Meitei Christians in India’s Manipur Face Broad Attacks (New Line Magazine)

While the conflict has been ethnic in nature, there has been an underlying communal element to the violence

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Today is the first day I am coming out with this,” said a missionary, pointing to his sling bag with a Bible, when New Lines met him in August. He feared that if he were frisked, his life could be in danger. One among the four Meitei Christian families in a Hindu-dominated neighborhood of Imphal, the capital of the northeast Indian state of Manipur, the missionary had hardly ventured out since the ethnic conflict erupted in early May and a mob forcefully entered his home and burned all Christian texts, including the Bible, in front of him and his family. Hence, he was reluctant but agreed to meet us at a church 12 miles away, in a predominantly Naga tribe neighborhood. Visibly shaken and scared, he was accompanied by a friend who led the conversation, gauging whether it would be safe for them to speak to us.

On May 3, fighting broke out across Manipur after news spread that a rally held by the All Tribal Students Union of Manipur — which opposed the Manipur High Court’s recommendation to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to Meiteis, the state’s dominant ethnic group — had become violent. The Meiteis, most of whom are Hindu though there are some Muslims and Christians, make up 51% of the population and historically have held more political, cultural and social capital, whereas the minority Kuki-Zo tribes, who make up 14% of the population, are predominantly Christians and have been protected under the ST status, through which the Indian government recognizes historically marginalized tribal communities.

A special provision in the Indian Constitution reserves land in Manipur’s hill districts for these protected tribes. The Meiteis mostly live in the valley and are not allowed to purchase land in the hills. Hence, recently the state government and valley-based civil society organizations have attempted to portray Kuki-Zo tribes as “illegal immigrants” or “not Indigenous” so that their claim to the land could be scrutinized and Meiteis could be granted ST status. These fault lines have led to the recent conflict.

More than 200 people have died in Manipur since the conflict began, with over 65,000 displaced within and outside the state. There have been at least 15 recorded cases of sexual assault. Buffer zones, separating the hills from the valley, are controlled by armed groups that have been revived after first forming during the decadeslong insurgency in Manipur in the 1960s. Even though over 40,000 Indian armed forces personnel are present in the state, firing continues on the edge of the valley and the hills. Mobs have looted more than 4,300 weapons from police armories, mostly in Imphal Valley.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was forced to break his silence on Manipur in July, when a graphic video showing two tribal women being stripped naked and groped went viral and sparked outrage across India. Several international organizations and diplomats, such as the European Parliament, U.S. Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti and the United Nations’ Special Rapporteurs, had been raising concerns over the conflict but were dismissed by the Indian government, which asked them to not interfere in its internal matters.

This story was originally published in Read the full story here .

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