“More than 50 lives have been lost, hundreds injured, and over 20,000 people have been evacuated and encamped under military protection,” explained Pillay. “Several churches have been burnt and destroyed.”
Manipur has been riven by ethnic and religious tensions for many years. The Hindu Meiteis are the majority population of the State but occupy a small percentage of the land, mainly in the plain, where government infrastructures and services are concentrated. However, the minority tribals (Nagas, Kukis, Zomis and others), mostly Christians, are a demographic minority but occupy a much larger territory, mostly the hilly terrain where government services are lacking.
Members of the tribal communities are encompassed by the affirmative action policies of the government as a “Scheduled Tribe” and thus potentially benefit from “reservations” in employment, education, elections, etc. The Meiteis have long demanded inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe designation, while the Christian tribal communities oppose this demand. According to them, if the Meiteis are granted Schedule Tribe status, the constitutional and legal protection given to the marginalized tribals of Manipur will be rendered meaningless.
“This longstanding dispute has now resulted in the recent eruption of ethnic and communal clashes between the Meiteis and Nagas-Kukis. As the minority community, the Christian Tribals have suffered the worst impacts.
“The WCC condemns the violence, appeals to all parties to refrain from further attacks, and requests that the authorities take appropriate nonviolent measures to restore peace and normalcy,” said Pillay. “Sustainable peace is, however, far more than the mere absence of violence, and ultimately only justice and reconciliation can bring lasting peace.”
Pillay added that, at this time of crisis, the WCC stands in solidarity with the affected communities, particularly with the churches who have faced the brunt of the communal violence.
“The global ecumenical fellowship is in prayerful accompaniment of the National Council of Churches in India, the North East India Christian Council, and the Council of Baptist Churches in North East India, and other member churches and partners in the region, in these difficult times,” said Pillay.