Even leaders of the Hindu nationalist party are beginning to accuse the BJP of complicity in what has become a generalised attack on Christians. ACN continues to monitor the situation closely. The situation in the State of Manipur, in India, continues to cause grave concern, as violence against Christians rages and the number of Churches and Christian buildings destroyed, already in the hundreds, continues to climb.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, published a short note on 9 July explaining that the situation is causing “anxiety to all and suffering to the people of the area”, and ensuring that the episcopate of India is in communion with the local Diocese of Imphal and trying to find ways to help.
Local sources have blamed the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has a Hindu nationalist platform, of stoking the violence, and this theory was given more weight by the resignation, on 13 July, of the vice-president of the party in Mizoram, the state which neighbours Manipur, in protest at the violence.
In his resignation letter, R Vanramchhuanga claimed that even though 357 Christian churches and buildings belonging to different churches have already been burned by militants, leaders from the BJP-held local and central governments have yet to condemn the actions.
“Therefore, I do believe that massive demolition of Christian Churches in Manipur was supported by the state and Central authorities”, the politician said.
Pontifical agency Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been monitoring developments in Manipur and has received information from local sources. What started out as the attempt of the Meitei group to be registered on the Scheduled Tribal list quickly turned into attacks against the Christian Kuki and Naga Tribals from the hills. The violent attacks of the militant Meitei groups resulted in burning of entire villages, the death of more than 100 innocent Kuki civilians and the destruction of Catholic and Protestant churches, including those belonging to Christian Meiteis, and can now be described as open persecution against Christians.
Two detailed examples of destruction of Church property that reached ACN clearly show the methodology and intentions of the attackers.
St. Paul’s Parish
On 3 May, according to a report from the diocese of Imphal received by ACN, several Meitei activists entered the St. Paul’s Parish and Pastoral Training Centre, located in Sangaiprou, which serves people from a variety of ethnic communities.
“Around 20h30 a mob came and began smashing and destroying the church and the properties therein. Window panes, doors, the interior of the church, statues, crucifixes, the sound system, musical instruments, and whatever else was in the church were smashed, and the altar set on fire.”
The 46 people who live in the premises were rounded up and made to provide proof of identity to ensure there were no Kukis amongst them. “After verifying their identity, they set fire to a motorcycle and left. The fire in the church was brought under control”, according to the report.
The local Christians believed they had escaped the worst, but instead the group returned twice that same day, again going through the motions and asking for proof of identity to make sure there were no Kukis.
On 4 May the mob arrived again. “The residents were asked to identify themselves. After checking verification a number of times, they left, finding none of the people they were apparently looking for. However, at around 14h, they walked into the church, collected the cooking gas cylinders from the kitchen of the PTC, and after piling up all the pews and valuables they smashed, looted, and burned both the Church and the Pastoral Training Centre building”, causing almost total destruction of the property, and not even sparing the livestock.
According to the report received by ACN, “all this time, no security cover was provided”, despite repeated attempts to reach the police through emergency numbers.
Holy Redeemer Parish
The destruction of Church property in Holy Redeemer parish, in Canchipur, is another example of how security forces failed in their duty to protect the innocent during the protests in Manipur.
At around 20h30 on 3 May, “a group of unidentified people, armed with iron bars and sticks came to the parish and forcefully crashed through the gates. There were three or four police agents, but they were unable to control the mob. After smashing the doors, windows and belongings of the church, the attackers set the church on fire”, says the report sent to ACN.
As with St. Paul’s Parish, though the worst seemed to be over, the nightmare soon returned. “At 22h a mob once again came and the presbytery of the Parish was broken into and vandalized. All valuable assets such as computers and electronic devices, cash, gas cylinders, etc. were looted and the private rooms of the priests and the staff were ransacked and destroyed.”
The attackers would still return twice before the sun came up the next morning, threatening staff, breaking windows and ransacking the auditorium and classrooms before setting the residence for needy students on fire. They also entered the Bethany convent and looted all the valuables, including computers and cash.
ACN continues to monitor the situation closely and is in touch with local Church authorities to find the best and fastest way to provide emergency aid to help address basic needs and help alleviate people’s suffering.