MANIPUR, India (BP) – Violence erupted against Christians in Manipur, India, last week amid political turmoil and tension between the Hindu population and minority Christian groups.
Reports of the attacks against Christians included the burning of more than 50 churches, the destruction and looting at more than 1,000 other buildings, with thousands left homeless and fleeing to find safety, injuries to more than 300 and the death of more than 60. These updates were relayed to Baptist Press by Kamlen Haokip, Burmese pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky, and native of Myanmar (Burma).
Describing the situation in Manipur as “chaos,” Haokip said there may be more violence to come. The pastor has extended family living in Burma near the Indian border as well as contacts throughout India.
Haokip explained there has been long-standing tension between the religious groups in Manipur, specifically the majority Hindu people group (60 percent of Manipur’s population) known as “Meiteis,” and several minority or “tribal” Christian groups such as the “Chin,” “Mizo,” “Zomi,” “Zo” and “Kuki,” which is Haokip’s tribe of origin. These minority tribal Christians in Myanmar objected to suggested legislation by the Manipur High Court, which they believe will take away several of their rights and affect their religious freedom.
According to a release from evangelical advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a group of more than 60,000 tribal Christians began peacefully protesting in the city. In the following days, violence broke out in the nearby cities of Imphal and Churchandpur. Clashes between the Kuki and Meiteis ensued.
Meitei people looted buildings, burned churches, and committed violence against minority Christians in both cities, Haokip reported.
Many Christians suspect foul play from the government, partially due to the demolition of several churches by the state government as part of an eviction drive last month. A petition filed by the Manipur Tribal Forum, claims “the attacks had the full support of the party in power in the State as well as the Centre which supports the dominant group and has planned the attacks on account of a non-secular agenda.” The petition was heard by the Supreme Court on May 8 and another hearing is scheduled for May 17.
Haokip said just about all tribal Christians in the two cities were affected by the violence, including many of his former ministry friends and colleagues. Of the buildings which were burned, many were Baptist churches or Baptist-affiliated properties, such as the Kuki Baptist Convention building, which was completed lost. Haokip said his emotions toward the attackers are varied.
“I’m really angry and I’m really sad,” he said. “And on the other hand, I pray for the Meitei group, ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.’”
In addition to these mixed feelings, Haokip also experienced a deeply personal sense of thankfulness and relief. Last September, Haokip’s wife and daughter were reunited with him in the U.S. after being separated from him in Burma and India for more than four years. One of the places his wife and daughter stayed while waiting for entrance to America was a house in Imphal. That house was destroyed in the recent violence.
“I’m so grateful to our Christians in the States who have been praying for my family,” Haokip said. “We did what we can from the human point of view. … The rest has been the prayer and the power of God and God opening doors. I’m so grateful God answered our prayer. Now we are together, praying together and serving our church together here.”
“Pray for God’s intervention in the region. Pray for peace, law and order in the region. People ran for safety and for their lives. They will need a lot of help, healing and hope,” he added. “Pray for families and relatives that lost loved ones. Pray for pastors, ministers and leadership. Pray for a good outcome out of this chaos for God’s own glory. Pray for revival outbreaks in India, that many will come to Jesus and be saved.”