Christian bodies in Manipur have said that as many as 120 churches have been burnt down during the communal violence between the Kuki and Meitei communities in Manipur, which erupted on May 3, 2023.
The recent clashes have severely affected the state. According to unofficial estimates, the death toll surpasses 100, with over 20,000 houses destroyed and more than 50,000 individuals displaced within the region. Additionally, some reports said that around 250 churches, primarily belonging to the Meitei and tribal communities, were destroyed due to the violence.
According to the reports, Manipur is currently grappling with the aftermath of the violent incident, which has caused significant damage to properties and set back economic and developmental progress by an estimated 20 years. The reports suggest ‘the involvement of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in orchestrating this communal clash.’
During the 2022 Manipur State Assembly elections, the Union Home Ministry reached an agreement with Kuki militant groups that supported the BJP. The BJP secured 32 out of 60 seats, with seven Kuki BJP MLAs and three alliance MLAs. Under the agreement, these Kuki militant groups were supposed to be confined to designated camps, receiving monthly stipends. However, they are now accused of leading attacks on Meitei villages, armed with sophisticated weapons.
Conversely, mobs targeting Kuki homes and churches were allegedly led by two recently formed Meitei groups: Arambai Tengol and Meitei Leepun. These groups are said to have close ties to Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh and Manipuri King Sanajaoba Leishemba, who is also a Rajya Sabha BJP MP. This connection raises concerns about their possible involvement in inciting violence against the Kuki community.
According to the reports, the motives behind the communal violence in Manipur are still subject to investigation. However, recent incidents of violence across India have often been religiously motivated, targeting minorities such as Muslims and Christians.
“The targeting of Meitei churches and the involvement of Kuki militants who campaigned for the BJP raise serious questions about the underlying motives behind this violence,” the reports said.
The secretary-general of the All India Christian Council and Human Rights activist, John Dayal, in an article, said,”powerful Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its motley wings, backed by the central and state governments have been hard at work radicalizing the Vaishnav Hindu Meitei, to make common cause with the mainland Hindutva. This is reflected in the demand that the Meitei also be given the Constitutional status of Scheduled Tribe (ST) which the Christian Kukis, Mizos, Nagas and other tribes enjoy.”
“By all accounts, the violence in India’s northeastern state of Manipur has been a long time coming. If anything, the governments—both in the state and in New Delhi—led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took no steps to defuse tension or forestall violence,” he said in the article.
Manipur, according to Dayal, located on the border with Myanmar and known for previous insurgencies, has a significant presence of the Indian army and paramilitary forces. The region falls under the controversial Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA), which grants extensive powers to the military and shields many of their actions, including incidents resulting in civilian deaths, from legal scrutiny.
Dayal said that The BJP currently holds power in Manipur. According to Meitei Christian groups, the mob violence in the region has been led by Arambai Tengol and Meitei Leepun, which are considered equivalents of RSS among the people of the Imphal valley.
Dayal argued that the state government has adopted a similar approach as the Uttar Pradesh government led by Yogi Adityanath, utilizing bulldozers to demolish various structures, including churches in the valley region.
“While the BJP in Manipur is advocating for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for Hindu Meitei people, it seeks to exclude Christian tribal communities in other states, such as the Bhils and Santhals, from the ST list. This exclusion would deny them constitutional protections and concessions,” he said.