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Tribal Christians won't contest polls in India’s Manipur

Boycott is in protest against ongoing violence that has claimed 219 lives in northeastern state
Women shout slogans during a 48-hour general strike in Manipur on Sept. 19, 2023 as they demand the restoration of peace in the northeastern Indian state amid ethnic violence

Women shout slogans during a 48-hour general strike in Manipur on Sept. 19, 2023 as they demand the restoration of peace in the northeastern Indian state amid ethnic violence. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 27, 2024 05:56 AM GMT
Updated: March 27, 2024 07:39 AM GMT

Christians belonging to the Kuki and Zo tribes in India’s strife-torn Manipur state are not fielding candidates for the upcoming general election in protest against ongoing violence that has claimed 219 lives.

No member from the community “should register for the upcoming Lok Sabha [lower house] election,” the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), a body of tribal people in the hilly state,  bordering Myanmar, said on March 25, two days before the registration deadline.

The decision not to field a candidate for the Outer Manipur constituency, reserved for tribal people, was taken after a meeting between the “ITLF presidential council and constituent members,” said an official statement.

The body said the decision was taken “considering the plight” of tribal communities in the state where tribal Kuki-Zo Christians and majority Meitei Hindus are fighting over granting tribal status to Hindus to avail educational and job benefits under India's affirmative action program,.

Violence that started on May 3, 2023, has so far claimed 219 lives with the majority of victims being Christian. More than 50,000 indigenous people are staying in relief camps after their houses were set on fire. Over 350 churches and other Christian institutions were also destroyed.

The state has two parliament seats — Inner Manipur and Outer Manipur. The unreserved Inner Manipur seat is currently held by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has not yet visited the sectarian violence-hit northeastern state.

Christians have blamed the BJP-led state government of N Biren Singh for their current plight.

Nearly 53 percent of the state’s population are Meitei Hindus while 41 percent are Christians, most of them Kuki-Zo tribal people.

Since 2009, candidates from the tribal community have usually contested the election in Outer Manipur.

The Election Commission of India has said that 94 polling stations have been arranged for displaced people living in 438 relief camps to cast their votes.

“It is true the situation in many violence-hit areas is not conducive for polls,” said a Christian leader who did not want to be named.

The violence has created such a void between “the Meitei Hindus and indigenous people. Both sides do not enter each others' areas, fearing a backlash,” the Church leader told UCA News on March 25.

On March 20, a group of polling officers from the Hindu community expressed their apprehension about working in tribal-dominated areas.

“It is still unsafe for the Meiteis to pass through Christian villages to conduct election duties,” they said.

In February, the state government deferred an order to transfer 100 tribal police personnel to Meitei-dominated areas after their transfer was opposed by the ITLF.

 “The same situation exists and there is no change in it,” the Church leader admitted

Polling in Outer Manipur will be held in two phases, on April 19 and 26.

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