Continuing burnings of mostly Christian villages in India’s north-eastern Manipur state have failed to bring about the necessary response from the British government, according to Christian crossbench peer and former Merseyside MP, Lord Alton of Liverpool.
Replying to concerns raised by David Alton in Parliament, Foreign Office minister Lord Ahmed declared “Any reports of discrimination against religious minorities are a matter for the Indian police and legal system”.
Lord Alton told Premier Christian News: “In the context of a wave of shocking attacks this reply from the Foreign Office betrays a complacency completely at variance with the scale of the attacks.”
His comments were echoed by Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, the Bishop of Truro, who authored a Foreign Office commissioned report in 2019 into the persecution of Christians globally: "I’m disappointed by the Foreign Office’s reply. Freedom of Religion of Belief is not a right be traded for commercial interests. The East India Company was making similar arguments 250 years ago. I would have hoped we’d have moved on a little since then”, he told Premier.
Fresh reports arrive every day from inside Manipur with Premier’s news team. In the latest claims, which cannot be independently verified due to the internet being down in the state, one woman said today “Meitei fighters are continuing to burn down Kuki villages in the Sugnu area.” She is from the predominantly Christian Kuki tribal group.
According to reports in the India news media, Sugnu is a town with a mixed population that saw arson attacks over the weekend. A reporter for an Indian newspaper at the scene described vehicles “ferrying mostly women, children and the elderly out of Sugnu”, and added there were hundreds of men from other villages and towns in the valley, heading towards the town, "many of them armed with guns, catapults, and large knives, rushing to “defend” the area.”
“If this was happening in the UK I would expect the Indian authorities to express their concern and we should now urgently express ours,” commented Lord Alton.
“India is a great country, an important partner and ally”, he continued. “Friends need to talk straightforwardly and honestly to one another and not hide behind Foreign Office speak," the peer added.
In his statement, Foreign Office minister Lord Ahmed underlined that the British government “has a broad and deep partnership with the Government of India” and remains “committed to defending freedom of religion or belief for all and promoting respect and tolerance between communities”.
The violence began on 3rd May, when tribal groups clashed with ethnic majority and mainly Hindu Meitei people - a non-tribal group - over economic benefits and quotas being given to the tribes. It has led to over 200 churches from both communities being destroyed, as well as the deaths and the displacement of as many as 45,000 people.
In the latest development, India’s national Home Minister Amit Shah has gone to Manipur to review efforts to quell the violence and is expected to meet tribal representatives over the next few days.