It’s been almost 100 days since violence between rival groups erupted in India’s north-eastern state of Manipur. Up to 150 people are believed to have been killed and tens of thousands forced to flee their homes. Members of the Kuki tribe believe their Christian faith is a major underlying reason for the violence against them. Three months in, there are some days that are now quiet, but clashes still break out every second or third night. A mass burial planned for Kuki victims was recently postponed, after a fresh attack saw more houses set alight. The destruction has been widespread, with hundreds of houses and churches left in ruins. Up to 60-thousand people have been displaced. Around 7,000 have found refuge in government relief, while others have moved to safety in the neighbouring states.
Priya Sharma, a senior researcher for ‘Open Doors’ said that Christians are targeted by leaders of the majority Meitei tribe who are predominantly Hindu, because of their faith: “Once people become Christians, they understand a better way of living and the importance of education. Some reports of the rolling unrest have downplayed any religious motivation. Priya Sharma says that what may have started as “ethnic violence” following a peaceful protest over rights and status, Christians from both tribes quickly became a target of attacks. “There’s a lot of talk of the Kuki tribe being affected, but there is no mention of Meitei Christians also being affected.” Sharma maintains that Meiteis who have converted to Christianity say they have been given an ultimatum: return to Hinduism or leave the tribe. She says many she has met have chosen to give up their homes rather than renounce their faith in Christ.
An opposition leader in the Indian government has referred to an “institutional attack on the minorities of the country as well as against the Christians, especially in Manipur.” Recently, a video of two Kuki women being paraded and humiliated in Manipur drew international media attention when it went viral on social media. Prime Minister Narendra Modi faced a vote of no confidence as a result. His ruling BJP party easily defeated the motion, but the vote forced the Indian government to address the issue of the violence for the first time. Mr Modi said: “I want to tell the women of Manipur that the country stands with them. This Parliament is with them. We will together find ways to resolve this challenge, and peace will be established once again there. I assure the people of Manipur that the state will again witness progress.”
But his brief comments only came after opposition members had staged a walkout in protest at his failure to address the violence for the first hour and a half of his speech, and frustrated campaigners say his words were too little too late. “Manipur is a place where once the Christians were safe, but now it’s no longer safe.” says Priya. An estimated 400 churches have been destroyed in the region so far, and thousands of Christian houses have been looted and burned. “To all the Christians around the world, my request is that you pray that there would be peace and harmony. That whatever our brothers and sisters have lost, we they would find means to get it restored, and that the government plays its part in restoring their livelihood, their source of income and also peace within the communities.”
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