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The involvement of a third element visible in Manipur conflict: Archbishop Lumon

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Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal on June 15, 2023, released a scathing report to the Catholic Bishop Conference of India and the Christian community titled ‘An Account on the Violent Unrest in Manipur 2023’.

Archbishop Lumon raises pertinent questions in his report, which need to be thoroughly investigated by the government authorities. The most pertinent revelation or allegation in the report is: The involvement of a third element is visible. 

GoaChronicle.com has in its possession the report released by Archbishop Lumon. In his report, the senior Catholic Church leader stated: After 44 days since the unrest began the violence and arson continue unabated, especially in the peripheries of the valley region. Precious lives have been lost, houses/villages burned or destroyed, belongings vandalized and looted, places of worship desecrated and set ablaze. Over 50000 people have been displaced and rendered homeless and are languishing in different Relief Camps and homes of individuals. Many have left the capital Imphal and the State to safer places; many have landed in the neighboring State of Mizoram, other northeastern states, and metropolitan cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, etc. There is a complete collapse of the constitutional machinery in the State. Summarily, there is fear, uncertainty, and a general sense of hopelessness and desperation.The involvement of a third element visible in Manipur conflict: Archbishop Lumon -

Further revealing disturbing truths about the conflict between the Kukis and Meiteis, Archbishop Lumon, stated: The present unrest religious places have come under attack. Hundreds of churches have been destroyed with a few Meitei temples in Moreh, Churachandpur, and Kangpokpi areas also destroyed. Each of the over 200 Kuki villages attacked had either one or multiple churches, depending on the number of Christian denominations. About 249 churches belonging to the Meitei Christians have been destroyed. All these destructions took place with precision within 36 hours of the start of the violence. The wonder is in the midst of a fight between the Kukis and the Meiteis, why did the Meitei mob burn down and destroy 249 churches located in the Meitei heartland? How is it that there was an almost natural attack on the church in the Meitei localities itself and how did the mob know where the churches were located if not previously planned?

He further elaborated: The revival of indigenous religion and the emergence of militia groups like Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun and their oath-taking ceremony to protect their traditional religion (Sanamahism) and prevent the onslaught of Christianity at all cost is a fact not known to many from outside of the State of Manipur. Reports are that Meitei Christians are warned with dire consequences if not returned to their original religion. Some pastors have been indicated not to rebuild the churches. There is systematic silencing of minorities. Is this not another “Ghar Wapsi”?

Therefore, the involvement of a Third element is visible and very much similar to the riot in Gujarat and Kandhmal (Odisha). Narratives like “war against drugs”, “operation against SoO militants”, and “Fight against illegal migrants from Myanmar” have their own place in the violence but the undercurrent of religious intolerance stands out as the figures speak. In the midst of this orchestrated propaganda, a subtle attack on Christianity seems to have found a clean and unsuspecting space.

Archbishop Lumon also raised questions about the complicity of the state forces. He expressed, “It is hard to say if the State forces were outnumbered or overwhelmed with SOSs or if they were complicit. The absence of security personnel in places where they were most needed raises questions that are unsettling. If there was sincerity, why was it that not even in one place of attack were the state force able to prevent things from running amuck for a prolonged time? Why is it that vulnerable places even after attempted attacks were left unguarded? In the peripheries where sporadic violence keeps happening unabated, the mob is said to be marching alongside the State Police who do nothing when the mob goes about torching houses and looting at will.”

The involvement of a third element visible in Manipur conflict: Archbishop Lumon -According to the opinion of Archbishop Lumon, “The pretext for an attack on the places was that there were shielding the Kukis. Even after verifying the identity of the inmates with ID cards, (in some cases multiple times), intruding into every room in the house, and ascertaining that those they were looking for were not to be found, the mob still attacked.

Churches that had no relation to the present conflict became casualties of the present unrest. The fact that some sections of the people have attacked the churches with deliberate motives cannot be ruled out. Many churches belonging to Meitei Christians were also burnt in several places. Claims were made that the churches were attacked as part of revenge for the destruction of a Meitei place of worship in some parts of the State. However, the number of attacks on churches that had nothing to do with the conflict indicates the strong and active involvement of some fanatical groups in the pretext of preservation of Meitei customs, cultures, traditions, and indigenous religion. The multiple attacks on the churches and hostels with relentless intent is disturbing. The modus operandi in most of these attacks were that the attackers first tried to loot the house and then set it on fire. In places where the houses were not set on fire, the people were vandalizing and looting at will for days.

An organized attack like this cannot just happen unless it was premeditated and planned. While the violence engulfed the State like a storm, the attacks seemed well-planned. The targets of attack also smacked of fanatic elements out to disrupt the existence of Christianity, in the pretext of preservation of culture.”

Highlighting what he sees as the failure of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, and the BJP-led State government, Archbishop Lumon, expressed, “The government of the day has failed in reining in the violence. Silence from the Prime Minister, the cluelessness of the Home Minister even after his visit to the State, and the indecisiveness of the State government to put a stop to the violence is worrying. It cannot shun responsibility and shed off culpability. The situation is volatile. There is unspoken mistrust amongst all the communities of the State.”

The report exposes some of the attacks on the Catholic Churches: St. Paul’s Parish located in Sangaiprou, Imphal is a parish that has members from all ethnic communities of Manipur such Meiteis, Kabui, Tangkhul, Paite, etc. The Parish Church has been burnt to ashes in the intervening period of 3rd and 4th May. On 3rd May 2023, around 8.30 pm a mob came by and began smashing and destroying the church and the properties therein. Windowpanes, doors, the Interior of the church, statues, crucifix, sound system, musical instruments, etc., and whatever was in the church were smashed and the altar was set on fire. The fire was put off by the catechist trainees who live on the same campus.

The involvement of a third element visible in Manipur conflict: Archbishop Lumon -The second and deliberate final torching happened on 4th May. At around 2.00 pm in the afternoon, they walked into the church, collected the cooking gas cylinders from the kitchen of the PTC, and after piling up all the pews and valuables they smashed, looted, and burnt both the Church and the PTC building.

Pastoral Training Centre was occupied by altogether 46 inmates (4 Priests, 37 trainees, one animator, one hostel warden, 3 domestic staff). On 3rd night and on 4th morning, the mob entered and sought the identity of the inmates. The inmates had to identify themselves multiple times. The Director and Assistant Director reasoned with the crowd that there were no Kuki persons. They satisfied themselves by going into each room in search of any person who could be hiding. They did not find anyone they were looking for. Finally, the mob set the PTC building on fire. The house was looted of all remains after the fire.

In the incident of arson, Parish Church, PTC building with all infrastructure, St. Paul boys hostel, two vehicles, and four bikes were burnt. A huge number of livestock including chickens and ducks (numbering over 250), pigs, and fish in the pond were confiscated/stolen by the people.

All this time no security cover was provided. Even the police team who were in the vicinity before the mob arrived were nowhere to be seen. All SOS calls to Emergency Nos. 100 and 112 without any response. Even after the first instance of attack, there was no security deployment leaving it vulnerable to further attacks and eventual destruction. Today when all is destroyed there is 24 hours deployment of police personnel.

He further exposed, “At the Holy Redeemer Parish, Canchipur, on 3rd May 2023 at around 8:30 pm. A group of unidentified miscreants armed with iron bars, wood, stones, etc. came to the parish campus and forcefully crashed through the gates of Holy Redeemer Parish, Canchipur, Imphal, and ransacked the parish church and the presbytery. There were 3 to 4 police security personnel but they could not control the mob. After smashing the doors, windows, and belongings of the church, the mob set the church on fire.”

Violent Unrest Manipur

The focus of Archbishop Dominic Lumon has been the Christian community and the impact of the Kuki-Meitei conflict and violence on the Christians in all communities Kukis, Meiteis, and Nagas.

The involvement of a third element visible in Manipur conflict: Archbishop Lumon -Among those killed in the violent attack of the mobs, three Christians were reportedly burned alive inside an ambulance by a mob on June 4. In Imphal West’s Iroisemba area, Meena Hangsing and her 7-year-old boy, Tonsing  Hangsing, were rushing to a hospital, accompanied by a Meitei Christian neighbor, Lydia Lourembam, after he had been struck by a fragment from a stray bullet fired amid the ethnic conflict. The boy’s mother, a Meitei Christian married to a Kuki Christian, also suffered a hand wound from the gunfire. As their ambulance with a police escort made its way through Iroisemba, a mob of hundreds reportedly surrounded the vehicle. The mob reportedly claimed that the ambulance had previously been used to transport Kuki militants who had later attacked police. Though the mother and neighbor were Meitei, the mob, torched the ambulance and burned alive everyone inside, according to the local media reports.

Archbishop Lumon in his now public report opines that the patterns and the modus operandi over the mob attacks in Manipur on the Christians are to be viewed on the broader perspective of the concern of Minorities in India.

 

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