Christians targeted in ethnic conflict in Manipur
98 people - the majority of them tribal Christians - have died, 35,000 have been displaced, and 100 churches have been destroyed since violence erupted in northeast India in early May.
The ferocity of ethnic conflict shocked the local Catholic Church. As the troubles persist, Christian leaders have raised concerns about the threat of persecution. According to a local Church of England official “the first target is always the church”. More than 100 churches of different denominations have been desecrated and torched.
Alongside of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), local Catholic cardinals, archbishops and regional Church bodies also released press statements calling for end to the violence and the protection of the Christians.
The ethno-religious conflict broke out when the majority Christian groups – mainly Kuki and Naga – started demonstrations against the proposed classification of Hindu Meitei group as a “Scheduled Tribe”. This would authorize free education and quotas in professional education like medicine and engineering and quota in government jobs — to members of the state’s majority Meiteis, most of whom are Hindus and who account for 53% of Manipur’s nearly 4 million people.
The demonstrations escalated into violent confrontations between Naga and Kuki groups and the Meitei, resulting in Indian military forces to put out patrol in the area.
The civil war in Myanmar has aggravated the problems in north-eastern India, as the two countries share an open border agreement. According to a Meitei representative transnational illegal immigration, criminal organizations, and insurgent groups from Myanmar are root causes of the Manipur conflict.
Following a visit from Amit Shah—the Indian Minister of Home Affairs from the BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party) ruling party, things seem to have gotten worse. The Archbishop of Canterbury called for the Indian local government to “protect all minority groups, including Christians and their places of worship”.
The Pastoral Training Centre in Imphal was raided four times; vehicles were torched and food was stolen. Some Jesuits living in the Moirang district of Manipur were stopped while returning after providing house blessings. The attackers set their van on fire and assaulted the priests and scholastics were assaulted.