A girl evacuated by the Indian army during the ethnic riots in Manipur state embraces her mother (second right) after reuniting at a temporary shelter at the Leimakhong Army Cantonment in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur on May 10. (Photo: AFP)
A group of Christians in India’s strife-torn northeastern state faces hostility for not abandoning their faith to become Hindus as fresh violence was reported on May 22.
Authorities in Manipur state beefed up security and extended a curfew three weeks after a riot broke out on May 3 between Kukil tribal group and the state's majority Meitei community.
Tension continues as some Meitei people are forcing Christians among them to recant their faith and join Hinduism, said a senior Church official.
Meitiei community, which forms 53 percent of the state's 3.2 million people are mostly Hindus, but a tiny minority of them are Christians, mostly Protestants.
“Their Hindu brothers are asking them [Meitei Christians] to return to Hinduism, failing which they threaten to make their life difficult,” the Church official said after attending an internal meeting on May 22.
Meitei Christians "are now facing the worst crisis for their existence,” said the Church official, who requested anonymity.
Most Meitie Christian worship in house churches but some 240 of their house churches were destroyed.
In such a situation it is difficult for them to keep their faith alive, the official said.
The savage riot killed more than 70 people, injured 231 others, and damaged 1,700 houses, besides displacing over 45,000 people, local reports said.
The riot began when Kuki and other tribal people in the state protested a plan to list Meitei people in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category to help them benefit from educational and job quotas under India’s affirmative action program.
Most Kuki people and other tribals are Christians and they together make up 41.29 percent of the population.
The priest said attempts to convert Christian Meiteis to Hinduism are real.
Meitei people live within a limited area in the state's valley and they cannot move into hills, where the Kuki people dominate.
Meitei Christians have to “live with their Hindu brothers” in the valley. Sometimes there could be only one or two Meitei Christians in a whole village, the official said explaining the threat they face.
A government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) runs the state government. The party and its Hindu supporting groups work to turn India into a nation of Hindu hegemony.
Fresh violence started in Manipur’s capital Imphal on May 22 after a mob set on fire a few abandoned homes belonging to the Kuki community, most of them tribal Christians.
Archbishop Lumon said continuing violence challenges the future of the state.
“20 days are over after the state witnessed one of the worst sectarian violence, but still peace is elusive," the prelate said in a message on May 23.
“Whatever has happened, happened. Now the priority must be to restore confidence among each other and rebuild the shattered life," he said.
Kuldiep Singh, the state security advisor, told the media that mass combing operations are being conducted to nab those behind the fresh round of attacks.
Chief Minister N Biren Singh said all communities, including the 34 tribal groups, will have to live together in the state.
Singh, during the observance of Anti-Terrorism Day on May 21 in the capital Imphal, admitted lapses on the part of his government that led to the sectarian violence in Manipur, which borders civil war-hit Myanmar.