Christian bodies in Manipur have said that as many as 120 churches have been burnt down during the communal violence between the Kuki and Meitei communities in Manipur, which erupted on May 3, 2023.
Recent clashes have severely affected the state. According to unofficial estimates, the death toll surpasses 100, with over 20,000 houses destroyed and more than 50,000 individuals displaced within the region.
Additionally, some reports said that around 120 churches, primarily belonging to the Kuki tribes and some to the Meitei communities, were destroyed due to the violence.
According to onground reports, Manipur is currently grappling with the aftermath of the violent incident, which has caused significant damage to properties and set back economic and developmental progress by an estimated 20 years. The reports suggest ‘the callous indifference or even involvement of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in orchestrating this communal clash.
During the 2022 Manipur State Assembly elections, the Union Home Ministry reached an agreement with Kuki militant groups that supported the BJP. The BJP secured 32 out of 60 seats, with seven Kuki BJP MLAs and three alliance MLAs. Under the agreement, these Kuki militant groups were supposed to be confined to designated camps, receiving monthly stipends. This arrangement has come unstuck with no room for dialogue.
Unconfirmed reports of some of these groups having close ties to Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh and Manipuri King Sanajaoba Leishemba, who is also a Rajya Sabha BJP MP. This connection raises concerns about their possible involvement in inciting violence against sections of the Kuki community.
According to the reports, the motives behind the communal violence in Manipur are still subject to investigation. However, recent incidents of violence across India have often been religiously motivated, targeting minorities such as Muslims and Christians.
“The targeting of mostly Kuki and a few Meitei churches and the involvement of Kuki militants who campaigned for the BJP raise serious questions about the underlying motives behind this violence,” the reports said.
The Telegraph Kolkata analyses videos from Saturday, May 4 church attack that reveal, shockingly, that the violence was premeditated and singularly targeted not part of any “continuing violence “. Sourced videos capture deliberate, not heat-of-the-moment vandalism of churches. Footage sourced by the newspaper from a local living in the vicinity shows the impunity with which the arsonists struck on May 4 afternoon in West Imphal.
Footage from a video clip shows a person attacking the statue of Resurrected Jesus Christ in the niche of St Paul’s Church in Sangaiprou, Imphal West district, on May 4 afternoon. (Right) Flames engulf the church on May 4 afternoon.
Sourced by The Telegraph
The time and date of incident seen on video: Around 1.30pm to 2pm, May 4, when the clashes peaked in Manipur.
The structure: St. Paul’s Church.
The target: The statue of the Resurrected Jesus Christ in the niche of the spire.
The consciously deliberate and unhurried pace — between the two video clips had been viewed.
This is no “spontaneous” flare-up or riot that erupted in the heat of the moment.
The vandalism and arson sound and look more like a “lit match” that was thrown with precision and impunity at the firewood in Manipur.
The attack/demolition attempt described at the beginning has been sourced from one of the two video clips that have been doing the rounds on social media for some days.
Some social media users had wrongly identified the Catholic church that was set on fire. Finally it was the Kolkata-based The Telegraph that actually tracked down a person from the vicinity who identified the church and shared “painful” details of the destruction. The person, who actually left Manipur last week, was 300 metres away from the church on May 4 and could see the smoke, this newspaper was told. The on-the-spot scenes were filmed by someone who looks to have been hiding on the roof of the nearby building, often ducking, possibly to evade attention and certain harm.
What is truly chilling is the deliberate manner in which the youth in the red T-shirt proceeds to vandalise the statue of the Resurrected Christ. There is no fear of being apprehended and a single-minded application of mind and physical violence. There is also no presence of any security personnel bringing into direct question the role of the BJP-ruled state.
Manipur is presently governed by the BJP and curfew ought to have been in place. The church is not in a remote area but less than 3.5 km from the Imphal airport. The communities affected still ask about the security arrangements that had supposedly been put in place because the attackers struck with “impunity” in the state capital, that too “during curfew hours”.
Apart from the video, The Telegraph has spoken to at least two people who were in the vicinity that suggest that the attack was pre-planned and meticulous. One of them said the attackers had “visited” the church several times, starting from a day before, May 3. Initially, they had vandalised parts of the church and the Pastoral Training Centre behind it on the night of May 3 and left, before launching the full-fledged assault on May 4 afternoon.
Like the mass displacement of ordinary Indians, Kukis and Meiteis both, this targeted violence against a church and statue of the Resurrected Christ in the capital city of Manipur, Imphal is a shocking blot on the BJP-ruled government. The country’s home minister and prime minister have neither spoken and condemned the violence that broke out in the midst of the last phase of the recently conducted state assembly elections in Karnataka. Nor have they visited the violence torn state.
Meanwhile a peace vigil was held for Manipur under the aegis of the Archbishop in Delhi.
A prayer for peace in Manipur where the 3rd and 4th May targeted violence is the third largest in more than 300 years in the history of the community in India. The candlelight interdenominational prayer on Sunday, 21 May, was held at the Sacred Heart Cathedral with Archbishop Anil JT Couto saying the opening prayer.
Also, Archbishop Peter Mechado has issued the following statement condemning the violence in Manipur.