M Sashi Jamir
In 1994 between the months of April and July in just about 100 days, nearly one million ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed in Rwanda. Many have witnessed the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” which depicts the chilling hatred and inhuman killing of innocent people. It is as if the ignominious Rwanda ethnic clashes were rewinding a fresh as the Manipur violence unfolds right in front of our eyes. Since the ethnic clashes between Meitei and Kuki in Manipur began in the month of May 2023, number of people have been killed; fields and properties involving churches burnt down; and thousands have become displaced including scores of helpless women and innocent children. The trauma that many are experiencing is of a lifetime magnitude, and will perhaps last for generations to come.
All the local and national news channels covered the riot of Manipur. Not many local or for that matter national news, reaches international BBC channel. However, and quite surprisingly the ethnic clash of Manipur was in the front page of BBC on multiple occasions. There was an outpouring of condemnation, reflections from different walks of lives; and many communities from the neighboring States of Manipur held well-intended vigil. Moreover, many people were engaged in relief works distributing basic food and other necessities. And yet as time passed on it appears that people were getting immune to the atrocities committed in Manipur. Perhaps, because the internet was banned in Manipur during this time and people were not served with live news. However, this was to be transformed.
On the night of July 19 a video on two young women being brutally paraded naked and molested witnessed by hundreds of onlookers went viral. Although this incident happened earlier it came to light only in the month of July. This video once again reignited the raw emotions of all the people across India. Amazingly this video also broke the drawn-out silence of the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi who has until now chose to not address the turmoil in Manipur.
It is at this juncture that Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) in cooperation with Nagaland Joint Christian Forum and Fellowship of Naga Baptist Associations and Chümoukedima Town Pastors’ Fellowship organized a public gathering on the theme Solidarity and Prayer Watch for Manipur. The gathering was organized at the kairos moment. It is to be noted that the organizers travelled to Manipur a few weeks ago to express solidarity to the people engulfed in violence. The emotion was so charged up that the conflict of the Kuki and Meitei in Manipur was spilling over to the other neighboring States. In retrospection, the crucial element of this gathering was that both the Kukis and the Meiteis residing in and around Chümoukedima and Dimapur were invited and touchingly both the communities came in sizeable number.
Pastor Moses Murry through his reading of the Word, Colossians 3:12-15, and prayer, reminded the gathering to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, to bear with each other and forgive one another, and to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. Niketu Iralu, a peace activist, acknowledged the profound care and concern of those gathered for the current crisis. With a sense of real hope he shared his thoughts that we are doing the right thing. He pointed out the interconnection of all the issues of the crisis that is spreading, and feels inadequate but we must do this just as Jesus taught. We have no choice but to live the way Jesus taught in the dangerous world with overwhelming needs. He poignantly said that what is happening just a few hours away from here can easily happen here in Nagaland. At times like this, intelligent speculation is needed to work out how we are to care for the whole region. In our search together, there is no room for self-righteousness or shallow judging. The same human weaknesses and failures of those who committed the crimes are in each one of us. We cannot rationalize and explain away evil acts and tolerate, instead, we are to condemn the act and we also need to understand what led to these evil ways. The demand for self-examination and to correctly understand how to develop answers and to reason together for the whole northeast region is needed now. A sustainable solution is needed. We should not underestimate the need to develop healthy relationships among all, and make necessary changes in the way we think and live. Mutual trust and goodwill need to be developed.
Listening to prayers, messages from the speakers, and songs – some of the important themes touched were love, peace, shunning hatred and violence. These themes appear to be superficial given the vicious atrocities committed; yet, there was this strong sense of Christian spirit and the understanding that only in Jesus Christ the impossible is made possible.
It was heartening to see Kuki and Meitei communities coming together during such volatile and uncertain period. There is a tendency to downplay the courage and bravery exhibited by these two communities. They appear to be apprehensive; however they did come with an open mind. Not only that but it is telling that both the communities knelt and prayed together for peace and understanding.
Wati Aier, in the words of St. Paul powerfully uttered, “death has been swallowed up in victory.” Quoting from the Bible, I Corinthians 15:55-58, he called upon the people to claim the victory of death through our Lord Jesus Christ. He continued, “We are here because we care from the depth of our hearts. We love, because we are children of common humanity.” He further asserted that, “The creative God in Christ overcomes the tears, the pain, suffering in which we are today, especially the victims and their loved ones.”
In a symbolic act the two communities of Manipur in memory of lives lost due to violence laid fresh white roses. In a sacred moment, they held hands and offered prayers together in hope. We were reminded that God makes us hope differently. Hope born out of the resurrected Christ cannot be exhausted in the cross of our lives and in the cross of Manipur – born out of death, it breaks up the rings of hatred, death and violence. Grasping each other’s hands, the whole congregation offered prayers to live as one in Christ Jesus. It was a powerful testimony of coming together with all our differences, pain, and suffering and to defeat evil, to overthrow powerlessness by the power of God. People are skeptical of prayers however this is not a process of the weaklings. Crossing boundaries, crossing communities, people assembled with a message of God’s peace.
When one reflects upon this gathering, it is encouraging to observe Nagas taking the initiative to come and show solidarity towards the affected communities. The situation of Manipur is complex and multi-layered. There is always the option for the Nagas to sit and be a mere observer from a distance, even applauding for the plight of the affected communities. But through this rally Nagas exhibited that politics and past animosity do not act as deterrence while brothers and sisters are facing violence and death.
This gathering in many ways is a miniature sample of what and how peace can be wrought-in in a violent trodden situation. For some this solidarity and prayer watch might have been merely a showcase from afar. But in reality it displays that one could rise himself/herself from apathy and demonstrates that peace can be waged like war from different levels and angles. May this rally be a journey of recovering PEACE.