Manipur Violence Sparks Fears of Religious Conflict
By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (firstname.lastname@example.org)
MANIPUR, NE INDIA (ANS. SEPT. 15) India’s north-east corner consists of seven states linked to the rest of India by a narrow strip of land. Tribal peoples there consider themselves to be very “different” – in culture, identity, and even looks – from the rest of India.
One state, Manipur, on the Myanmar border and about half the size of Switzerland, is made up of a valley surrounded by hills.
According to an article by Ann J. Denail for World Watch Monitor (WWM), the majority Meitei have been Hindu for three centuries and live mainly in the valley. However, nearly all the (hill) tribal peoples (the Naga, Kuki and many others) are now Christian, at least in name, after the activities of Western missionaries who have worked among them during the 20th century.
On Aug. 31 the State Legislature passed three bills with the stated aim “to save the culture, tradition, identity and demographic structure of the indigenous people of the state.”
They are the Protection of Manipur People Bill, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill, and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill.
However, tribal militant groups say it will instead “legalize the tribal peoples’ marginalization.”
9 killed, 20 injured
During militants’ violent reaction in the town of Churachandpur, at least nine were killed and more than 20 injured, according to District Hospital officials.
WWM said police reported that tribal crowds set fire to the homes of senior government officials, including the Minister for Family Welfare, Hill Area Committee Chairman, MP of Outer Manipur, and seven legislators – all of tribal origin.
The crowds accused them of betraying their own people by failing to represent them in the Legislative Assembly. None of the government officials were hurt, as they were all in the state capital, Imphal, at the time.
This violence is deeply rooted in ethnic animosity between the Meitei and the predominantly Christian minority tribal groups in Manipur. Observers foresee the unrest escalating into an ethnic and religious clash if the State government fails to handle the matter well.
WWM said eyewitnesses reported that armed men rushed to the arson sites and opened fire on militant protesters. Later, two unidentified charred bodies were recovered at two separate sites.
Locals speculated these were paramilitary insurgents from the Meitei (disguised as Manipur police commandos), because the bullets recovered were not the same as those issued by central government to State police.
This further increased the suspicions of militant tribals that the majority Meitei population is working with the state government to ostracize the tribal peoples.
Local government imposed a curfew from Aug. 31 in an attempt to curtail further violence. A 12-hour bandh (road block) was called by activist tribal student organizations on Sept. 1, and student groups held a mass rally in the Indian capital New Delhi on Sept. 2.
Kuki tribal associations in the United States said they planned to organize a protest against the Bills in front of The White House in Washington D.C.
“Things are getting worse”
WWM reported that an NGO worker in Manipur for 10 years, said “Things are getting worse. If this tension continues it will be trouble in the entire state, extending all the way to the Myanmar border. This may escalate into a large scale conflict between the majority Hindus and the minority tribal Christians.”
A Christian tribal pastor, who asked not to be named, expressed fear, saying “This might cause persecution and bloodshed for us minority Christians and tribal people.”
Manipur has been constantly disrupted in recent decades by separatist insurgencies, all with different and often competing agendas.
But with the resurgence of Hindu revivalism in mainland India, experts say that ethnic and tribal tensions in the north-east take on a potentially new significance.
For more information visit www.worldwatchmonitor.org
Photo captions: 1) Map of north-eastern India showing Manipur, right, on the border with Myanmar (WWM / Google Earth) 2) Manipuri tribal girls during the Mera Houchongba festival in Kangla Fort, Imphal (Sunday Tribune) 3) Jeremy and Elma Reynalds.
About the writer: Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico’s largest emergency homeless shelter, www.joyjunction.org. He has a master’s degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is “From Destitute to Ph.D.” Additional details on “From Destitute to Ph.D.” are available at www.myhomelessjourney.com. Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife, Elma. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at email@example.com.
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