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Christians urge Indian president to end Manipur violence

Nagas from Nagaland are sandwiched in the fight between Kuki tribal Christians and Meitei Hindus in the restive state
Indians attend a protest rally to demand peace in Manipur in New Delhi on June 24

Indians attend a protest rally to demand peace in Manipur in New Delhi on June 24. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj)

Published: September 05, 2023 08:39 AM GMT
Updated: September 05, 2023 08:59 AM GMT

Christian groups from northeast India have urged the country's president to end more than four months of sectarian strife in Manipur where six people were killed on Sept. 1 to take the toll to 181.

“We are writing to you to urgently appeal for your intervention to end the ongoing conflict in Manipur,” five Christian groups, all based in Manipur’s neighboring Nagaland state, said in a memorandum to President Draupadi Murmu, India's first president from a tribal community. 

Manipur, bordering civil war-hit Myanmar, has witnessed unprecedented violence since May 3 between Kuki tribal Christians and the Meitei Hindu community.  

The sectarian strife over granting tribal status to the Meitei Hindu community has seen the burning of more than 350 Christian churches. 

The Nagas, as the people from Nagaland are called, form the third major community in Manipur and have maintained a distance from the ongoing violence. Along with Nagaland and Manipur, five other states form India’s northeastern region.

“We earnestly request your support in rebuilding the churches and religious institutions that have suffered extensive damage due to the violence,” the Nagaland Joint Christian Forum, Christian Forum Dimapur, Nagaland Theological Colleges Association, Dimapur Baptist Pastors Fellowship and Dimapur Baptist Women Union said in the memorandum, submitted to La Ganesan, the Nagaland governor, on Sept. 3. Ganesan earlier served as the governor of Manipur.

“What is happening in Manipur is a human rights violation"

Governors in provincial states are considered representatives of the Indian president. The Christian groups also submitted a copy of the memorandum to N Biren Singh, Manipur's chief minister.

“These institutions [churches] have historically played a vital role in fostering a sense of community, promoting values of peace and harmony and providing vital services to the people,” they said.

“What is happening in Manipur is a human rights violation,” and the government has completely failed to check the unrest, Reverend Zelhou Keyho, general secretary of the Nagaland Baptist Church Council, told UCA News.

Though the Nagas form a small group in Manipur, they are concerned about the unrest, he added.

“The Nagaland Joint Christian Forum along with four other groups organized a peace rally in Dimapur, a major city in Nagaland, on Sept. 3 to express solidarity with the people of Manipur,” Reverend Keyho said.

He said that though the government has claimed that peace has returned to Manipur, violence reared its ugly head on Sept. 1.

Six people were killed and 14 others were hurt in a fierce gunfight between Meitei and Kuki groups. 

The fight between armed men from both communities began after a 26-year-old farmer, Salam Jotin Singh, was shot at. Singh sustained a bullet wound, but survived. 

At least 181 people have died and 50,000 have been displaced, most of them Christians, in the ethnic violence. 

Ethnic Kukis are against granting special tribal status to the prosperous Meitei Hindus, which would give them priority in government jobs, education, and other affirmative programs meant for indigenous people.

Among Manipur’s 3.2 million people, 53 percent are Hindus, mostly Meiteis, and Christians form 41 percent, most of them Kuki tribal people who have started demanding a separate state for themselves. 

There are 10 legislators from the Naga community in Manipur’s state legislature. They have said that their community should not be affected if a separate administration zone is carved out for Kuki Christians.

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