It has been almost three months since the State of Manipur in India has been in flames. The latest news reports speak about 140 or more people killed, 50,000 or more people made destitute and homeless, many hiding in forests, 317 churches burned, and 6137 homes set ablaze. It is indeed a colossal human tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes, and the power centers in the State or at the Center seem to be cavalier in their approach to a resolution.
The Godi media in India is spinning the story as an age-old rivalry between two ethnic groups, and many pundits have dismissed it as some tribal infighting that occurs relatively often. However, there is little doubt that since the 3rd of May, the Kuki-Zomi tribals have been at the receiving end of this horrible attack, which has all the designs of a well-orchestrated and planned campaign of ethnic cleansing. Kuki-Zomi forms about 16% of the population of Manipur, and the Meiteis, predominantly Hindus, make up about 53% of the State.
There is a raging debate over whether this ongoing crisis has any religious undertones! There is no doubt that it all started with an effort by the State Government to empower the Hindu majority at the expense of the Scheduled Tribes (mostly Christians) as regards their land rights. A writ petition filed in the High Court by members of the Meitei Tribe Union towards that goal appeared to have produced a ruling in favor of Meities, triggering the current mayhem. These anti-tribal policies are increasingly put in place in various states by the BJP government. Fr. Stan Swamy is a victim of those disastrous initiatives supporting crony capitalists that have hurt the indigenous and tribal people across India.
The attacks appeared to have been pre-meditated and well-planned. In the valley, the reports indicate the precision pinpointing of minority houses that were selected and burnt. The Hindu militants, who mostly belong to Arambai Tenngol and Meitei Leepun, appeared to have the tacit support of the Police and the law enforcement authorities. As per sources, it has now been revealed that over 4000 weapons, including sophisticated ones, have been looted from different locations in Manipur since the unrest began. These arms appeared to have played a critical role in exacerbating the violence. Using mortars against fleeing Kukis-zomi refugees to the forest to escape death and destruction may point to a higher-level conspiracy in aiding and abetting these militant groups.
It is also a known fact that there are Christians among the Meities. According to Dominic Lumon, the Archbishop of Imphal, 249 churches belonging to the Meitei Christians had been destroyed within 36 hours since the start of the violence. He said, “The wonder is, amid the fight between the Kukis and the Meiteis, why did the Meitei mob burn down and destroy 249 churches in the Meitei heartland? How is it that there was almost a 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 attributed these attacks to the revival of Sanamahism, and the emergence of groups like Arambai Tenggol and Meitie Leepun.
Therefore, the theory that has been promoted by vested interests that there is hardly any religious angle to the whole unrest is quite suspect. BJP has long been critical of Northeastern states and blamed foreigners, especially missionaries, for their separatist tendencies. Although people in those states are apprehensive about the Hindutva agenda, they have given in to supporting the party because it allows proximity to state power and, more importantly, to central funds. After the BJP took control of the central government in 2014, political leaders in these states gradually switched loyalties to the BJP. Now, they are beginning to pay a heavy price for their wanton disregard for making crucial decisions.
While looking back at recent BJP history, the initial grabbing of power in Manipur and the subsequent unrest and violence come directly from the BJP playbook. According to Human Rights Watch, a majority of the reported incidents of violence against Christians in 1998 occurred in the western State of Gujarat, the same year that the BJP came to power in the State. The year began with an unprecedented hate campaign by Hindutva groups and culminated with ten days of nonstop violence against Christian tribals and the destruction of churches and Christian institutions in the southeastern districts at the year’s end. Human Rights Watch investigated these attacks in Dangs district in southeastern Gujarat. The events were preceded by escalating violence throughout the State in which many police and state officials were implicated. Biren Singh, the Chief Minister of Manipur, seems to be following the same model. Before the current crisis, his government bulldozed three churches in the name of an anti-encroachment drive, though some have existed since the early 70s in Imphal’s’ East district Tribal colony.
Despite widespread destruction and human loss of lives, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept a vow of silence until now while making several important state visits to various capitals around the world, including the United States. His primary constitutional duty is to protect the lives and property of every citizen of India, regardless of caste, religion, or region. Yet, this leader of a great nation, whose aim is to make India the Vishwaguru and would readily tweet if a cricketer is involved in an accident, found it convenient to close his eyes to a State ablaze under his premiership. On his foreign visits, he often asks foreign leaders, especially in Christian-majority countries, to protect Hindu shrines and safeguard their sanctity. Yet, he is pretty undaunted about the destruction of 300 or more Christian Churches under his watch. His External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar who has specialized in propaganda, could always rationalize his thoughts in the name of traditions and culture, and even as he has redefined human rights, one that would fit the people of his stripes abroad and the other for the marginalized communities in his homeland.
For astute political observers, Manipur is coming apart at its seams, and so does the rest of India. The politics of polarization championed by the Modi administration is taking its toll on human lives and personal properties. However, more than anything else, transforming trajectories are not only causing the alienation of its people and the dismantlement of its institutions but also destroying the moral underpinnings of a great country. The party that prides itself on nationalism has given the impetus to the extremist elements to tear the nation apart for the selfish pursuit of power regardless of its consequences. Who is anti-national now: is that someone who drives the country towards disintegration with odious policies using religion as a tool with disastrous results or who honestly criticizes the downward spiral of a nation under the current governance? This question remains to be answered!