The authorities want to create new districts in areas inhabited for centuries by mostly Christian tribal Nagas and Kukis. The tribal council blocked goods to the state. Majority Hindus reacted by attacking two Baptist churches. The local Catholic Church is working for dialogue and a well thought out solution.
Imphal (AsiaNews) – A curfew has been imposed on the city of Imphal, capital of the Indian state of Manipur, after two Baptist churches were attacked and threats were made to stop Christmas celebrations.
The church attacks are the culmination of a month-long acts of violence and tensions, following the state government's decision to set up seven new districts in the Naga Hills, an area inhabited mainly by tribal Naga and Kukis, two mostly Christian ethnic groups.
Local sources told AsiaNews that this is not a religious issue, but rather a political and territorial dispute that eventually culminated in the church attacks, perpetrated by majority Meiteis, a mostly Hindu ethnic group.
The Joint Peace Mission Team (JPMT) in north-eastern India intervened in an effort to restore peace, by appealing “to the Good Will of all groups and communities concerned to avoid anything that would merely go to aggravate the situation. We urge the representatives of all groups concerned to enter into a serious dialogue to explore ways of coming to an understanding about what will contribute to the long-term good of Manipur and all the communities who live there.”
The situation developed in early November, when the government decreed a new territorial division, negatively affecting tax-free areas (inhabited by tribal people) in the Naga Hills mountain range.
Members of the United Naga Council (UNC) responded by erecting barricades on two highways used to bring in supplies to the State.
The situation got worst on 15 December during the inauguration of the new Lokchow district. Tribal militants of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland attacked a Manipur police station, killing three policemen and injuring 14 others.
Unrest broke out in the capital in subsequent days, with vehicles set on fire and some home-made bombs thrown in the streets.
Finally, two churches were attacked on 17 December. In the case of the Manipur Baptist Church, vandals pelted the building with stones. In the case of the Tangkhul Baptist Church, threats were made to torch the place of worship if prayers were held.
The attackers, Meitei men and women, posted a sign on the wall of the Manipur Church saying “No one is allowed to worship and celebrate Christmas without prior permission”
To avoid further violence, the State government imposed a curfew in the capital and suspended mobile phone communications at least until Christmas.
India’s Union (federal) government intervened today, sending 4,000 paramilitary troops to patrol the streets and quell inter-ethnic violence.
Rev Solomon Rongpi, co-chair of the JPMT Christian group and general secretary of the Baptist Church, expressed concern about the real problems facing the community and called for "careful handling" of the situation.
Thanks to the Christian efforts of peacemaking, a meeting was held yesterday between Naga, Kukis and Meiteis. Witnesses report that the tête-à-tête was positive and they hope for a timely resolution of the crisis.
Mgr Thomas Menamparampil, Catholic archbishop Emeritus of Guwahati and JPMT co-chair, appealed to everyone to reflect and engage in dialogue “for a well thought-out solution. Meanwhile, pray for Manipur.”