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Almost One Year Of Religious Violence In Indian State Of Manipur

by | Thu, Apr 4 2024

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Religious violence has continued to ravage India’s Hindu-majority northeastern state of Manipur for nearly a year. The Christian Post reports the ongoing turmoil has raised serious concerns over the ability of state and central governments to maintain peace and order.

Incidents in a state with just 3.5 million people out of a national population of 1.4-point billion are effectively ignored in New Delhi. That’s despite more than 200 deaths, shocking assaults on women, the destruction of at least 7,000 thousand homes and 350 churches, and the displacement of more than 40,000 individuals.

Nearly all the victims are Christians from the Kuki-Zo tribe who are being targeted by mobs from the mostly Hindu Meitei community. Their conflict which is largely over land rights and identity, but also simmering with religious tension, has been ongoing since last May 3.

The unrest has been significantly fueled by the activities of Arambai Tenggol, a radical Meitei group which has been implicated in assaults on civilians, vehicle snatching and extortion. The violence erupted over a contentious state High Court order asking the state government to consider extending special economic benefits and quotas to the Meiteis, which would also allow them to purchase land in Kuki-Zo territories.

Those special benefits and quotas have previously only been granted to the state’s tribal communities including the Kuki-Zo. The proposal sparked protests among the tribal communities, quickly escalating into widespread violence fueled by disinformation and extremist rhetoric and the relentless persecution of Kuki-Zo communities and a small group of Christian Meitei people.

More recently, both sides have targeted local police. Around 200 armed men under the banner of Arambai Tenggol attacked a superintendent and his family and torched their home. A furious mob from the Kuki-Zo community set fire to the offices of senior police to avenge the state administration’s disciplinary action against a Kuki-Zo police officer following the circulation of a video showing him fraternising with armed non-state actors. They noted the administration had failed to take any action against Meitei police officers who allegedly participated in attacks on Christians alongside those they described as Arambai Tenggol “thugs”.

The militant Hindu group is reported to be effectively in control of the state with government authorities too afraid to intervene. Arambai Tenggol leaders summoned all Meitei legislators to a meeting in the state capital of Imphal and presided over the meeting while their forces, clad in military attire and wielding weapons, patrolled the streets outside with the Manipur police allowing the militant group to proceed with its agenda.

During the meeting, legislators were pressured into supporting the militia’s demands, which were directed against the Christian Kuki-Zo community. Four of the politicians were attacked for blaming the disturbances on the Hindu-led state government. Two of them needed hospital treatment.

Nearly 100 Kuki-Zo people including women and children have reportedly died from inadequate healthcare and substandard living conditions in more than 100 makeshift shelters. The tribal community claims hardly any medicine or other humanitarian aid has been supplied by the state of Manipur, and most of the relief provisions have come from the capital of the neighbouring Christian-majority state of Mizoram which is 350 kilometres away. The income of nearly every Christian household in Manipur has dropped to less than half their earnings before the unrest erupted.

Last July, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging the Indian government to urgently restore peace in Manipur. “There have been concerns about politically motivated, divisive policies promoting Hindu majoritarianism, and about an increase in activity by militant groups [and] accounts of partisan involvement by security forces in the killings [which] have increased distrust in the authorities,” the resolution stated. It has been ignored.