Attack on the worship places sets a grim precedence for inter-ethnic relations in North-East India

G Kanato Chophy
Researcher and Writer

Like with most states in North-East India, ethnic-related dissensions have had plagued Manipur. And it does not take an academic or a trained journalist to know that Manipur’s ethnic conflict is multivariate, but the recent outbreak of violence has brought a much dreaded, pernicious problem to the fore: religious intolerance.

There have been scores of ethnic-related violence that had afflicted the North-East region since the Indian independence, but the people of the region, irrespective of religious backgrounds, have hitherto been spared the intentional and methodical destruction of worship places. The attack on the places of worship in the Imphal Valley area set an alarming trend since religious intolerance and ethnic dissensions are an amalgam that spells doom for the region.

The Manipur Baptist Convention (MBC) has reported that not less than 250 churches were destroyed or burnt to the ground, following the ethnic clashes on 3 May 2003. These include 27 Vaiphei churches, 20 Kuki churches, 5 Chongthu churches, and 3 Thadou churches. Those that suffered the attack on worship places also include 3 Rongmei churches, 2 Tangkhul churches, and 1 Kom-Rem church, though these three communities were not considered part of the conflict. Strikingly, the group that faced the maximum loss was the Meitei believers with a total of 191 churches destroyed. The Meitei Baptist Association headquarters in Wangjing near Thoubal was among the first church institution attacked and destroyed by the mob.

Ironically, the perpetrators happened to be none other than their Meitei brethren. The churches in Manipur are mourning the destruction of their worship places and will have to build from scratch.

They even forwent Mother's Day celebration on 14th May to grieve along with those mothers that had lost their children in the violence. Needless to say, the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount urging believers to be “peacemakers” might be a difficult proposition at the moment. But in the face of insidious religious rhetoric, the church has been called to speak truth to power even at a great personal cost. The day the church peddles lies, half-baked truths, and false propaganda will be the day it fails miserably at its calling.

Amid the ongoing culture war, the greater challenge for the churches in Manipur and the North-East states, in general, is keeping at bay the largely mainstream exported religious polemics that are already at their doorstep and here to stay.

G. Kanato Chophy, researcher and writer