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A Look At Recent Attacks Against Churches In Manipur: Timeline

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Imphal, June 17: The Archbishop of Imphal said in a statement issued on Thursday that he is deeply saddened by the present state of affairs in his Archdiocese. He said that since May 03, 2023, an unprecedented violence and unrest has taken the State of Manipur like a storm. He further said that even after 44 days since the unrest began the violence and arson continues unabated especially in the peripheries of the valley region.

“Precious lives have been lost, houses/villages burned or destroyed, belongings vandalized and looted, places of worship desecrated and set ablaze. Over 50000 people have been displaced and rendered homeless and are languishing in different Relief Camps and homes of individuals. Many have left the capital Imphal and the State to safer places; many have landed in neighboring State of Mizoram, other northeastern states, metropolitan cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, etc. There is complete collapse of the constitutional machinery in the State,” he added.

He said, “Summarily, there is fear, uncertainty and a general sense of hopelessness and desperation.”

Archbishop has mentioned about several Circumstances that have occurred in the state-

He mentioned about the several issues that have been waiting unresolved for a long time, which is gradually building up emotions and general angst among the people of the state.

I. Circumstances

1. Demand of the Meitei community to be listed as a Schedule Tribe (ST) and vehement opposition of the Tribals to this demand

o The endorsement and support expressed by many the Meitei political leaders, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and MLAs
o The opposition spearheaded by the tribal student organizations and CSOs.
o Manipur High Court acting Chief Justice Muralidharan, issued an order advising the government of Manipur to send recommendation to the government of India to include Meitei in the ST list within four weeks.
o subsequent dissent and condemnation by various tribal groups leading to the Solidarity Rally of 03 May 2023 organized by All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM).

2. The initiation of the State Government to survey the Reserved Forests, Protected Forests, Wildlife sanctuaries, etc.
o objection of the tribals to such a survey on the grounds that the designation of such categories of forests do not have the consent of the HAC (Hill Area Committee).
o Eviction and displacement of villages in the Forest lands (most of which are Kuki inhabited villages) which have angered the communities.

3. State Government’s campaign against poppy cultivation in the name of WAR ON DRUGS.

o Most poppy cultivation happen in Kuki inhabited areas funded by rich others.
o Deforestation seen as cause for water scarcity in the valley region (though illegal and unscientific mining activities have depleted the ground water in riverbeds)

4. Open branding of Kuki community as illegal imigrants.

o In campaign against poppy cultivation, mix up of things have happened.
o Calling kuki Christians as poppy planters
o Calling them as immigrants from Myanmar coming and cultivating poppy, etc.
o Considering militant cadres under Suspension of Operation (SoO) as behind all these, considering Kukis as Migrants, and Poppy and Ganja cultivators and Drug dealers.

5. Recent alleged derogatory preaching of Pastor Ramananda could have fed the religious motif

o Not long after the incident a section of Meitei community (Arambai Tengol) pledged to protect their indigenous culture and religion. Members of Arambai Tengol are said to be most active in the perpetration of the present violence.

He further said that all these issues are in some way or the other interconnected and have conveniently mixed, resulting in playing with the sentiments of the people.

Talking about the eruption, he said the final point seems to be

• May 03, 2023- The destruction of the Open Gym and the venue of the CM’s proposed visit to Churachandpur which angered by the eviction of villages,
• May 03, 2023- The Tribal Solidarity Rally which turned violent mainly in Churachandpur area.

He further said that with the news and rumors of violent clashes in Manipur’s Churachandpur area started to spread like wildfire, the Meiteis in Imphal began their hunt for persons of Kuki origin or lineage.

The main reason behind the violence in Manipur are between the Meitei community and the Kuki-chin-mizo community of people.

II. Situation of the people

Talking about the situation of the people he said that the clash between the two communities has affected all the people of Manipur irrespective of which community one belongs. With the complexity of issues giving rise to the situation in the state.

He also asked on “why the President’s Rule is still not an option.”

Further, he said that “what the newspapers are giving are the confirmed cases (above 100) but there are much more lives lost then are officially published.”

III. Religious Dimension of the Unrest

He also said that in the midst of ethnic conflict between the Meiteis and the Kukis, religious attack has been effectively carried out.

IV. Observation (General):

According to his observation (in general), he said that the pretext for attack on the places were that there were shielding the Kukis. Even after verifying the identity of the inmates with ID cards, (in some cases multiple times), and intruding into every room in the house and ascertaining that those they were looking for were not to be found, the mob still attacked.

He said that despite, Churches having no relation to the present conflict became casualties of the present unrest. Some sections of the people have attacked the churches with deliberate motive cannot be ruled out. He said many churches belonging to Meitei Christians were also burnt in several places. He added that claims were made that the churches were attacked as part of revenge for the destruction of a Meitei place of worship in some parts of the State.

However, the number of attacks on churches that had nothing to do with the conflict indicates the strong and active involvement of some fanatical groups in the
pretext of preservation of Meitei customs, cultures, tradition and indigenous religion, he said.

V. Destruction to Catholic Church and Institutions

– May 3rd and 4th: St. Paul’s Parish Church

The St. Paul’s Parish church which is located in Imphal’s Sangaiprou, is a parish where people of ethnic communities of Manipur such Meiteis, Kabui, Tangkhul, Paite, etc. The Parish Church was burnt to ashes in the intervening period of May 3rd and 4th. On May 3rd, at around 8.30 pm the church was attacked by a mob who started smashing and destroying the church and the properties therein.

St. Paul’s Parish after destruction

The final torching of the church took place on May 4th, at around 2.00 pm in the afternoon, after the mob 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 burnt both the Church and the PTC building.

St. Paul’s Parish after destruction

Following the incident, the Parish Priest Rev. Fr. Isaac and Assistant Parish Priest Rev. Fr. Immanuel Kanta (a Meitei himself) along with all present turned panic and run for safety as they had no choice left.

May 3rd and 4th morning: Pastoral Training Centre (PTC)

The Pastoral Training Centre, which was in the same campus, where lay catechists have been receiving training for many years. A Regional training center which has been conducting two years Diploma course for lay Catechists was occupied by altogether 46 inmates (4 Priests, 37 trainees, one animator, one hostel warden, 3 domestic staff). On 3rd night and on 4th morning, the mob entered the training centre and sought the identity of the inmates. The inmates had to identify themselves for multiple times. The Director and Assistant Director reasoned with the crowd that there were no Kuki persons but the mob was satisfied only by going into each room in search of any person who could be hiding. When they did not find anyone, they were looking for then the mob set the PTC building on fire.Also, the house was looted of all remains after the fire.

In the incident, Parish Church, PTC building with all infrastructure, St. Paul boys hostel, two vehicles and four bikes were burnt. Huge number of livestock including chicken and ducks (numbering over 250), pigs and fish in the pond all were confiscated/stolen by the people.

– May 3rd, 2023: Holy Redeemer Parish, Canchipur

At around 8:30 pm, a group of unidentified miscreants armed with iron bars, woods, stones etc. entered the parish campus and forcefully crashed through the gates of Holy Redeemer Parish, Canchipur, Imphal and ransacked the parish church and the presbytery. The incident took place in the presence of 3 to 4 police security personnel but they could not control the situation.

After smashing the doors, windows and the belongings of the Holy Redeemer Parish, Canchipur, the church was set on fire by the mob.

Holy Redeemer Church, Canchipur, Presbytery, Boys Hostel, School after destruction

May 4th, 2023: Holy Cross Church, Kakching Khunou

The mob attacked and vandalized the church of Holy Cross Mission Centre, Kakching Khunou on May 4th, 2023. The mob did not spare the doors, windows, the religious articles and facilities of the church. They even dragged the altar, the ambo, statues and the sound system of the church out in the open and later torched them.

May 4th, 2023: Mary Immaculate Church, Games Village

The Mary Immaculate Church at Games Village, Imphal was burnt to ashes by mob on May 4th, 2023. The church was not spared despite this religious belonged to everyone. However, the majority of the attendees of the church belonged to the Kuki tribe.

St. Mary’s Church, Salungpham, Thoubal District

The St. Mary’s Church, Salungpham, Thoubal District-a Catholic Church in Thoubal District was also burnt. The small village church is supported by 6-7 families, and with this incident, the mob has left no for gathering for worship.

Sacred Heart Parish Church, Yairipok

The Sacred Heart Parish Church, Yairipok faced a very strong and and multiple attempts were made to attack the church at Yairipok. Initially, the mob came with a JCB machine to get inside the campus and bring down the church. Although, after intervention and negotiation led by the local Pradhan and Zila Parishad members, the mob was turned away. Meanwhile, the local Meira Paibis (women folk) are keeping keen watch.

May 5th, 2023: St. Joseph’s Higher Secondary School, Sangaiprou

Despite strong pressure to attack St. Joseph’s School premises, all the inmates, including those displaced persons from PTC had to be evacuated to safety by the security personnel in the presence of the SP with the help of the DC, Imphal West. However, after the evacuation was completed at around 3:00 pm a mob entered the campus of St. Joseph’s Higher Secondary School, Sangaiprou. After the local women folk pleaded with the people not to destroy the school as it was the pride of the locality. The mob destroyed some windowpanes, and entered the hostel cum residence of the principal and robbed some belongings.

On June 13th, a grenade was found within the campus.

– May 4th and May 5th, 2023: St. George High School, Wangkhei

On May 4th, at around 8:30 pm about 5/6 people entered the school to see if they were sheltering some particular tribal communities (Kuki tribe). Police were called and the group was dispersed.

On May 5th, 2023, at around 3:30 pm a mob of 50/60 crashed through the gate, smashed the CCTV camera and entered the campus. After verifying the identity of the
inmates present there, the group left the place when they did not find the people they were looking for.

– May 28th, 2023-June 4th:St. Joseph’s Parish, Sugnu

The Parish Priest and FCC sisters working in St. Joseph’s Parish, Sugnu vacated the parish on May 28th to move to safety.

However, on 4 June 2023, the mob/miscreants belonging to the Meitei community has destroyed the Church, Presbytery, School, Community Hall, students hostel and other belongings.

– Village Churches

Apart from all these religious places, many village churches of the Catholic Kuki villages have all been burnt. However, the exact number is exactly not known as of now.

Dominic Lumon DD, Archbishop of Imphal, further said that the “The Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Imphal, Manipur is pained, saddened and most of all concerned at the situation that has unfolded. I pray that sanity returns, peace, forgiveness and brotherhood is reclaimed and that peaceful coexistence once again becomes a reality. I thank all for your solidarity, wishes and prayers in this time of crisis. Please continue to uphold us in your prayers”

Also Read: Catholic Church in Garo Hills discuss Manipur violence, to hold rallies for peace 

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