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Church leaders in Manipur voice fears over violence against Christians

15 September 2023

Kuki Christian Leaders Fellowship appeal to Rishi Sunak for support

Alamy

The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, pictured in New Delhi, India, on Monday

The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, pictured in New Delhi, India, on Monday

A “WELL-COORDINATED onslaught” is being waged against Kuki people in Manipur, church leaders in the Indian state have told the British Prime Minister.

A letter from the chairman of the Kuki Christian Leaders Fellowship (KCLF), the Revd Dr M. Thongkhosei Haokip, and two other members, to Rishi Sunak, urged him to “raise the humanitarian crisis in our home state, Manipur,” at the G20 summit, held in Delhi at the weekend. The KCLF represents church leaders from nine different Christian denominations serving the Kuki population in Manipur.

“The ongoing violence against minority Kuki tribal Christians in Manipur since 3rd May 2023 has pushed my people to the limits in every way. 357 churches, 292 villages and 4,559 houses have been burned down,” Dr Haokip writes. “At least 132 of my people have been killed. As you will have seen from the shocking video footage, Kuki women have been paraded naked, gang raped and killed — such violence is only the tip of a far larger iceberg.

“It is four months since the violence commenced, and there is no end in sight. . . Last month, Prime Minister Modi assured India’s lower chamber the Lok Sabha, that the situation would be addressed and peace restored to the region. I believe that if he chose to prioritise this matter, he could stem the flow of violence.”

Mr Sunak is urged to: “Provide sufficient security forces in vulnerable areas such as Pholjang area of Churachandpur which has been attacked 16 times already and Joujangtek area in Kangpokpi, to keep civilians safe.” Second, “Immediately respond to humanitarian crises in relief camps, providing medical care, food items and shelters, along with compensation for homes and assets that have been destroyed.” Finally, he is asked to “Provide access for journalists and independent observers into the region to report impartially on the situation.”

Violence broke out in Manipur, a state in north-east India, in May (News, 12 May). The UN reports that, by mid-August, an estimated 160 people had reportedly been killed — mostly from the minority Kuki ethnic community — and more than 300 injured. Last week, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) put the death toll at 200, with 70,000 people displaced and more than 3700 properties, including houses, temples, and churches, destroyed.

The situation had been exacerbated by “suspected complicity of law enforcement officials during the communal violence, when weapons were looted from the state armoury”, CSW said last week.

In their letter to Mr Sunak, the Kuki leaders speak of a “clear pattern of pogrom of ethnic cleansing from what is reported as clash between the majority Meitei and minority Kuki tribals. Events unfolding from May 3, 2023 to date reminds us of the Rwandan Genocide.”

Open Doors, which showed the letter to the Church Times, has compiled a short report on sexual violence in the region, with five accounts of sexual assault on Christian women — two of whom were murdered — on 4 and 5 May. It claims that police were “either bystanders to the violence or were complicit in the crime by handing over the victims to the mob . . . this climate of impunity is further exacerbated by inaction and lack of accountability from the state’s leadership”.

In July, footage of two women allegedly gang-raped by a mob in Manipur — understood to be members of a Presbyterian church — provoked outrage in India, forcing President Modi to break his silence on events in the state (News, 28 July).

On 4 September, UN experts, including Reem Alsalem, a special reporter on violence against women and girls, raised the alarm about reports of serious human-rights abuses in Manipur, including alleged acts of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, home destruction, forced displacement, torture, and ill-treatment.

The group highlighted an “inadequate humanitarian response” to the crisis. “We are appalled by the reports and images of gender-based violence targeting hundreds of women and girls of all ages, and predominantly of the Kuki ethnic minority,” the statement said. “The alleged violence includes gang rape, parading women naked in the street, severe beatings causing death, and burning them alive or dead.

“It is particularly concerning that the violence seems to have been preceded and incited by hateful and inflammatory speech that spread online and offline to justify the atrocities committed against the Kuki ethnic minority, particularly women, on account of their ethnicity and religious belief. We are further alarmed by the reported misuse of counterterrorism measures to legitimise acts of violence and repression against ethnic and religious minorities. . .

“We have serious concerns about the apparent slow and inadequate response by the Government of India, including law enforcement, to stem physical and sexual violence and hate speech in Manipur.”

They welcomed the fact-finding mission conducted by lawyers and human-rights defenders in Manipur, and the follow-up by the Supreme Court of India; but they urged the government to step up relief efforts and ensure that perpetrators were held to account, “including public officials who may have aided and abetted the incitement of racial and religious hatred and violence”.

The Indian government described the report as “unwarranted, presumptive and misleading”.

The UK Government is monitoring the situation in Manipur through its High Commission in New Delhi and Deputy High Commission in Kolkata. The foreign office minister Lord Ahmad, raised the situation with the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs during his visit to India in May.

 

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