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Christian groups fight church evictions in India

Church decries disturbing trend in the culturally distinct region of Manipur

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Christian groups fight church evictions in India

Catholics attend the diamond jubilee celebration of the canonical erection of the Catholic mission in Manipur. (Photo supplied)

Christian groups have joined a student union to appeal to the state government of Manipur in northeast India to repeal an eviction order against eight churches in Imphal East district.

The churches situated in the tribal colony are to be evicted, “which is unfortunate and the timing of the order is also quite painful as we were in the Advent season,” S.R. Andria, general secretary of the All Tribal Students’ Union of Manipur (ATSUM), told the media on Jan. 6.

Father John Kashiiprii, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Imphal, told UCA News that Catholic churches are not directly involved with the student union but are with them as part of the All Manipur Christian Organization that represents all churches in the state.

“Several organizations including ATSUM, which is a mostly Christian union, are appealing for a repeal of the order as it can affect the secular fabric of the state,” he said.

“We respect the Supreme Court order about the regularization of all places under jurisdiction without discrimination, hence it will be unfair if the government does injustice to one particular community.”

Andria said state officials issued an eviction order on Dec. 24 stating that 13 entities were encroaching on government land through churches and garages.

An official letter says the notice was served under Section 3 of the Manipur Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1978.

But ATSUM claimed that, according to the Supreme Court order in 2009, all religious structures within the premises of public parks and places and streets must be regulated.

The order also asked authorities to formulate a policy regarding the removal, relocation and regularization of unauthorized constructions.

Following the court order, the student union said the state government had formed a committee in 2010 which included various state departments under the Manipur Policy for Review of Unauthorized Constructions of Religious Nature on Public Parks and Public Places.

However, ATSUM alleged that in 2011 it listed 188 standing religious places in the state to be regularized, excluding churches.

“We appeal to the state government to repeal the order issued on Oct. 27, 2011, and make it inclusive of the whole religious communities. We also urge the government to draw up a new list to ensure that the principle of secularism of our country is well implemented,” said Andria.

According to official records, churches in Imphal were constructed in 1974 before the Supreme Court guideline for the regularization of existing unauthorized constructions in the name of religious places in public places.

Moreover, the Manipur government approved the proposal for the regularization of 188 religious structures in its 2011 order in five districts.

“We must respect government directives. However, a growing effort to destabilize the life of the Church is seen across northeast India,” Father Felix Anthony, spokesman for the Church in the northeast, told UCA News.

“This eviction order for eight churches in Manipur, coming immediately after the Tawang church dispute in Arunachal Pradesh, sets a disturbing trend for the peace-loving people in the northeast.

“Peace and mutual respect among all communities must be promoted and the government must ensure no one is discriminated against on the basis of religion.”

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