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UK report: ‘Religious dimension’ fueling fears among Christians in Manipur

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People wait in a makeshift shelter at an army camp after the withdrawal of Indian troops following racial violence in northeastern India’s Manipur state, May 7, 2023. Dozens of deaths have been reported. | Arun Sankar/AFP via Getty Images

In a report circulated by British policymakers, violence in India’s troubled Manipur state was highlighted as having a “clearly religious dimension”, with hundreds of churches and Christian villages torched since early last month.

that report, The report, written by journalist David Campanale, was submitted to the International Coalition for Freedom of Religion or Belief and distributed by the UK Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, UK MP Fiona Bruce.

The June 21 report analyzed the reasons behind the violence that began in India’s northeastern state on May 3, killing more than 100 people and forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes.

this Violence The unrest sparked at least four days, mainly in the Imphal Valley, home to the majority Hindu Metai, and the Churachandpur district, home to the Kukizomi Christian tribe. After the unrest, gun incidents occurred almost every day across the state.

The report’s findings are based on eyewitness testimony from survivors of racially assaulted Christians.

Representing Kuki Christian Church and a seminary in Churachandpur, Pastor T. spoke about a traumatic incident on May 4 when more than 500 people attacked and burned the campus.

The mob, identified as belonging to the extremist groups Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun, destroyed the church, church headquarters, offset printing press, study and 12 residential complexes.

Pastor T. has been serving the church for two years. He claimed to have witnessed the inaction of Manipur police commandos and paramilitary forces at the entrance, failing to prevent or contain the damage. Police are preoccupied with containing the fire’s spread to neighboring areas, which are less prone to fires. Priest T watched the engulfing flames from afar.

A Baptist pastor who spoke at the hearing said that the Mingtai Christian community, which is mired in religious and ethnic conflict, also faces severe persecution, with more than 250 churches vandalized or destroyed by violent mobs.

Their properties, especially those of Christians, were targeted and often looted before being burned. They were hostile by the Mingting community because of their Christian beliefs, and hostile by the Jiuxi community because of their status as Mingting.

According to the Baptist pastor S., churches were burned in at least three districts. He listened to first-hand reports from Mingting Christians and began compiling a list.

“The headquarters of Manipur Baptist Church, Metai Presbyterian Church and Manipur Church of God have been destroyed,” Pastor S. “Another campaign by extremists is the conversion of church land into community centers, village gyms and other structures.”

He said Christians “live in constant fear of being attacked”.

“Parts of our identity and our church are being destroyed,” the pastor said.

“Our churches are burning and we have not been able to come together to worship or pray since May 3, 2023. We feel like strangers in our own land, when in fact we are called to live in our faith and in our choice between land”.

Tensions were sparked by an April 2023 Manipur High Court order directing the state government to consider adding the Meitei community to the list of scheduled tribes. That would give the Metai similar constitutional privileges enjoyed by tribal communities, including the ability to buy land in the mountains, a move that has sparked fear among tribal groups.

On 3 May, tribal students organized a rally across the state (mainly Churachandpur) against the Metai’s claim to tribal status. Violence began after the rally.

The hearing panel was chaired by David Campanale, a former BBC journalist and member of the Bruce Advisory Panel. Campanale visited the Imphal area for three days and visited Churachandpur hills for three days.

The Church Association of Manipur reported that more than 400 churches, Christian schools, homes and seminaries were destroyed in the Meitei and Kuki communities.

“Metai people are afraid of members of their community converting to Christianity, so they use violence,” the Baptist pastor told the panel. “We ask communities around the world to speak on our behalf for our safety.”

The report was commissioned by the International Coalition for Freedom of Religion or Belief last month at the request of the expert committee.

Findings show that the violence has displaced nearly 50,000 people, damaged hundreds of villages and killed more than 100 people.

David Landrum, advocacy director for Open Doors UK and Ireland, commented on the report that “radical Hindu extremists have taken advantage of tribal tensions.”

Hinduism refers to the Hindu nationalist ideology that sees India as the land of Hindus only.

landrum told Prime Minister He hoped the report would highlight the role of “Hindu forces” in fueling the violence. He expressed concern about the lack of accountability and justice for these attacks, with local authorities and police forces often seen as complicit.

“We would like to see the international community call for a commission of inquiry to conduct a full investigation into India, to look into what is going on, to look into the anti-conversion laws that are extremely discriminatory, and the attacks that we are seeing now in different parts of India,” he said. Landrum said.

After visiting the area, Campanale warned that the pace of the violence was notable.

“At least 3,000 homes and 290 churches were damaged, destroyed and burned in just 2-3 days – this is a conservative estimate as the real figure could be double that. Conservative estimates are equivalent to 60 homes were destroyed every hour during this period. A day of violence, or a house every minute.”

The report advocates deploying Indian troops to vulnerable tribal villages to restore peace. It also recommends giving aid workers access to affected areas and displaced people, especially remote camps, to effectively meet their needs.

The report also notes the importance of allowing investigative journalists, interfaith leaders, and religious freedom experts access to these areas to gather credible information, reduce tensions, and assess impact.

The researchers recommend setting up a helpline number and restoring internet connectivity. They recommend increasing flight availability, while introducing fare caps and setting up a Victim Compensation Claims Board. Furthermore, the report highlights the need to help victims return to their homes of origin.

The report also calls on the courts to carefully examine the root causes of the violence, the use of the media to spread misinformation, and the impact on religious freedom.

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