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World News

New report accuses Indian government of 'insufficient' response to religious violence

by Donna Birrell

The Indian government’s response to religious violence is “insufficient and ineffective” according to a major new report.

The publication, by members of the Council of Experts advising the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance (IRFBA) comes a year after violence began in the north-east Indian state of Manipur. More than 60,000 people have been forced from their homes and as many as 500 church buildings destroyed as religious violence continues unabated.

Systematic attacks against Christian communities have resulted in over 100 deaths. The violence has disproportionately affected the Kuki and Meitei Christian communities, leaving tens of thousands without shelter, adequate food, or healthcare, and exacerbating an already volatile situation.

The report says the estimated 60,000 who remain displaced, are mainly living in squalid conditions, with little access to essential services such as healthcare, sanitation, and education.

The violence has also caused the destruction of vital community infrastructures like churches, which serve as community hubs, significantly disrupting normal life.

The report highlights personal experiences of those who have been impacted by the clashes.

Rev Dr Satkhokai Chongloi, assistant executive secretary of Kuki-Zo Christian Church Manipur Synod shared his story.

He said: "All the Kuki-Zo people in Imphal were forced to flee the capital city of Manipur [as a result of the violence and destruction in May 2023]. Tens of thousands of us have been rendered homeless and have had to seek shelter in relief camps with abysmal facilities located in nearby towns and villages. Imphal city is now devoid of our presence as all the Kuki-Zos in Imphal, dead or alive, are not there anymore”.

Despite assurances from the government that it would deal with the situation, the report says its actions to mitigate the violence and provide relief have been woefully inadequate, with minimal efforts made to rebuild communities or protect vulnerable populations from ongoing threats.

The report: Violence in Manipur, North-East India: 1 Year On, has called for swift international intervention to ensure the safety and security of displaced populations and facilitate their return to their homes; immediate and unrestricted access for humanitarian aid, along with health and education services to displaced communities and enhanced international support for local peacebuilding initiatives and a reconciliation process that includes all affected communities.

The report follows publication of an initial assessment produced by Council of Experts member and former Premier journalist, David Campanale, in June 2023. The report described a religious aspect to the ethnic violence between the Meitei people in the Imphal valley and Kuki-Zo tribal people in the hills.

Campanale called for immediate and sustained actions to restore peace and ensure the safety and dignity of all citizens in Manipur.

Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland, which has contributed to the report said: “This report highlights shocking violations of religious freedoms – freedoms enshrined in India’s constitution. This urgently needs to be addressed by the Indian Government and the perpetrators of the violence, which has been largely towards Christians, must be brought to justice.”

British Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton stressed the need for a focused international response: “We must confront the religious dimensions of this conflict, recognizing the severe impact on vulnerable populations and the need for a concerted global action to address these injustices.”

This report is a joint effort with lawyers and rights experts. It will be presented and shared with the Council of Experts to IRFBA, which meets next week.

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