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India: Manipur state’s latest violence begs more questions than answers

Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal and priests as they mark the annual priesthood day along with Chrism Mass celebration on April 12, 2022 at St Joseph's Cathedral, Imphal, Manipur, northeast India. (Photo provided)

The recent violence and unrest in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur raise more questions than one can answer.

Since May 3, unprecedented violence and unrest have overtaken Manipur state. 

"The Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Imphal, Manipur, is pained, saddened, and most of all concerned at the situation that has unfolded. Precious lives have been lost, houses burned or destroyed, belongings vandalized and looted, and places of worship desecrated and set ablaze," according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Imphal.

Thousands have been displaced and rendered homeless and languished in different shelters in military barracks and relief camps. Many have left the capital, Imphal, and the state for safer places.

The turns and twists of the events cause insurmountable fear, uncertainty, and a general sense of hopelessness and desperation, the statement reads.


Several issues have been unresolved for a long time, gradually building up emotions and general angst.

The demand of the Meitei community to be listed as a Schedule Tribe (ST) and the vehement opposition of the tribals to this demand. Such inclusion could entail a great advantage for the members of the Meitei community, who can avail themselves of job opportunities, access to education privileges, and new ways of land ownership. 

Admittedly, the triggering point of recent violence was the endorsement and support expressed by many of the Meitei political leaders and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). Besides, the political opposition joined Wand agon, spearheaded by tribal student organizations and civil society organizations. 

When the ruling party declared that Meitei would get ST status, the High Court of Manipur said that the state government was to recommend the demand of the Meitei community to the federal government. Subsequently, dissent and condemnation by various tribal groups followed. 

Besides, the initiation of the State Government to survey the Reserved Forests, Protected Forests, and Conserved Forests is another issue that added to the complexity of the problem. Following this, the tribals objected to such a survey because the designation of such categories of forests does not have the consent of the HAC (Hill Area Committee).

Eviction and displacement of villages in the forest lands (most Kuki-inhabited villages) followed. 

The recent alleged derogatory preaching of Pastor Ramananda and the subsequent pledge of a section of the Meitei community to protect their indigenous culture and religion added fuel to the fire. 

All these issues are interconnected and mixed, playing into the sentiments of the people. 

The final point of eruption seems to be the destruction of the open gym and the venue of the Chief Minister’s visit to Churachandpur, angered by the eviction of villages. 

The Tribal Solidarity Rally of May 3, 2023, turned violent, mainly in the Churachandpur area. 

With the news and rumors of violent clashes in the Churachandpur spreading like wildfire, the Meiteis in Imphal began their hunt for persons of Kuki origin or lineage. The clashes are between the Meitei community and the Kuki-Chin-Mizo community.

Solidarity March by tribal students' union Manipur

Destruction of the Catholic Church and Institutions

Extensive destruction of private homes and property has been inflicted on both sides. Vandalism and looting of properties in broad daylight are the uneasy order of the day in many pockets. Along with private properties, many churches have been the target of attacks in many parts of the valley region. An unconfirmed number of destroyed (mostly burned) churches is more than 40. 

The Catholic Church has suffered the fury of the mob in at least five places:

More questions than answers 

The excuse for the attack on the places was that Kuki was hiding (which was not true). 

Churches that had no relation to the present conflict became casualties of the current unrest. The fact that some sections of the population have attacked the churches with deliberate motives cannot be ruled out. Tens of churches belonging to Meitei Christians were also burned in several places. Claims were made that the churches were attacked for revenge for destroying a Meitei place of worship in some parts of the state. However, the number of attacks on churches that had nothing to do with the conflict indicates the strong and active involvement of some militant groups in the name of the preservation of Meitei customs, cultures, traditions, and indigenous religion. 

The multiple attacks on churches and hostels with relentless intent are disturbing. 

The modus operandi in most of these attacks was that the attackers first tried to loot the house and then set it on fire. In places where the houses were not put on fire, the people vandalized and plundered at will for days. 

An organized attack like this cannot occur unless it is deliberate and planned. While the violence engulfed the state like a storm, the attacks seemed well-planned. The targets of attack also smacked of fanatic elements out to disrupt the existence of Christianity in the name of cultural preservation. 

Two communities are warring, but it has affected all the people of Manipur, irrespective of which community one belongs to. With the complexity of the issues that have given rise to this situation, there is no apparent reason for the present crisis. 

The magnitude of the loss, which has run into the millions, is hard to comprehend. Many people, especially the student community, have been forced to move out of Imphal, the state capital. 

The federal armed forces assist the state government in maintaining law and order. It is hard to say if the state forces were outnumbered or if they were complicit.

The absence of security personnel in places where they were most needed raises unsettling questions. If there was sincerity, why was it that not even in one area of the attack were the state forces able to prevent things from running amuck?

Meanwhile, several church authorities, including bishops and cardinals, have voiced their worry at the events in Manipur. They also urged improved communication amongst all parties involved to address the current problems and swiftly reestablish peace and order. - Santos Digal



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