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Christmas will be a 'low-key' affair in India’s strife-torn Manipur

New archbishop appeals to forego unnecessary festivities, share resources with victims of violence
The remains of a burnt church are seen in Langching village some 45 km from Imphal, the capital city of Manipur on May 31. The ongoing ethnic violence has kept India's northeastern state on the edge since May 3.

The remains of a burnt church are seen in Langching village some 45 km from Imphal, the capital city of Manipur on May 31. The ongoing ethnic violence has kept India's northeastern state on the edge since May 3. (Photo by AFP/ UCAN files)

Published: December 18, 2023 09:56 AM GMT
Updated: December 18, 2023 11:02 AM GMT

Christmas celebrations in the northeast Indian state of Manipur will be a low-key affair this year due to ongoing ethnic violence between the majority Meitei Hindus and Kuki tribal people, who are mostly Christian, since early May.

“This year several parishes in our archdiocese will not be able to conduct Christmas services or gatherings among families and loved ones… owing to ethnic violence,” Archbishop Linus Neli of Imphal Archdiocese said.

Six days after assuming the new role, Archbishop Neli in a pastoral letter on Dec. 14, appealed “to restrain from glamorous festive celebrations during this Christmas and New Year 2024.”

The prelate wanted Catholics to share their resources with displaced people who were living in relief camps by avoiding carol processions, musical evenings, sports and games, and consumerist behavior among other things.

Archbishop Neli also urged them to invoke God’s intervention “to bring about a lasting solution, genuine reconciliation, peace and harmony with justice in our state.”

Meanwhile, the Manipur state government assured India’s top court that it will facilitate arrangements for Christians living in relief camps to celebrate Christmas.

The assurance came during the Dec. 15 hearing in the Supreme Court on a bunch of petitions from indigenous people seeking relief and justice from the atrocities committed against them during the riots.

The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), a forum of local tribes in Manipur’s worst-affected Churachandpur district, also called for low-key “Christmas and New Year celebrations.”

The forum on Dec. 13 called on community members “not to indulge in overtly conspicuous celebrations” because of the current situation prevailing in the state.

It also urged all churches to have only the normal Church service and not organize any feasts and fellowship events.

“We cannot imagine celebrating Christmas or New Year when our brothers and sisters are languishing in relief camps for the past eight months,” a Christian leader who preferred anonymity told UCA News.

Some 200 people have been killed while over 50,000 people, mostly Christians, have been displaced from their homes in the ethnic violence that broke out in the state on May 3.

The clashes between the Kukis and Meiteis have been marked by brutal killings and sexual crimes against women. A majority of the victims have been Christian Kukis.

The Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice D. Y. Chandrachud sought to know from the state government what steps it had taken to restore places of worship destroyed during the riots.

The bench also directed the state government to furnish a comprehensive list of places of worship destroyed during the violence within two weeks. The list has to be presented to a committee appointed by the top court to look into the violence.

Both the Kuki and Meitei communities have reported the loss of their religious worship places such as temples and churches during the violence.

Christians suffered the worst with close to 300 churches of different denominations being destroyed, many of them burnt to ashes, according to reports.

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