Response to a protest turned violent in Manipur, India, and Christians have been especially singled out for persecution. At least 80 believers have been killed, and large numbers remain homeless.
A month since the violence broke out in Manipur between the Kuki tribe and Meitei community, there seems to be no stop to the violence between the two groups. Victims of violence continue to be in a desperate situation.
“The Meiteis continue to attack and shoot each day to terrorise the tribal groups,” reports local Open Doors partner Ngai Elam*. “Women and girls are sexually harassed and abused, men over 18 are trained with weapons by insurgent groups. The only safe places for the tribal people are refugee camps.”
Early this week, the Meitei group Armabai Tenggol is reported to have looted the homes and properties abandoned by Christians who had fled the violence. Still more tribal Christians had to flee over the past week, and are currently taking refuge in neighbouring cities of Manipur. It is rumoured that the Meitei groups are supported by state forces, and the president’s ‘shoot on sight’ order remains in place.
The number of Christians believed to have been killed has risen to 80, and it is likely that the number will continue to rise - many affected villages are currently unreachable, and so the impact of the violence is not yet fully known. Christians from both Kuki and Meitei groups have been targeted.
“We believe that God is with us in this battle,” says Lhing Haokip*, a local Kuki believer. “Though the churches don't function as normal, the church is open for the believers to come and pray, and many believers are praying.
“We believe that the prayers from Christians all over the world have kept the tribal believers safe until now. Pray with us that God will strengthen Christians to be on their knees to pray and seek God.”
24 May 2023
More violence has broken out in Manipur in recent days, after a lull. The area affected has a community comprising people from various different tribes – Kuki, Metiei and Rongmai people – and different faiths. The community's Kuki leaders had advised vendors not to operate their businesses as it was a warzone. Local sources say that a mob of Hindu extremists from the Meitei group took advantage of the situation and started to attack abandoned Christian houses. (The Christians who lived in these houses had already fled the area, during the initial violence.)
The situation further escalated on 22 May, when some of the Meiteis attacked ICI Mar Church and burned it down, along with pastors' houses and another building belonging to the church. At the time of the arson attack, there were six people in that building – they had to flee the fire. During the initial violence, 400 Christians from the ICI Mar Church had already had to flee the area and are taking refuge in camps or neighbouring states. A local believer is reporting that all their homes have been burned down.
“The attacks on churches have not come to an end," says Open Doors local partner Yohan Murray*. "The churches and Christian houses and properties are constantly attacked. Though the government claims of maintaining peace and order, we do not see the results, every second night there is clashes taking place.”
Please keep praying for all affected by the violence in Manipur, and for those trying to bring peace to the situation.
Footage of the aftermath of violence in Manipur, India, has been shared by local Open Doors partners (above). "The city is a shell of what is used to be," a local partner says. The devastating violence has seen 70 Christians killed, around 300 churches burned down, around 100 other Christian buildings (including a theological college) destroyed, and at least a thousand homes of Christians burned down.
More than 10,000 believers are taking refuge in rescue camps set up by the army, and there are reports of many hiding in the forest areas surrounding Manipur. While Christians are not the only people affected, local sources say that they have faced ten times the persecution received by Hindus.
Because the area is inaccessible, the price of essential items is skyrocketing. A bag of rice has increased by 60%. If the situation continues, prices will increase with high demand and scarcity of resources. Daily wage labourers are alarmed; some are struggling for food. Education is halted for students as schools and educational institutions are still closed. There is shortage of fuels and gas, limited cash and banks are working with limited staff.
There are fears of further violence, particularly as Hindu extremists are using the conflict as an excuse to hunt out church leaders and try to force entire Christian communities to convert to Hinduism.
"If the situation continues, civil war is inevitable." Yohan, Open Doors partner
"If the situation continues, civil war is inevitable," says Yohan Murray*, a local Open Doors partner. "The pro-Hindutva government has not taken any measures to stop the violence, though on the orders of the Supreme Court, military has been deployed to maintain peace and order. There has been no initiative from the pro-Hindu led state and central government.
"If there is a civil war, the situation will only become gruesome, more lives lost, properties destroyed and open persecution of religious minorities.”
Your support and prayers continue to be needed for all our brothers and sisters affected by this ongoing crisis.
13 May 2023
At least 70 Christians have been killed, and hundreds of churches and other Christian buildings destroyed, in ethno-religious violence between ethnic groups in Manipur State in north east India. More than 15,000 people, including many Christians from different ethnicities, have been forced to flee their homes and are living in rescue camps. Some footage of the violence and arson has been shared via Open Doors local contacts.
The violence first flared up last Wednesday, 3 May, following a protest by the largely Christian minority tribes in the region.
"Almost all the churches have been burned down and reduced to ashes." Vishnu
“For two, three days, it was just anarchy,” says Vishnu*, another local Open Doors partner. “And especially the Christians were targeted. Almost all the churches have been burned down and reduced to ashes.”
As Vishnu explains, “The fundamental reason for the escalation of violence was that the tribals, who are predominantly Christian, are being evicted [by the local government] from the forest land where they've resided for hundreds of years.” Their concerns have been exacerbated by signs that the Government is preparing to grant the Meitei majority ‘scheduled tribe’ status. This has been granted to minority tribes in the region and has helped to counter the power imbalance between the Meitei and other tribes – and would make it harder for the Christian community to get jobs and other benefits.
“The Christian community was making a peaceful protest, but it was met with a violent response from the majority community,” says Vishnu. The majority he refers to are Hindus from the Meitei community; Christian demonstrators and onlookers complain that the police failed to intervene and protect them during the worst of the attack. Among the destroyed buildings are churches, Christian homes and a theological seminary. While the violence hasn’t exclusively targeted Christians, they are bearing the worst of the persecution.
“Meitei Christians have been affected more during the riot," says Viren*, a Meitei Christian. "Our believer brothers have stood strong even though we are facing this ongoing situation. Many churches were burned in front of us, and it has been very difficult to see this unfold before us. We want to be strong. Pray that God helps us.”
The initial situation was eventually brought under control by paramilitary troops on Friday morning – in Vishnu’s view, because there was little left to destroy. Though the situation is currently calm, there are fears that it could reignite and escalate.
Thousands of Christians - including local Open Doors partners - are among those who are currently finding safety in camps protected by the army. “People are taking shelter, afraid to return home,” says Neha. “That is, if their home hasn’t already been destroyed.”
Christians from both the Meitei and Kuki groups have been affected, with many facing extreme pressure to renounce their faith and accept Hinduism by the Hindu extremist group Arambai Tenggol. Even two weeks after the burning of churches, Open Doors local partners report that the Arambai Hindu extremist group is actively searching for Christian leaders and pastors. Local believers say the Arambai Tenggol are seeking to kill the leaders.
"Please, please keep praying for the Christians." Vishnu
Many Christians from the majority Hindu Meitei group are being forced to reconvert to Hinduism. Though some of the Kuki have been able to return to their tribal land, the believers among the Meitei are still facing attacks.
“It is very hard to explain the situation of our land. I believe God is protecting us and will protect," says Kuber*, a Kuki Christian. "Most believers are in trauma. We need churches’ prayers. Please pray for us. Pray for the situation and pray for believers here.”
Vishnu asks you to join the local community in prayer. He says: “Please, please keep praying for the Christians. They have had to abandon their houses and run to safe places. Most of them are in the area which is protected by the army, or some of them are secretly hiding in their friend's house who belongs to majority community. We don't know when they will come by, so please pray for them. There are children, women, old people – their lives are uncertain, and they're deprived of basic facilities and amenities and deeply traumatised. So kindly remember them.”
*Names changed for security reasons
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