An Indian Christian tribal leader from Churachandpur in the beleaguered north-eastern state of Manipur has issued a fresh plea for global help, as police confirm at least nine people were killed and ten injured in the latest attack on villages of the mainly Kuki Christian tribe.
“Khamenlok village, Aigejang village, Boljang village, Songjang village, and Khopibung village were already burnt down last night in Kangpokpi District, our people could no longer stay there, it is beyond human limit to bear the pain”, ‘Mang’* said in a statement sent to Premier Christian Radio.
In a call to the newsroom, Mang said that young men had been shot dead by snipers and villages had been attacked by mortar shells, directed by drones. "It is very difficult, almost impossible to defend ourselves", he said, "when attackers are supported by state forces".
Violence between members of the Kuki ethnic group, who mostly live in the hills, and Meiteis, the largely Hindu community that is dominant in the low lands, erupted on May 3, sparked by resentment over economic benefits and quotas in government jobs and education reserved for hill people.
At least 80 people have been killed and more than 40,000 have been displaced in the state on the Myanmar border that is governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party, the BJP.
The violence has seen at least 300 churches among both people groups burned down, as radical Meiteis are accused of singling out Christian converts among their own people group for attack.
Describing attempts to attack the town of Churachandpur by assailants coming from towards the state capital, Imphal, Mang said “by God's grace no major casualty has been reported to me so far.”
In an appeal to “help us in whatever way you can to stop the violence," Mang continued:
“There has been non-stop attack on tribal people every day since May 3rd, 'national' war for ethnic cleansing was declared in public media for all to see. But why no one came forward to protect us or to stop the genocide. Why is the world watching us dying helplessly every day? Are we not human beings?”
Spokesperson for the Zomi Students Federation in Manipur, Golan Naulak, told Premier that attacks by Meitei radicals were being carried out with the “collusion of state forces”, with tribal villagers organising defence forces to defend themselves:
“What we are also seeing is a very, almost a very strategic attack on churches. The churches are central to the tribal life here in Manipur. Our social life revolves around our churches, which is not just for spiritual well-being, but also forms a very important social institution for our communities," he said.
“They're seen as a very prominent symbol of our tribal identity, which is Christian”, he added. “And therefore, they're being targeted and attacked. And it's unfortunate that this violence is continuing unabated," he explained.
According to Mr Naulak, who studied at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and a Baptist, events since 3 May are “pre-planned attacks”, with “systematic plans” “to attack our churches, to take away our land, and also to make us internally displaced in our own state”.
He was especially concerned about the failure of the state authorities:
“The police are supposed to be defending us, are supposed to at least stop the violence. In this case, what we see is that the Manipur police is complicit in this violence," he claimed.
“Because at some stage, their ethnic identity either as Hindus or as non-Christians, and as belonging to a particular ethnicity, supersedes their professional identity of being policemen," he alleged.
Mr Naulak went on to emphasise the role of the churches in maintaining communications and organising prayer protection and self-defence:
“Wherever attacks happen, there's always somebody in the village who knows somebody in our side of the state, and who would make a quick phone call and say, ‘Hey, we are being attacked, please pray for us’, he explained to Premier Christian News.
“The village defence forces don't have internet access, but they do have very limited mobile access. And when they go out trying to defend their villages, they would ask the community and the prayer warriors to pray for them, so that they come home safely, so that there's no, there's no gunfight. There's no violence,” he said.
“As long as violence continues, we cannot talk about peaceful justice. The first thing right now is to stop the violence," he concluded.
Mang* is a pseudonym in order to protect his safety.