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Church in strife-torn Indian state appeals for peace, help

Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal Archdiocese said thousands of people in Manipur left homeless, without food and clothing
Children evacuated by the Indian army during the ethnic riots in Manipur state prepare to leave after reuniting with their parents at a temporary shelter at the Leimakhong Army Cantonment in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur on May 10

Children evacuated by the Indian army during the ethnic riots in Manipur state prepare to leave after reuniting with their parents at a temporary shelter at the Leimakhong Army Cantonment in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur on May 10. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 16, 2023 11:01 AM GMT
Updated: May 16, 2023 12:00 PM GMT

The Catholic Church in the violence-hit Manipur state in northeastern India has appealed for help as more than 45,000 people continue to live in cramped relief camps.

Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal Archdiocese said those in camps are in need of food and clothing among other basic things and sought people's support for them.

Lumpon's May 14 message said he was “pained, saddened and most of all concerned" by the situation of the people's suffering.

The ethnic violence that began on May 3 killed some 60 people amid looting and burning of houses and the destruction of places of worship that has left thousands of people displaced, languishing in military barracks and relief camps.

“There is fear, uncertainty and a general sense of hopelessness and desperation,” Lumpon said.

He also stressed the need for helping the people who lost their houses and income sources to rebuild their lives as “many have no place to go.”

The violence reportedly damaged 1,700 houses and some 120 Churches and other institutions mostly run by Christians.

Father Varghese Velikakkam, vicar general of the archdiocese based in the state capital Imphal said tension continues in the area. "We do not know what is going to happen next,”  he told UCA News.

The government said the state is limping back to normalcy with the administration relaxing curfew and other restrictions.

"But nobody knows how much time it will take to heal the wounds," Varghese said.

Father Solomon Thezii, the archdiocesan chancellor, said some 45,000 people live in government shelter camps while villages in the hills also manage camps housing thousands.

“Many in the relief camps and those who fled to neighboring states are clueless about their future as their houses are burnt down and sources of income destroyed,” Thezii told UCA News.

Church leaders said it is still not possible for their fellow priests and nuns from the indigenous Kuki community to venture out as they face threats from the Meiteis.

The ethnic violence was between the state's majority Meitei people and Kuki indigenous people. Most Kuki people are Christians, while most Meiteis are Hindus, though a few of them are Christians too.

Meiteis make up 53 percent of Manipur’s 3.2 million people and 40 of the 60 legislators in the state assembly belong to the community. They are also better off socially and economically than the indigenous tribes.

The violence began when Kuki people opposed a proposal to list Meitei people as a Scheduled Tribe (ST). The listing will help Meitei people to get various government welfare benefits meant for uplifting the socially and economically poor and backward tribal people.

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