India: Northern Manipur Christians Say Government Supporting Mob Violence Against Them

Member of the Kuki tribe hold Indian flags during a sit-in protest against the killing of
Manish Swarup/AP

Members of the majority-Christian Kuki tribe of northern Manipur, India, accused the government of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday of “tacitly” supporting the mob violence displacing tens of thousands of Christians in the region this month.

The Kukis and dozens of other Christian tribes in Manipur have endured a month of brutal mob violence largely orchestrated by members of the largest tribe in the region, the majority-Hindu Meitei people, that erupted after the tribes protested against special privileges for the Meiteis. The Meitei people are petitioning the Modi government to be labeled a “Scheduled Tribe,” a designation that would award them extended land rights and political powers. The Meitei already control most local politics in Manipur and much of the state’s most fertile land.

The Kukis and fellow tribes organized a protest in Imphal, the capital of Manipur, in mid-May to oppose the “Scheduled Tribe” designation for the Meiteis, attracting over 50,000 people. In response, Meitei mobs burned down entire Christian tribal communities, targeting businesses and homes and initially displacing over 35,000 people.

As of Monday, the Indian news network World Is One (WION) reported that over 70 people have been killed, 200 injured, and 40,000 displaced throughout Manipur. The top official in the state, Chief Minister N Biren Singh, denounced another spate of violence in the region over the weekend, announcing that 40 “armed militants” were killed in clashes in attempts to burn down civilian homes.

“’In retaliatory and defensive operations against militant groups who are using sophisticated arms against the civilian population, around 30 militants have been killed in different areas,'” Singh said. “‘A few have also been arrested by the security forces,’ the chief minister said.”

Neither WION nor other outlets reporting on the violence identified the “militant groups,” indicating Singh did not provide that information. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted Singh as describing the assailants as “miscreants” and “terrorists” without any more detail. WION identified those implicated in one incident, leaving one dead in Imphal, as Kukis, but not any others involved.

“We have started taking very strong action against them with the help of the army and other security forces. We have got reports some 40 terrorists have been shot dead,” Singh reportedly said.

An Indian army soldier (R) stands along with villagers in front of a ransacked church that was set on fire by a mob in the ethnic violence-hit area of Heiroklian village in Senapati district, in India’s Manipur state on May 8, 2023. Around 23,000 people have fled the unrest which erupted last week in the hilly northeast state bordering Myanmar. The latest clashes erupted between the majority Meitei people, who are mostly Hindu, living in and around the Manipur capital Imphal and the mainly Christian Kuki tribe of the hills. (ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

In his remarks this weekend Singh reportedly claimed, according to India’s Deccan Herald, that the “miscreants” were not targeting civilians.

“The gunfight is between the armed militants and the security forces and not between the communities. So I urge the common citizens to maintain peace and stay united,” the newspaper quoted Singh as saying. The Herald described Singh as suspecting the “involvement” of Kukis in the attacks, but noted Kuki community leaders vigorously denied being behind the violence.

In a related incident this weekend, police in Manipur confirmed that, in addition to the alleged “militants” arrested, authorities detained three members of India’s Rapid Action Force (RAF) – an Indian special police force tasked with addressing riots – for allegedly setting a local meat shop on fire.

“During the initial probe, the trio denied setting the meat shop on fire on purpose and said they were lighting mosquito repellents when the fire accidentally spread to the adjacent shop,” India Today reported.

The report did not identify the tribal designation of the owners of the meat shop or the religious or ethnic background of the RAF troops arrested.

Modi’s government has largely ignored the turmoil. On May 15 Modi published a letter he allegedly wrote to a resident of northern Assam state describing “the love of Indians for diversity” as “the nation’s real strength” as Meitei militants burned down dozens of Christian churches and displaced tens of thousands.

In response to mounting pressure, however, Modi deployed Union Home Minister Amit Shah to Manipur on Monday, a move welcomed by the Kuki community. The Kukis nonetheless condemned New Delhi for what they described as “tacit” support of mob violence against Christians.

“We view the Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s scheduled visit for an on-the-spot study of the situation to find a solution to the ongoing ethnic clashes as the Union government’s positive initiative,” a joint statement published Sunday from the United People’s Front (UPF) and Kuki National Organisation (KNO) reads. “The planned visit of Shah has given a sense of security among the Kuk Zo tribe. We look forward to his actions to end this ongoing ethnic clash between the two communities.”

The group admitted some clashes with the Meitei majority but described them as “defense” against destructive mobs.

“We, the peace-loving Kuki Zo tribe were forced to protect our lives when we were attacked by the armed Meitei mob, who were tacitly supported by the state government machinery,” the statement continued.

Global Christian Relief, an organization that engages in humanitarian efforts to aid persecuted Christians in India, told Breitbart News in May that Modi’s tenure as prime minister has resulted in dramatic increases in violence against Christians in the country, fueled by police apathy, inaction – or, as the case was in Manipur this weekend, participation.

“Since 2014 when the BJP Party, Prime Minister Modi’s party, took over, there’s been a 300% jump in reported attacks on Christians and Christian churches,” David Curry, the president and CEO of Global Christian Relief, told Breitbart News. “It’s just been this massive escalation. That’s because he has a nationalistic agenda which is, in very simple terms, suggesting that Christians aren’t real Indians because you have to be Hindu to be a real Indian citizen.”

The Associated Press

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the inauguration of the Global Buddhist Summit, in New Delhi, India, Thursday, April 20, 2023. (Manish Swarup/AP)

Curry said that, as of May 15, his group had recorded attacks on or total destruction of 116 churches in Manipur, noting that mob attackers felt so safe from police action they documented their attacks and posted them to social media.

“Many of the videos we get are being posted by the rioters themselves,” Curry said. “They’re not even afraid to post and call out the attacks on the churches on social media because there are no repercussions.”

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