Church leaders say it is 'a targeted attack to erase Christianity' in the hilly northeastern state
Activists and supporters of the Social Unity Centre of India (Communist) protest in solidarity with the people of India’s northeastern state of Manipur amid ongoing ethnic violence, in Ahmedabad city on June 30. (Photo: AFP)
The top court in India has sought a status report on the sectarian strife in the northeastern Manipur state, which has claimed some 120 lives since May 3.
The Supreme Court on July 3 asked the Manipur state government to file an “updated status report” on the “situation on the ground,” giving specific details on rehabilitation, recovery of arms, and improving the law and order situation in the hilly state which has been hit by ethnic violence between tribal Christians and majority Hindus.
The Manipur Tribal Forum, one of the petitioners, informed the court that some 120 people have been killed since the violence started over awarding special tribal status to Hindu Meitei people to get priority in government jobs, education, and other affirmative action programs meant for the indigenous people.
“The situation in Manipur has worsened,” senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing the forum, informed the top court.
Several militant groups are openly calling for the annihilation of indigenous people, especially the tribal Kukis, a majority of them Christians staying in the hilly districts, Gonsalves added.
Gonsalves accused the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Pary (BJP) state government of inaction against the militant groups who are “state-sponsored.”
Solicitor-general Tushar Mehta appearing for the Manipur state government disagreed by arguing that, “the situation is improving slowly in view of the deployment of sufficient numbers of armed forces and setting up of relief camps.”
The government attorney said: “Curfew has been reduced to five hours a day” which was a sign of improvement and appealed to Gonsalves to “not to give a communal angle.”
Christian leaders have accused the Hindu militant groups of turning the riot into an organized attack against the Christian Kuki people.
The solicitor-general said that the state would file an updated status report.
The court then directed the state to file a fresh report and posted the matter for hearing on July 10.
The decades-old feud in the northeastern state, bordering civil war-hit Myanmar, is between majority Hindu Meiteis, and minority Christian Kukis.
This year, the unrest took a sectarian tone with influential Meiteis targeting Christians and their places of worship.
It is alleged that they get support from the pro-Hindu government.
A tiny group from the Meitei community who has embraced Christianity is also at the receiving end.
A report said that more than 250 churches of Christian Meiteis were set on fire.
Tribal Christians have lost an equal number of churches and 10 Catholic churches have been damaged so far.
Over 45,000 people mainly Christians are living in temporary relief camps.
The violent mob “also destroyed Church-run schools, social centers, presbyteries, and other institutions in a targeted attack to erase the existence of Christianity in the hilly state,” Church leaders who did not want to be named told UCA News.
The government forces are remaining “mute spectators when Christians are killed and their institutions destroyed.”
Church volunteers who visited the relief camps told UCA News, “The situation in the camps is pathetic with people unable to meet their basic requirements.”
The death toll reached 120 with the latest killing of three people last week.
The toll “would be much more than when the real head count starts” as nobody knows the whereabouts of those who fled to the forest, they said.
The Meiteis make up 53 percent and Christians mostly indigenous people 41.29 percent of Manipur’s 3.2 million population.
In the 60-member state assembly, 40 seats are occupied by the Meiteis, leaving the minority politically too weak.
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