India: ‘If the government does not intervene, this could go on for months’

The Archbishop of Imphal, in Manipur, India, says that violence is still raging in the state and that the response of the central government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is insufficient.

Violence in Manipur, India continues to rage “here and there,” four months after its initial outbreak in May, according to Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal.

Speaking by phone with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the archbishop said that the situation could continue like this for months, unless the central government seriously intervenes. “We are hoping that the central government steps in. If it says ‘stop,’ I think that the violence will end, but if nobody intervenes, it will carry on.”

But the government’s silence is deafening. Since the crisis began, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not visited Manipur, and he has barely commented on it. “So far, we have not heard him say much, and it has been more than four months. Only once did he make a statement, when videos came out of two girls being paraded around naked. But on the violence in general, he has not said anything.”

India: ‘If the government does not intervene, this could go on for months’
Arson attack on Christian village in the Diocese of Imphal

In May, ACN sent emergency aid for victims of the attacks and has remained in touch with the local Church.

Interethnic and interreligious conflict

According to local media, at least 185 people have died in what began as interethnic fights between the majority Meitei community and the minority Kuki-Chin tribes. But the riots took on a religious dimension, too, since the Meitei are mostly Hindu, and the Kuki-Chin are mostly Christian. Hundreds of churches and Church buildings were destroyed, including those that belonged to Christian Meiteis, which leads Church authorities to conclude that this is also Christian persecution.

“They vandalized and destroyed everything, and then they went away,” said Archbishop Lumon, referring specifically to a large church and pastoral center targeted by the Meitei. “And when the fire was put out, they came back again, to make sure that the church was destroyed. But it does not belong only to the Kukis; it belongs to all of us. We can see that they are also acting out of hatred for Christianity, because Meitei churches were attacked, and non-Kuki religious leaders are fleeing Imphal.” 

The gangs responsible for this are armed, and they act with impunity. The archbishop thinks that they are supported and protected, but he does not know by whom.

Religious communities calling for peace

The Catholic Church is doing what it can to help in Manipur, providing aid and relief to thousands of people, including some 2,400 families, many of whom are still living in camps.

The Church has also heavily invested in dialogue with other religious leaders.

“We created an Interfaith Forum for Peace and Harmony, and we have gathered nine times. We are going to bring the heads of both communities together, to tell the gangs to end the violence. Whether we will succeed or not, we don’t know, but it is our duty to do this. The path to peace is through dialogue, and that is what we are going to stress. Besides that, we can only appeal to the local and central government.”

Archbishop Lumon also asked the international community to pray for peace, and not to forget the conflict in India. “Throughout history, when we forget God, there is always trouble. We need to pray more and follow His commandments, and then He will give us courage and help us to solve our problems.

All over India, Catholics are participating in candlelight processions. Huge crowds of men and women are praying in solidarity with Manipur and marching for peace. And this is happening in other places, too. I feel that God is listening to their prayers, and hopefully there will be a solution soon,” he concluded. 

—Filipe d’Avillez & Maria Lozano