A wave of ethnically-driven church destructions and village burnings has not halted in India’s north-east state of Manipur, according to a regional Christian leader.
“It is still continuing. Even yesterday, at least two or three tribal villages were burned down”, explained ‘Mang’ – not his real name – in an interview with Premier Christian Radio.
”People don't have anything to defend with”, he said. “This is the situation we are in, so scary and not safe. We have to stay awake in the night, to pack up things, especially important documents, ready to flee. Home is the jungle at night”, he added.
State authorities have been running a curfew and closed down the internet, making it difficult to confirm specific details. But according to advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), their Manipur team established that 277 churches were destroyed as of May 11th, 2023.
An ADF report describes how "extremists in huge numbers gathered at church premises and used petrol or kerosene to burn down the buildings and the furniture and equipment within".
The lawyers who drafted the ADF assessment say that in some cases, petrol bombs were used. According to state authorities, up to 45,000 people have been displaced. Church associations report that over a hundred villages have been destroyed.
The violence began after students from the mainly Christian Kuki tribe gathered on May 3rd to stage a rally in protest at efforts to grant employment and education benefits to the mainly Hindu Meiteis.
“I was there when the violence started, on May third of this year”, Mang told Premier. “In fact, it was not so far from where I live. Within the first three nights and three days, most of the tribal people, religious churches, institutions, including both those in the capital city of Manipur, Imphal, were burned down with no one to protect the people”, he said.
According to the ADF team which visited Manipur, it was the Christians amongst the Meiteis - a minority group among the Meiteis – which particularly suffered.
“I was scared and many people had lost their life”, Mang explained. “I've seen my own eyes and I've seen how people fled from their homes”. According to Mang, who is a Kuki, the state authorities played a part in the killings and attacks on Christian villages.
“Three of my relatives, distant relatives, were shot by the police”, he said. “A few days after the violence broke out, we were told that the central army was coming”, he continued “so we were really hoping that things would improve, if not stop. But we didn't see much difference in reality”, he said.
Urging Christians in Britain to pray, Mang said the villagers are asking God for safety and security:
“It's no longer possible to meet in churches as a group. But churches have been used as relief camps... And due to the internet being set down, [there's] no way to communicate, no way to comfort people”, he explained. “Prayers have been conducted almost day and night,” he concluded.