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250 churches in Northeast India burnt down

How to reconcile?

by Hery Ramambasoa | Mission Crossroads

Displaced people are pictured in a temporary shelter in Majuro. (Contributed photo)

Tomas (not his real name) is a church minister in Manipur, Northeast India. He had teary eyes when he recalled what happened on May 3, 2023.

“I have never seen such violence in my lifetime,” he said. “They systematically ransacked our places. That first night, they burnt down a church nearby. The sky turned red by flames.”

A few months later, it was reported that 250 churches of different denominations had been burnt. For  several weeks, the manhunt continued.

Over 100 people died. The trauma  is unimaginable, especially among  women and children.

“We had to take refuge in camps, and those who could afford it fled to nearby states,” Tomas said.

Today, more than 60,000 people have moved out of Manipur. Families are separated with little hope to reunite soon. The irony in this story is that the attackers are suspected of being Christians themselves, but of a different ethnicity than that of Tomas. So, how did this happen?

The Hindu Meiteis benefit from better infrastructure and government services. They are the majority population but occupy a small percentage of the land. On the other hand, the minority groups, namely the Nagas, Kukis and others, live in the hills. They enjoy much larger territories, with fewer services. Each camp has Christians among its members.

The Hindu Meiteis have contended to be recognized as a “Scheduled Tribe,” and gain further benefits, especially over land. On the other hand, minorities fear that a privileged status would work in favor of the majority. Sadly, Christian communities in both camps are trapped in this vicious circle and were involved in one way or another in the destructiveness. Meanwhile, the authorities were slow to react and left the field open for these acts of violence.

After a time of despair and helplessness, the Northeast India Council of Churches (NEICC) gathered its own courage and decided to convene the leaders from different communities. The council will create a space for discussing grievances, misunderstanding and concerns between ethnic groups. The council is resolute to use its influence to advocate for peaceful and nonviolent resolutions of the conflicts. As a Christian organization, the NEICC will collaborate with other faith-based organizations to promote interfaith understanding. They believe that it is by building relationships across religious lines that they would contribute to a broader sense of unity.

The Presbyterian Church of India is a partner of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It is a member of NEICC, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Council of Churches.

Hery Ramambasoa is Presbyterian World Mission’s acting area coordinator for Asia and the Pacific.

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