An Indian Christian tribal leader from Manipur has given an emotional appeal to British Christians and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over the destruction of churches in India’s north-eastern state, where weeks of burnings of Christian villages shows no sign of ending.
At the invitation of the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Fiona Bruce MP, Mang* took his message to the Foreign Office on behalf of Manipur’s Christians. Visibly upset, Mang described how three members of his own family had been shot dead during the violence.
At least 80 people have died and over 300 churches and seminaries have been destroyed since the inter-communal violence began a month ago, displacing an estimated 45 thousand people, mostly Christians.
“Speak up for the people that the violence should stop immediately”, Mang said he asked Fiona Bruce to request of Rishi Sunak. “We have no help, we are helpless with this huge military forces. We are helpless. Christians should come forward, speak for us and help us”, he told Premier after the meeting in Whitehall.
Rampaging mobs began attacking churches and homes in the first week of May, when the predominantly Christian Kuki tribe which inhabits Manipur’s hills, say they were attacked by the mostly Hindu Meitei community.
Kuki Christian leaders have told Premier that Meitei churches established by Kuki evangelists taking the Gospel into the valleys have also been targeted and burned by traditional religionists from within the Meitei community.
In the state capital Imphal, Kuki neighbourhoods were also targeted by armed Meitei groups, with survivors later reporting that they saw groups of Meitei youths wearing black-shirts escorted to their targets by police commandos.
Video filmed on i-phones and sent directly to Premier Christian News from India shows numerous church buildings on fire, or streams of tribal villagers including women and children heading to safety in the hills.
“For the tribal people. Christianity is life. It is the gift that gives them hope”, Mang told Premier.
“Unlike some other religions, Christianity is the saving religion for the tribal people and also Dalits. So the church is very important”, he added.
In the past 24-hours, details have come through to Premier of more named villages said to have been destroyed. And a list of 317 burned churches produced by the Manipur churches has been seen by Premier, which include named Assembly of God, Baptist, Brethren, Presbyterian, Evangelical, Independent, Nazarene, New Testament and United Pentecostal church buildings, among others.
“When churches burn, hope is gone”, Mang continued. There's no place to get consolation, there is no place to get encouragement, and there is no place to get hope. The church is so important to the people. Therefore, burning of the churches must be stopped”, he said.
Accompanying Mang to the meeting at the Foreign Office, Chair of the London-based South Asian Development Partnership, Ram Gidoomal CBE, told Premier that the British Prime Minister should directly ask his Indian counter-part in Delhi to act.
“Rishi Sunak who comes from the same faith community as Narendra Modi, could have a discussion with him, explaining the risks that are there, not just within India, but between the diaspora”, he said.
He too urged prompt action from the British government: “Stop the violence and get people together to talk, because otherwise this is just escalating out of control”, he told Premier.
Referring to the destruction of over one hundred Kuki villages, Ram Gidoomal said: “Those numbers are increasing. It must stop now.”
“Our government can plead with the Indian Government to bring together the different factions, to bring about peace and reconciliation and the whole idea of justice”, he continued.
“But time is not on our side. Soon. Now, please” he concluded.
* Mang’s name is anonymised to ensure his safety