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MUMBAI — An advocacy group for Catholic religious in India is calling for more action and better response from the south Asian country’s bishops’ conference, amid ongoing violence in India’s northeastern Manipur State that has seen no fewer than 17 Christians killed and scores of churches and other Christian buildings destroyed.
Ethno-religious violence between the Kuki and Meitei peoples erupted earlier in May. Observers and experts say the Kuki people control much of the land in Manipur, while the Meitei people control the state legislature and hold sway over politics.
According to Open Doors UK, a watchdog group that monitors anti-Christian persecution and supports victims of anti-Christian violence, more than 15,000 people – many of them Christians – have fled their homes and are living in camps. Residents of Manipur spoke last week of a breakdown of law and order, while the BJP-led Hindu nationalist government in the state ordered a crackdown authorizing lethal force and the army reported it had “significantly enhanced” surveillance.
“The situation is slowly limping back to normal,” a Home Ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity told New Delhi’s NDTV at the weekend, “but this issue may deepen the divide between the Meiteis and the Kukis, and can trigger more clashes between the two communities.” That statement came in the context of a briefing at the weekend given by Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh to Home Minister Amit Shah at the latter’s home in Delhi.
The Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace, an organization of Catholic religious men and women in India, has written an open letter to the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India regarding the violence against Christians and Christian institutions in Manipur.
Signed by the Forum’s national convenor, Dorothy Fernandes PBVM, along with national treasurer Anand Mathew IMS and national secretary Antony F. Thekkiniyath OFM Cap., the Forum leadership’s letter registers disappointment with the “lukewarm response” of senior Church leadership “to the increasing violence against Christians” especially since the rise to power of Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist BJP party, with some leaders even expressing “appreciation of the BJP government.”
The Syro-Malabar Major Archbishop, Cardinal George Alencherry, is among the senior Church leaders in India who have faced criticism for apparent support of the Modi regime.
The letter comes in the wake of public interest litigation in the Supreme Court over attacks on Christians, brought by Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore and two Christian organisations.
The letter is critical of churches’ lack of response in spite of a protest at Jantar Mantar in February, which was attended by the Archbishop of Delhi Anil Couto and Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Faridabad.
“Within two months,” the letter says, “the two Archbishops accorded a cordial welcome to PM Narendra Modi at the Sacred Heart Cathedral Church, New Delhi on April 9, 2023 the Occasion of Easter.”
The Forum writes that Christians are “highly confused during this crisis period because of the ambivalent, confusing and even contradicting statements” from church leaders,” and is also upset with the lack of unity among India’s bishops in responding to the current attacks against Christians.
Response from India’s bishops to the violence in Manipur and the general security situation for Christians throughout the country has been mixed.
The letter says that CBCI president, Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, was satisfied with calling for prayers for peace in Manipur, the heads of the Telugu Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Anthony Poola of Hyderabad and Archbishop Machado “had the courage and compassion to condemn the rampant violence in Manipur targeting the Christian tribals and to remind the Central and State government of their responsibility” to protect the lives and property of people and foster religious tolerance.
The Forum notes that Muslims too have faced violence and elimination and that the country is stuck in a “disastrous situation of fascism.”
“The Church cannot be silent or appear to be supportive of the anti-people government,” the writers say, and call upon the CBCI to call an all-India seminar and foster strategies to face the present challenges.