Imphal (Agenzia Fides) - New violence is recorded in the Indian state of Manipur, the scene of an ethnic conflict which, in recent months, has inflamed the region of North-East India (see Fides, 9/5/2023 and 9/6/2023). As Fides learned, on September 8, in Pallel, a village in the district of Tengnoupal, clashes between the Kuki and Meitei ethnic groups left two dead and around forty injured. Warring communities in Manipur have accused each other of being behind the attack. Police stationed in the area used tear gas to disperse the crowd and end the clashes.
According to local sources, armed men attempted to set fire to the village and vandalize it. This information sparked a reaction from the Meitei communities, who gathered and marched towards the scene of the conflict, trying to break through the security barriers. The day before, a curfew was imposed in the five districts of the Manipur valley as a preventive measure. Since March, when a Manipur High Court ruling ordered the inclusion of the predominantly Hindu Meitei community in the list of "scheduled tribes", the rule of law situation in Manipur has deteriorated. The predominantly Christian Kuki and Naga communities began strong protests against the High Court's decision and a wave of violence erupted in the state in early May and continues to this day. As a result of these clashes, 70,000 people were internally displaced and more than 200 people died as a result of the protests, which quickly turned into hostility and violence between ethnic groups. More than 3,700 properties were destroyed, including homes, temples and churches. Although the conflict in Manipur began on an ethnic basis, the religious element - given the different faiths of the conflicting groups - was quickly used to inflame tensions (just look at the more than 200 churches and chapels destroyed or damaged, as reported by Dominic Lumon, Catholic Archbishop of Imphal), exacerbating polarization between communities (see Fides, 6/7/2023).
United Nations experts have expressed concern over the "slow and inadequate response" by the Indian government in handling the violence that broke out in Manipur. In a statement on September 4, a group of 19 UN experts stressed that "inflammatory and hateful speech," broadcast locally and online, has contributed to violence, particularly against women belonging to the Kuki community, based on their "ethnicity and religious beliefs". The group calls on the Indian government to scale up relief operations, conduct a prompt and thorough investigation into the violence, and hold accountable those responsible, including public officials who may be complicit in incitement to hatred and ethnic and religious violence.
The humanitarian crisis in Manipur is described as "monumental" by a local human rights monitoring group known as "Karwan-e-Mohabbat" ("Caravan of Love"). In the interviews collected by "Karwan-e-Mohabbat", the victims recount the dramatic experience they went through when they had to flee their homes because of the violence. The situation was aggravated by the alleged complicity of security forces during the violence, with crates of weapons looted from the state armory, fueling the spread of firearms among conflicting groups. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the first public statement on the violence on July 20 - more than two months after the clashes began - when harrowing videos showing two Kuki women being humiliated and tortured in public circulated online. In response to the UN experts' report, the Indian government called the document "unjustified and misleading", rejecting the allegations. Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an NGO that monitors the situation on the ground, "shares the concerns raised by the 19 UN experts and calls on the Indian government to end the violence in the state and ensure that the perpetrators be brought to justice". Indian civil society groups such as "Karwan-e-Mohabbat" are calling on the government to take immediate steps to end the current violence and reaffirm its strong commitment to peace and security. They also highlight the critical situation of survivors of violence and call for the provision of medical services, material and psychological assistance as well as the creation of a special fund intended to fully compensate survivors. NGOs call on institutions to support organizations that seek ways of dialogue between the parties to the conflict in order to find glimmers of peace. Among the organizations involved, the North East India Regional Bishops' Council, the Council of Catholic Bishops in the region, studied and applied Pope Francis' encyclical "Fratelli Tutti" to find concrete means of reconciliation and promote fraternity. A recent pastoral conference held in Guwahati, Assam, September 8-10, attended by some 180 delegates from the 15 dioceses of northeast India, expressed deep solidarity with the people of Manipur, ravaged by four months of inter-ethnic violence. "We live in a time when hatred, communal tensions, murders, polarization and vandalism are increasing in our region. Pope Francis' encyclical 'Fratelli Tutti' can serve as a manual for us to restore peace, fraternity and social friendship between people", said John Moolachira, Archbishop of Guwahati. "In a climate of hatred and division, that text invites us to consider others as our brothers and sisters and to grant them love, respect and acceptance, rather than considering them as simple numbers or, worse, as enemies", he added. "In the multicultural, multilingual and multi-religious context of Northeast India, and in light of the ethnic and religious violence currently plaguing Manipur, Fratelli Tutti is an invitation to commit ourselves to building a fraternity that makes everyone participate in a larger human family", confirmed Thomas Pullopillil, Bishop of Bongaigaon. Northeast India is today one of the regions of India with the highest concentration of citizens of the Christian faith: of the approximately 27.8 million Christians in the country, 7.8 million are in the northeast region. "Being a significant group in the region means that Christians must take full responsibility in promoting brotherhood with people of different faiths, languages, cultures and ethnicities", the assembly said. To this end, the assembly listened to and studied the text of the Salesian priest Barnabas Mawrie, who presented a document entitled "Understanding Fratelli Tutti from a tribal perspective". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 11/9/2023)