Violence in India's troubled Manipur state "has a clear religious dimension", according to a new report published on Monday asking why hundreds of churches and Christian villages have been burned down since the beginning of last month.
Circulated by Fiona Bruce MP, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, the report contains eyewitness testimony from survivors of ethnically-driven attacks on Christians.
The report explains that the violence was triggered by a legal ruling extending state benefits enjoyed by mainly Christian Kuki tribals in the hill areas of Manipur, to include the mainly Hindu Meitei people, who live in the valleys of the state.
It describes how violence led by Hindu nationalist radicals then broke out against Christian converts among the Meitei people, as one Baptist Meitei pastor stated in his witness evidence: "Christians are living in constant fear about being attacked at any time. Part of our identity and our churches are being destroyed", he told the hearing panel from hiding in India.
"Our fundamental right to worship is being taken away, and as well as our churches being burned down, we have not been able to gather together for worship or prayer since 3rd May 2023. We feel like a stranger in our own land, and we are in effect being required to choose between our faith or our land", the pastor explained to the panel, chaired by former BBC journalist David Campanale, a member of the Council of Experts that advises Fiona Bruce MP.
Church associations in Manipur state that over 200 Meitei churches in Manipur have been destroyed by the Meitei radicals, as well as over 200 Kuki churches, Christian schools, homes and seminaries.
"We assess that the Meiteis are fearful of their community members converting to Christianity and so they are being violent. We ask the community around the world to raise a voice on behalf of us for our safety," the Baptist pastor pleaded.
The Investigative Report to members of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance was commissioned last month at the request of members of the Council of Experts, and has been circulated widely in Westminster.
It finds that as many as 50,000 people have been displaced, hundreds of villages destroyed and over a hundred lives lost. A message sent today from India to Premier Christian News by a tribal Christian leader says that situation continues to be "not good".
"Tribal tensions have been co-opted by radical Hindutva extremists", commented David Landrum, director of advocacy at persecution charity Open Doors UK & Ireland, about the report.
"These are Hindu nationalist groups, extremist groups, who have taken the opportunity to basically do a purge, what's been described by one person as a 'pogrom against Christians' in the state. And this is really concerning to us", he told Premier, referencing the idea of organised attacks against a group based on their race or religion.
Landrum said he hopes the report will bring "focus" to the role of what he called "Hindutva forces" fuelling the violence.
"The problem here is impunity", he said.
"These attacks are happening without any recourse or any justice. Often, the police forces, the local authorities are seen as complicit in the attacks and arming those who are attacking", Landrum continued.
"We want to see the international community call for a commission of inquiry on India generally, on what's been happening, on the anti-conversion laws, which are spectacularly discriminatory, and on the attacks that we're seeing now across different parts of India", he added.
According to the Press Trust of India, Manipur's chief minister N Biren Singh of the ruling nationalist BJP said that the violence is shifting and has not yet ended.
"The initial phase of the violence was highly political and sensitive", NDTV reports him saying, "but we cannot say what is happening now. The situation is very chaotic", he said.