An outbreak of communal violence in India’s north-eastern state of Manipur has killed 13 people and destroyed several churches, businesses and homes.
More than 25 churches were set ablaze and destroyed in the tribal dispute over access to government recognition and resources, Christianity Today reported.
Spiralling violence has displaced over 9000 villagers.
The Manipur government has issued “shoot-at-sight orders” as a last resort to control the situation, “in extreme cases whereby all forms of persuasion, warning, reasonable force etc has been exhausted”.
The mob violence sprung out of a massive opposition by Manipur’s tribal communities to the demand of the northeastern state’s majority community, the Meiteis, for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
Long-standing demands for affirmative action by the state’s Meitei community have led to reaction from members of the existing Kuki tribe, who fear that their own access to jobs and resources will be lost.
Thousands of tribals participated in a solidarity march, organised by All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur, to register a protest against the “persistent demand of Meitei community for inclusion in ST category, support to this by valley legislators” and “the need for taking appropriate measures to collectively protect tribal interests.”
The chief minister of Manipur, N. Biren Singh, described the situation as a “prevailing misunderstanding between two communities” and said that his government was committed to protecting “the lives and property of all our people.”
A Christian-project leader in Manipur told Premier News: “The demand for Scheduled Tribe status by the Meiteis, who make up the majority community in Manipur, has led to protests and violence with tribal groups opposed to this demand. This has resulted in forced evictions, property damage, and displacement of both Meiteis and Kukis.”
Since May 3, thousands of victims, majority of them Christians, have fled, as their homes and businesses have gone up in flames.
The worst violence took place in the state’s capital, Imphal, where mobs ran amok attacking tribal people, their homes and churches, Sky News reported.
Sixteen separate buildings of the Presbyterian Church of India were destroyed by fire, according to a list provided by an Anglican missionary to Premier News. These include the Ningthoukhong Presbyterian Mission, the oldest mission compound in the region. The document says the pastor’s quarters, Synod building, Sunday School Hall and kitchens were “all burned to ashes”.Army and Assam Rifles has deployed 55 columns to restore order, a curfew has been imposed and the internet suspended for five days.
Videos on social media show armed youths on the streets, several buildings on fire, gunshots being fired and stone-pelting.
Curfew has been imposed in eight districts of Manipur, including non-tribal dominated Imphal West, Kakching, Thoubal, Jiribam, and Bishnupur districts, as well as tribal-dominated Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, and Tengnoupal districts.
(Picture Courtesy: PTI)