17 June 2024

Churches in flames, thousands of Christians displaced as North-East India faces civil war

Tens of thousands of Christians have been displaced amid ongoing violence in Manipur state. Picture: Open Doors

Maya Pilbrow

29 May 2023

Tens of thousands of Christians have been displaced due to ongoing conflict in north east India as aid groups worry the region is on the brink of civil war.

Open Doors Australia has confirmed at least 60 people have died and more than 300 churches have been burned down during community-wide rioting in Manipur state.

Violent confrontations between the majority-Hindu Meitei people and the majority-Christian Kuki tribe have increased throughout May.

This comes after the pro-Hindu state government recommended the Meitei people be considered a Scheduled Tribe, an official designation within the Indian constitution that includes protections for land rights.

Protests by Kuki people worried this decision would allow Meitei people rights over ancestral Kuki land have resulted in riots, beatings and arrests.

Open Doors communications specialist Jordan Scott said people deserved the chance to peacefully protest without risking mob violence and mass arrests.

She said thousands of Christians’ homes had been destroyed and tens of thousands of people displaced.

Ms Scott said the scale of the conflict meant Manipur was on the brink of civil war. She said the destruction of property that had occurred would require long-term recovery.

Read more: In India, violence against religious minorities is on the rise. Why won’t Australia speak up?

An Open Doors field partner who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal said food, supplies and shelter would help in the immediate future, but spiritual wounds and scars of the heart would take longer to heal.

Human Rights Watch South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said violence between Hindu and Christian groups had erupted recently after a rise in Hindu majoritarian rhetoric from political leaders including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Ms Ganguly said religious minorities in India often had no recourse after being victimised, as authorities often did nothing or even contributed to the violence. She said Manipur had a long history of ethnoreligious conflicts.

“The primary responsibility is for the state to not be partisan, to ensure the protection of all citizens now, and to not allow political bias,” she said. “And we worry that may not be happening in Manipur.”

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