The outbreak of communal violence in India’s north-eastern Manipur state shows no sign of ending, with tribal leaders reporting three new deaths, including a woman shot dead inside church.
Confirming details of village attacks is difficult, as the internet is restricted and accessing remote areas difficult for journalists. But according to The Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), which represents the mainly Christian Kuki tribals, the incident was a “heinous attack on Khoken Village, situated on the boundary of Kangpokpi District and Imphal West District”.
In a statement, the ITLF said the attack involved Meitei militants disguised in Indian Army uniforms and using Army vehicles, in the early hours (4:00 AM) of June 9, 2023.
“The Kuki-Zo villagers, unsuspecting of the attackers’ true identity and assuming it was an Army combing operation, gave way but were instead met with automatic rifle fire, resulting in the tragic deaths of Mr. Jangpao Touthang, Mr Khaimang Guite and Mrs. Domkhohoi," their statement read.
“Two others, Mr. Thongneh, and Mr. Thangkhojang, were also injured in the attack. Mrs. Domkhohoi was saying her early morning prayer in the church when these militants shot her dead, with no regard for the sanctity of a place of worship," it added.
The anti-Christian aspect to the attacks has been addressed by commentators in Britain.
In a letter to the Church Times, Ram Gidoomal CBE of the South Asian Development Partnership – backed by others including Lord Alton and the Bishop of Truro – wrote:
“Every single church among the Meiteis has been burnt, bulldozed, vandalised, or desecrated. If there is no significant religious dimension to the violence, why have (at the current count) 317 church buildings and 70 church administrative or educational buildings been so evidently and specifically targeted?”
The Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum condemned the over-night attack in Khoken, writing: “The use of Army uniforms and vehicles by militants raises serious questions about the source of their equipment and the potential involvement of external forces.”
The ITLF called upon the central government of India to bring the perpetrators to justice and expressed what they said were “heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims, the villagers, and all those who have been impacted by the recent tragedy”.
In their letter to Church Times, the signatories pointed to what they claimed was the knowledge and consent of BJP nationalists in Delhi for the attacks in Manipur:
“Is it at all possible that any destruction on that scale could be accomplished without Hindutva ideology’s local supporters’ being assured by people very high up in government that the police and the army would not intervene in their attacks on all these churches?”