Rioting mobs have destroyed at least 40 churches and forced thousands of Kuki, Zomi and other minority hill-dwelling tribes — most of them Christians — from their homes in the Manipur State of northeast India.
“This is ethnic cleansing, as well as religious persecution,” said Pastor Thong Kho Lun of Greater Houston Burmese Christian Fellowship, which has a longstanding ministry among refugees from Myanmar.
Thong has been in close contact with Christians in Manipur, including Thongkhosei Haokip, general secretary of the Kuki Baptist Convention, who asked Christians in America to pray.
Looting, vandalism and arson began in Manipur on May 3. Riots broke out in response to protests that focused on calls for the government to grant Scheduled Tribe status to the Meitei people, a predominantly Hindu group who constitute the majority population in Manipur.
Members of scheduled tribes constitutionally are granted certain property protections and have access to political representation, educational benefits and affirmative action in employment.
Tensions between the majority Meitei people and minority tribes in Manipur over land ownership and affirmative action have existed for decades. However, Thong said, Christians in the region blame the latest surge of violence on a rising tide of militant Hindu nationalism.
“Mobs started burning churches, and then they went house to house,” Thong said, noting his sources said members of the mob secured weapons by raiding local police stations.
“The police cannot control the mobs,” he added.
An undetermined number of people have been killed in the ensuing violence, but Vee Tetseo, general secretary of the Asia Pacific Baptist Federation, provided a list of 16 named fatalities, 27 burned villages and at least 10 Baptist churches destroyed, along with a field office and staff quarters in Meitram.
Some sources indicate up to 40 Kuki churches and 20 Meitei churches have been burned. Precise numbers are difficult to obtain because internet connections have been disabled and travel is limited.
Some female students at a Christian boarding school reportedly were sexually assaulted.
The Times of Israel reported two synagogues were burned down and a Torah scroll was torched.
Reuters reported authorities evacuated about 20,000 people to camps guarded by the military.
Thong said his sources in Manipur said evacuees in the camps are subsisting primarily on bread and water, and even that is in short supply.
Call for peace
The Asia Pacific Baptist Federation issued a statement condemning “all forms of violence” and calling for “calm and the restoration of peace in Manipur.”
The federation — a regional affiliate of the Baptist World Alliance — includes 65 member conventions and unions in 22 countries and more than 40,000 churches.
To read full story and statement, click here.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was edited for length, brevity and was written by Ken Camp. The article was originally published by the Baptist Standard.