Religious nationalism India | 26 May 2023

India: Violence in Manipur – ethnic and religious background

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As reported by Asia News on 4 May 2023, violence erupted in the north-eastern Indian state of Manipur, sparked by “tensions between lowland ethnic Meitei, who are mostly Hindu and Muslim, and Naga and Kuki/Zo tribal groups, who are predominantly Christian and live in hilly areas. The bone of contention is the request by the Meitei, who are more than 50 per cent of the population, for Scheduled Tribe status, which under Indian law provides certain benefits such as quotas in public employment, political representation and land rights.” A later report by HRWF on 22 May 2022, stated that in the weeks since 3 May, 60 Christians were killed, 35,000 tribal Christians had fled their homes and 397 churches and six Christian institutions had been left in ruins. Quoting a local source, the report stated: “It is alleged that these structures were primarily targeted and destroyed by Meitei Hindus.”

An analyst working with World Watch Research comments: “There is no doubt that this is a serious conflict: Dozens of people have been killed, hundreds injured, churches and homes have been damaged or destroyed, and tens of thousands have been forced to leave their homes or villages – many of those affected are Christians. But what is really going on? The two main tribal communities in Manipur (in the hilly areas) are Kukis (who have been the targets) and Nagas. Both tribes have significant Christian population. It should be noted that the churches attacked so far are Kuki churches, while Naga churches have not been attacked. This gives us an indication that the target is Kuki institutions and Kuki people rather than the church per se. It seems that the Nagas are not being attacked because the Naga People's Front (a political party representing Nagas across the Northeast) is in alliance with BJP in some of the north-eastern states.”

The analyst concludes: “There is no guarantee that this sudden wave of violence could not escalate in the future into full blown religious persecution against Christians (especially if the BJP and RSS decide to get involved). However, with the 2024 general elections on the horizon, it would seem unlikely that the BJP would want to antagonize the considerable Christian population of the Northeast. It is most likely that the union government’s ruling party will try to intervene on a political or legal level, rather than take the dispute to the streets.”

[Text revised: 9 June 2023]


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