05/16/2023, 20.56
INDIA
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The bishop of Imphal calls for support and peace for people displaced in Manipur

by Nirmala Carvalho

The archdiocese has appealed for relief for more than 45,000 refugees, victims of clashes between ethnic Meitei and Kiku. A tense calm imposed by the army reigns in the state’s 16 districts. Meanwhile, the death toll has reached 60. Some 40 churches have been affected, including Catholic facilities in eight locations. The attacks appear to have been planned. The Church is trying to lead the way towards reconciliation.

Imphal (AsiaNews) – Shaken since 3 May by serious violent unrest that has left at least 60 people dead, the situation in the eastern state of Manipur is one of “fear, uncertainty and a general sense of hopelessness,” writes Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal.

In a statement, the prelate on behalf of his archdiocese calls for relief to help thousands of people displaced by the devastation that left homes and churches in ruin following clashes between mostly Hindu majority Meitei and mainly Christian minority Kiku in the small state on the border with Myanmar, home to some 3.4 million people.

The army has restored a precarious calm imposing a curfew in the state capital of Imphal and all 16 districts of the state following the clashes, but wounds are deep.

“Two communities are warring’” reads the statement, but the situation “has affected all the people of Manipur irrespective of which community one belongs. [. . .] Many lives have been lost, villages/hamlets in the foothills have been vandalised, looted and torched.”

Overall, “Thousands have fled their homes and have reached some shelter camps. About 45,000 people are in relief camps in the valley and the hills. Around 13,800 in Imphal West, around 11,800 in Imphal East, around 4,500 in Bishnupur, 5,500 in Churachandpur, around 7,000 in Kangpokpi district.

"This information is based on daily newspapers and our own intelligence, but the number may be higher. Spot verification is not possible because the situation is tense. An economic blockade is also looming."

Given this, the archdiocese has launched an appeal asking the faithful to contribute by sending basic necessities or money to a fund assistance.

"The situation is volatile. There is unspoken mistrust among all the communities of the state", wrote a few days ago the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Imphal, Fr Varghese Velikakam, in a detailed report sent to all the bishops of India.

The text, accompanied by pictures of the devastation, describes the violence and the causes that originated it.

“Extensive destruction to private homes and property have been inflicted on both sides. Vandalism and looting of properties in broad daylight is the uneasy order of the day in many pockets.

“Along with private properties, many churches have been the target of attack in many parts of the valley region. Unconfirmed numbers of the destroyed (mostly burnt) churches are more than 40.  The Catholic Church and its institutions have suffered the fury of the mob in at least eight places”.

“Many lives have been lost. What the newspapers are giving are the confirmed cases but there are many more lives lost than are officially published. [. . .] Many people, especially the student community, have been forced to move out of Imphal,” the report goes on to say.

“The central armed forces are assisting the State government in maintenance of law and order. It is hard to say if the State forces were outnumbered or overwhelmed with SOSs or if they were complicit. The absence of the security personnel in places where they were most needed raises questions that are unsettling,” the report reads.

“[W]hy was it that not even in one place of attack were the state force able to prevent things from running amuck for a prolonged time. Why is it that vulnerable places even after attempted attacks were left unguarded?” the vicar general asks.

In fact, we cannot rule out that “some sections of the people have attacked the churches with deliberate motive”, while “The multiple attack on the churches and hostels with relentless intent is disturbing.”

“Many churches belonging to Meitei Christians were also burnt in several places”. Some attacks “had nothing to do with the conflict, [which] indicates the strong and active involvement of some fanatical groups on the pretext of preserving Meitei customs, cultures, tradition and indigenous religion.” This suggests that violence “was premeditated and planned”.

"The healing process will take time," notes Fr Velikakam, wondering who will be able to start it, given the obvious responsibilities of the local government.

“The Church must go slow and assess the situation and refrain from too hasty decisions,” which could be construed as biased. She “must maintain neutrality and foster peace and unity.”

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