Invoking God for peace in strife-torn Manipur, hundreds of people on Sunday evening, May 21, gathered at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi in solidarity with those suffering in the north-eastern state.
Bishops, priests, and pastors from different Christian denominations and religions, together with a multitude of people prayed for peace in Manipur. A place rocked by sectarian violence involving two tribal groups – the Meitei community and the Kuki tribals.
The Federation of Catholic Associations of Archdiocese of Delhi in collaboration with the North East Catholic Community of Delhi (NEECOD) and the Commission for Ecumenism led the prayer rally.
Conflicting views on the issue of granting special tribal status to the majority Meitei Hindu community have caused unprecedented violence resulting in 71 deaths, 250 individuals injured, 121 churches and church-run institutions, and thousands of houses damaged, and displaced nearly 50,000 people.
“What pained and saddened us most besides the loss of precious lives is the destruction of places of worship. Never before during any such strife have so many places of worship been destroyed. This just goes to show that not the warring tribals but there were other elements involved in the large-scale violence,” said Archbishop Anil JT Couto of Delhi.
The prelate said the prayer rally for Manipur aimed to express solidarity with the people of the state, “who continue to suffer much violence despite clamping of curfew and suspension of internet services.”
Despite the large presence of security forces, the extension of curfew hours, and the suspension of internet services, violence continues with fresh incidents. On May 22, it was reported that three houses were burned down in the capital city of Imphal.
“By holding a candlelight procession we are giving out the message that this light signifies Divine Light; whatever be the provocation we should not resort to violence. Be witnesses of His love, peace of His Kingdom and the Gospel,” the archbishop said.
Patricia Chinir of NEECOD said the Manipur violence has shown that “ordinary humans like you and me are capable of great evil.”
“Those who participated in killings, beatings, and torching of houses and vehicles were erstwhile neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances, workers, students, etc,” she said.
A Christian leader, who requested anonymity, told LiCAS.news that “violence broke out following a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ organized in the hill districts on May 3 to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe status.”
He said his uncle and his younger son died of burn injuries when their house and vehicle were torched. “The situation is really bad, we are living in fear. I have brought my family to Delhi. I don’t know whether I will ever get back or find my house intact,” he said.
The Kuki tribal said Meitei community members are already well off. They have greater representation in the police and government jobs. If they are given Schedule Tribe status they will not only get quotas in government jobs and colleges but also be entitled to ownership rights in the hills and forests – the reason why the Kuki tribals are opposing it.
The Meitei community, which makes up 50 percent of the state’s population is predominant in Imphal and in the plains, while the Naga and Kuki – the two mostly Christian tribes from Churachandpur, hail from hilly and forested areas. Naga and Kuki tribes, which enjoy Scheduled Tribe status, consist almost 40 percent of the state’s 3.2 million population.
Scheduled Tribes are among the most socio-economically disadvantaged groups in India. The status provides them with land-owning rights in the hills and forests as well as quotas in government jobs and colleges.