ASIA/INDIA - Tensions in Manipur affect voter turnout: Christians pray for reconciliation and peace

Monday, 13 May 2024 violence  

Imphal (Agenzia Fides) - In Christian churches in Manipur, believers are praying "for real reconciliation and peace", while in the north-east Indian state the tensions following the inter-ethnic violence that broke out a year ago are still felt: this is what was evident above all during the two election days for the Federal Parliament (April 19th and 26th), when the polling stations were almost completely deserted. In the last few days, the Manipur Catholic Youth Organization called for a prayer and solidarity meeting at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Imphal to mark the first anniversary of the violence that broke out in the state on May 5, 2023. The Archdiocese of Imphal has invited all the faithful of the various communities as well as all people of good will from other religious communities to a time of fasting and prayer to "achieve the conversion of hearts so that true peace may flourish in Manipur", commemorating the beginning of the violence a year ago. Since then, ongoing clashes between two ethnic communities (Meitei and Kuki) have left about 200 dead and thousands injured and caused the destruction of 200 villages and 7,000 houses, 360 Christian churches or chapels and some synagogues. Currently, the population continues to live in makeshift shelters organized by the state government and NGOs to accommodate 60,000 displaced people, while the two warring communities have been separated by a "buffer zone" - to bring about initial pacification - but tensions continue to remain dormant, as the reasons for the violence have not been resolved by politicians. The Archbishop of Imphal, Linus Neli, recalled “those terrible and harrowing days.” “We should intensify our prayers for peace and justice among all people,” he says. Meanwhile, the “All Manipur Christian Organization” brought together believers from all denominations in the “Tangkhul Baptist Church”. The Dimapur Christian Forum in the neighboring state of Nagaland also held a solidarity prayer for peace in Manipur to commemorate the violence and call for deep peace. The faithful in other Indian states of the Archdiocese of Delhi joined the celebration in spirit and prayer. As the Indian federation goes through the long process of general elections - on different polling days depending on the location - polling stations in Manipur were almost deserted amid the ongoing climate of fear. Even the candidates did not campaign because they were threatened by armed groups, while the population boycotted the polls to protest against the state government and the federal government, which were accused of not doing enough to stop the violence and address the underlying problems. The conflict largely stems from land rights issues after a state court granted the Meitei, who make up 53% of the population, the same rights to "tribal status" as the Kuki, a group that makes up less than 20% of the population, and thus the possibility of access to land ownership that was previously reserved for ethnic minorities. “The abstention,” say local sources, “is a signal to the institutions that have not yet found a solution to the problem.” In this state of 3.6 million inhabitants, there are only two seats to be filled out of the 543 in the Indian Parliament. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 13/5/2024)