At least 317 churches and 70 church administrative and school buildings have been destroyed and 75 Christians killed in Manipur state in north-east India, according to an assessment by the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations (FIACONA).
Other groups estimate that as many as 45,000 people have been displaced in what FIACONA is calling “the worst anti-Christian violence India has ever seen”. Based in Washington, FIACONA represents 1 million Indian Christians in the United States.
Citing evidence in a report released by the Indigenous Tribal Leaders' Forum (ITLF), FIACONA says that 6,137 houses belonging to Christians have also been attacked.
“The BJP government used a decades-old underlying ethnic tension between two ethnic groups to bring down the deadliest violence against Christians”, FIACONA said in a statement.
“This wave of destruction was instigated by Hindutva nationalists from a particular indigenous community”, the statement added, making the claim of “target killings by government forces”.
It is acknowledged by the state government of Manipur that the violence began on 3 May, following protests by predominantly Christian tribal groups against demands by the mainly Hindu Meitei people group for job and education rights. But according to FIACONA, the violence that followed was pre-meditated and co-ordinated.
“Under the guise of inter-community conflict between the majority Manipuris (Meiteis) and the minority tribal people (collectively known as Kuki/Zomi tribes), almost all churches in the extended Imphal Valley have been burnt, vandalized, or desecrated by BJP government-supported militia”, the statement alleges.
Lists of burned churches sent to Premier Christian News from church bodies in Manipur reveal that the violence has directly impacted Christians within both communities. FIACONA blames the deaths and destruction on what it calls “radicalised Meitei Hindutva youth”.
“Though Meiteis are primarily considered Hindu or of Sanamahi faith, a small percentage of them have lately converted to the Christian faith”, the statement says. “In FIACONA's last counting, 145 churches that belong to Meitei Christians and 172 tribal churches have been burnt or destroyed.”
Events in Manipur follow worsening conditions for Christians across India. Catholic rights group Aid to the Church in Need, set out in a report ‘Persecuted and Forgotten?’ published last November, that there were 710 incidents of anti-Christian violence in India between January 2021 and June 2022 alone.
Responding to the findings of Aid to the Church in Need about the India attacks, Foreign Office minister Lord Ahmad told Parliament in a written statement this week that Britain is “committed to defending freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) for all and promoting respect and tolerance between communities”.
“Where we have issues, we raise them directly with the Government of India, including at Ministerial level,” Ahmad said.
Following Brexit, the UK has been pressing for a free trade agreement with India. Both countries are aiming to double bilateral trade by 2030 via such a deal.