Date: May 17, 2023
INDIA: MANIPUR BURNS
- Christian Crisis for Kuki-Chin
By Elizabeth Kendal
Manipur burns. (Click on picture to enlarge)
footage: Voice of the Martyrs (Canada) 11 May.
Hindu rioting in Manipur, in India’s Northeast, has left over 70 dead, some 230 wounded and more than 45,000 displaced – virtually all ethnic minority Christians. Around 100 churches and 1700 Christian-owned homes – along with thousands of cars – have been vandalised, looted and torched; many reduced to rubble and ash. ‘The situation is out of control’, the Revd Zuankamang Daimai of the Manipur Baptist Convention Centre told Catholic media on 4 May. ‘Our people are in shock, praying for peace. The [dominant, mostly Hindu] Meitei group acts as if it is above the law while [the mostly Christian] minority groups are hiding for their lives.’ The violence has left Manipur’s Christian community deeply shaken.
Perched high in the Himalayas, Manipur – like its neighbours Nagaland (88 percent Christian), Mizoram (87 percent Christian) and Burma’s Chin State (85 percent Christian) – is home to numerous Christian Sino-Tibetan ‘hill tribes’. Manipur's dominant Meitei tribe is predominantly Hindu and comprises around 60 percent of the population. The Meitei live mostly in the state capital, Imphal, and throughout the Imphal valley. The ethnic minority mostly Naga and Kuki ‘hill tribes’ are predominantly Christian and comprise around 40 percent of the population. They live almost exclusively in the surrounding hills. As ‘Scheduled Tribes’ their ancestral lands are protected, and their people are eligible for affirmative action to help facilitate their advancement.
Manipur - location in NE India.
(click on map to enlarge)
On 19 April the Manipur High Court asked the BJP-led state government to recommend to the federal government that the Meitei also be listed as a Scheduled Tribe. As the World Council of Churches explains, the ethnic minority hill tribes oppose this demand, fearing that if the Meitei – who are dominant, both politically and economically – are granted Schedule Tribe (ST) status, ‘the constitutional and legal protection given to the marginalised tribals of Manipur will be rendered meaningless’. Generally, discrimination ensures the hill tribes are confined to the hills; so affirmative action is not the main issue. The main issue is land! The hill tribes fear that, if the Meitei are granted ST status, ethnic minorities will lose control of their ancestral lands.
On 3 May Kuki Christians rallied in the city of Churachandpur, the capital of Churachandpur District, in Manipur’s south-west (bordering Mizoram and Burma’s Chin State), to protest the proposal to grant the Meitei Scheduled Tribe status. Unfortunately, their peaceful protest drew a violent response. What started as an ethnic ‘clash’ – Meitei ‘thugs’ attacking local Kuki – quickly turned into a sectarian pogrom with Hindus targeting all things Christian. From Churachandpur, the violence quickly spread to Imphal, where Meitei churches were also burned. In fact, the fate of Meitei Christians is of particular concern. According to an Open Doors contact, the Meitei Christians were ‘severely victimised’ and are ‘under immense pressure to reconvert [to Hinduism]’.
Christians insist the police did not intervene to protect them; Reverend John Dayal believes the police allowed the violence to ‘turn anti-Christian’. Kuki Christian pastor, L. Thangkholet Khongsai, told Indian media that a mob burned down the compound of Kuki Christian Church in Imphal, the theological college where he taught, and his home. By the time the military arrived to restore order, there was little left to destroy. By 12 May the situation was largely under control and thousands of mostly Kuki-Chin Christians had been evacuated to camps under military protection.
The ruling BJP has turned much of India into a tinderbox - one spark is all it takes to ignite a raging fire. Such violence is the natural consequence of years of Hindu nationalist propaganda. It is what happens when politicians incite religious hatred for political gain [see RLPB 506, Christian Crisis in North India, 12 June 2019]. The scene in Manipur is reminiscent (albeit greater) of the violence that wracked southern Chhattisgarh in January [RLPB 677, Bastar Burns, 25 Jan 2023]. Revd John Dayal likened it (albeit lesser) to the violence that ravaged Kandhamal, Orissa, in August 2008! Complicating matters, in recent years more than 10,000 Chin refugees from Burma/Myanmar have crossed into Manipur to find refuge among their ethnic kin. However, India is not a signatory to the UN’s Refugee Convention. Not only has the Manipur state government started blocking access to Chin refugees, but it recently launched a ‘verification drive’ to ‘clear the reserve forests of illegal immigrants’.
PLEASE PRAY THAT GOD WILL INTERVENE:
- to still the storm (Psalm 107:28,29 and Mark 4:35-41). May those who rampaged against their neighbours, fuelled by hatred fed them by Hindu nationalists, repent of their sin and pursue reconciliation. May ringleaders, arsonists and killers be arrested; may justice prevail.
- to comfort and heal Manipur’s grieving, wounded and traumatised Christians. May God provide their every need: for enduring security, for the funds to rebuild, and for grace to forgive.
- to protect and help Meitei Christian converts – especially those in the Meitei- and Hindu-dominated Imphal Valley. May the Holy Spirit empower them to stand firm in their faith amidst threats, hostility and intense pressure to return to Hinduism. May the Naga and Kuki believers stand with them, to support them, advocate for them and bless them, in a powerful demonstration of the uniting power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May they all ‘shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…’ (from Philippians 2:12-18).