A Catholic charity has strongly condemned narratives of the recent conflicts in Manipur which eliminate all mention of the religious dimension of the situation.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) stressed the importance of not oversimplifying the conflict at a roundtable event yesterday (5th September) in Portcullis House, Westminster, chaired by Baroness Caroline Cox.
ACN’s John Newton challenged the description of the violence in Manipur as “ethnic clashes” between the Kuki and Meitei tribes.
He said: “This narrative is problematic for a number of reasons, not least because it is being used as a strategy to tipp-ex out any religious dimension from the conflict.”
He cited one online analysis from the BBC, which states: “the conflict is strictly rooted in ethnicity, not religion”.
Dr Newton presented evidence ACN received from its project partners in Manipur underlining the religious undertones of the conflict.
He began by presenting the case of Holy Redeemer Parish Church, in Canchipur, which saw “a group of unidentified people, armed with iron bars and sticks come to the parish and forcefully crash through the gates”.
The mob proceeded to loot all valuable assets – including computers, electronic devices, and gas cylinders – before ransacking the rooms of the priests, vandalising the property and setting fire to an accommodation block.
Dr Newton continued his talk by discussing the case of St Paul’s Church, Sangaiprou, which was attacked on the 3rd and 4th of May.
At around 8.30pm on the 3rd, a mob came to the church and began destroying the property and desecrating holy objects such as statues and crucifixes.
They went on to set the altar on fire, before fleeing the scene. The fire was extinguished by those living within the parish church grounds.
At around 2pm the following day the mob returned, this time looting both the church and the adjacent Pastoral Training Centre. They then collected the gas cooking cylinders from the centre’s kitchen and set these alight, burning the church to the ground.
St Paul’s Church was one of 249 Meitei churches destroyed within the first week of the violence in Manipur.
Dr Newton concluded that since Meiteis were targeting churches in Meitei areas, the narrative around exclusively “ethnic clashes” cannot be supported.
He ended his speech by stressing the nuanced approach Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal, who has spoken about religious attacks being carried out within the context of an ethnic conflict.
Other speakers included former BBC World journalist David Campanale, Lord David Alton of Liverpool and CEO of Open Doors (UK and Ireland) Henrietta Blyth.