An outbreak of violence in India’s Manipur state between mainly Hindu Meitei protestors and the mainly Christian Kuki tribe has seen 36,655 people displaced from their homes, according to the state’s Chief Minister, N Biren Singh.
A report from 8 May 2023 in regional paper the Sangei Express quotes his assessment that most had been evacuated, but that at least 10,000 people remain ‘stranded’ and ‘1,700 houses and religious structures’ were destroyed.
“All efforts are being made to protect life and property, without discrimination, across the state”, the paper reports him saying. “All who are stranded at different locations are being provided best possible care and support in safe locations and shelter camps”.
Education minister Thounaoj am Basanta Kumar is reported by the Sangei Express on 11 May as saying that 68 people had died and 236 people injured. But local Christian organisations in Manipur put the figures much higher.
“The destruction is massive. Something like this has not happened in a targeted way against the Christians of that area”, President of the All India Christian Council, Bishop Joseph D'Souza told Premier.
According to the Christian Good Will Council in Churachandpur, which is home to 9 tribal groups, over 200 people have died in the violence and 86 villages levelled.
“Now it’s not safe to go anywhere, to find or collect dead bodies, whether from the hospital morgue, nor the open field, or look for missing ones”, a regional Christian leader in India explained, telling Premier that the figures are still uncertain.
He says that the number of churches burned down has reached 165, citing a source in the Christian Good Will Council in Churachandpur.
A message sent to Premier said: “Many are seeking refuge in different towns. They just came down to the city only with their night dress. All their belongings were burnt down to ashes. It is very difficult to hear their sufferings. Please pray for our people, the Christian Community in Manipur.”
Pictures shared with Premier Christian News by regional church leaders show groups of people in forest locations, apparently with few belongings. These are said to be some of the displaced Christians who are homeless and in hiding, holding prayer meetings while they seek shelter. Others show churches set on fire by rampaging mobs, including a Bible college.
“Our churches are definitely very badly impacted”, Bishop D’Souza continued.
“We're hearing from our pastors as to how they're living and what they're doing, staying in shelters, crowded shelters, and looking at all the buildings that has been burned to the ground. And so as they look to the future, and as they are displaced, where do they go? And what do they do?” he added.
The violence first flared up last Wednesday, May 3, following a peaceful protest by the largely Christian minority Kuki tribe in the area against indications that the Government is preparing to grant the largely Hindu Meitei majority “scheduled tribe” status.
This has been granted to the ‘tribal’ minorities in the region, with educational and job advantages, and has up until now helped to counter a power imbalance between the Meitei and other tribes.
The demonstrators were physically attacked by members of the Meitei community, with Christian demonstrators and onlookers complaining that the police failed to intervene and protect them during the worst of the attack.
According to Open Doors partner Vishnu Reddy, the ethno-religious hostility has been stoked by the growth of ‘Hindutva’ nationalism: “Like so much mob violence directed towards non-Hindu minorities, this has been fuelled from outside the region. Members of the Hindu nationalist RSS group (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh) have been trying to radicalise the Meitei for many years now,” he said.