian organization, we believe in the value of human life and the importance of respecting the dignity of every individual,” the forum said in a statement.
“We call on all members of society to refrain from engaging in violent acts and to instead engage in peaceful dialogue to address their concerns.”
Explaining the background to the violence, the source said the Meiteis primarily inhabit the Imphal Valley, while the Christians, who are from various tribal communities, reside in the hills that surround it.
Although Hindus and Christians each comprise approximately 42 percent of the state’s population, the Meiteis have held sway over political and economic life.
At a time when the Christians were struggling for equal footing, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won the state election in 2017.
Since his appointment, the state’s Chief Minister N. Biren Singh has been promoting an “anti-tribal agenda,” the local source added, pointing out that Singh reclassified the majority of tribal settlements as reserved forests. As a result, those who live there were effectively labeled illegal immigrants. The tribal communities had been living in the forests for generations.
Singh also reportedly ordered the demolition of churches in the state capital of Imphal, alleging they were built on government land.
The government’s policies seem to be strategically aimed at economically weakening the tribal population while bolstering the Meiteis, the source said.
In April, the Manipur High Court ordered the state government to respond to the Meitei community’s request for tribal status, which would provide the Meitei community with special protection, including reserved parliamentary and state legislature seats, affirmative action in education and employment and property protection.
The unrest erupted on May 3 following a rally organized by a tribal student group, which was held to protest the demand by the Meiteis for legal recognition as a tribal group. Reports suggest that the protest was marred by violence. Soon thereafter, deadly indiscriminate attacks on Christians by the Meiteis were reported.
After such widespread violence, it is imperative to deliver justice to the victims and ensure that the state prevents any recurrence of such incidents, CSI’s local partner believes. “This will be the focal point of our intervention,” they said.