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India

Church Torched And Christians Attacked In Manipur State

Updated: April 24, 2005 05:00 PM GMT
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Decade-old opposition to Christians in a northeastern Indian village resurfaced when a church under construction was burned on April 19, allegedly by Hindus.

That same day, a mob of Hindus also attacked members of Believers Church, according to Reverend Prim Vaiphei, director of the church. He told UCA News some community members were hospitalized after the on their campus in Lamding, a village in Manipur state, 1,700 kilometers from New Delhi.

The director said the church is in Thoubal district and functions under Gospel For Asia, a mission agency. The church has faced problems since 1996, when ethnic Meithei Christians started building it.

The attack happened because the local Hindus fear that Christians, by "reaching out to the un-reached," would "convert people," explained Paul Rhing, president of the All Naga Students Association in Manipur.

Naga tribal people, a major ethnic group, live in several states in the region, although one state, Nagaland, was created as a homeland. The predominantly Hindu Meithei are the dominant group in Manipur, where they are at odds with Naga groups.

Rhing told UCA News April 21 that his association has expressed solidarity with "the persecuted" Christians in Lamding. Christians form 34 percent of Manipur´s 2.38 million people, but they are the majority in the neighboring states of Nagaland and Mizoram. The Naga leader said Protestant Christians have penetrated the Meithei Hindu heartland and Hindus might be apprehensive that they would be reduced to a minority in Manipur.

The majority of Manipur´s Christians are tribal people and belong to different denominations, including the Catholic Church. Meithei Christians number barely 30,000, mostly belonging to Protestant denominations. All Christians in the state belong to the All Manipur Christian Organization.

Coadjutor Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal told UCA News Christian groups in the state plan to take up the issue at the national level with the help of the All India Christian Council. "Here, we have come out against (the attack) in one voice," said the Catholic prelate, whose diocese based in the Manipur capital covers the entire state.

Reverend Vaiphei said members of his church began experiencing hostility in 1997, around Christmastime, when Hindus attacked their service. Some Hindu Meithei women also attacked a Christian woman more than once when she went to fetch water from the village well, he added.

In 2000 the sect bought land to build a church "in the middle of the village," he said. After construction began, some Hindu Meithei villagers dismantled the temporary church structure, which escalated tensions.

Later, Christians agreed to move the church from the village center, while the Hindus agreed not to object to Christians building the church elsewhere in the village. "Police were witness to this," Reverend Vaiphei told UCA News.

Accordingly, Christians brought land outside the village and began to rebuild the church in September. But two months later, on Nov. 23, a village mob demolished that church under construction.

Top police officers of the district visited the village and issued orders that banned people from entering the church site, while a court gave Christians permission to resume the construction.

More recently, some villagers dismantled the church again on March 8, but Christians resumed the construction after state Chief Minister Ibobi Singh assured them his government would not allow such destruction. The chief minister told the state legislature March 18 that people have the freedom to practice what they believe.

Reverend Vaiphei said some people came April 11 and threatened workers again trying to build the church. Eight days later, they set fire to the unfinished building. "But Christians are determined to build the church," said the pastor, who wants the government to provide security so that work can resume. "In spite of the threats and persecutions, the Meithei Christians are continuing in their faith," he added.

Reverend Vaiphei said anti-Christian groups have burned down four churches in Manipur in the past two years. In one incident, he said, some Hindus dug up a Christian´s grave, saying burial is not their custom. Most Hindus favor cremation.

END

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