Violence and destruction of life, property and religious institutions has plunged the Indian state of Manipur into what many have dubbed a state of civil war as the two largest groups, the majority Meitei and minority Kuki, battle over land and influence.
The hilly north-east Indian state sits east of Bangladesh and borders Myanmar. It is home to an estimated 3.3 million people. More than half are Meiteis, while around 43% are Kukis and Nagas, the predominant minority tribes.
At least 130 people have been killed and 400 wounded in violence that began in May. More than 60,000 have been forced from their homes as the army, paramilitary forces and police struggle to quell violence.
The state and the federal government’s lack of adequate measures to contain the ongoing violence and the silence by the leader of the nation, Shri Narendra Modi have come under sharp criticism by the media, political establishment, civic groups, the Supreme Court of India, and peace loving Indians as well as the global community.
Led by the Indian American community in the Tri-state area, the prayer vigil in front of the United Nations, praying for the perpetrators to come to their senses and for the authorities to reign in the continuing attacks on the tribal people, mostly Christians, was attended by more than 700 people.
Carrying placards, condemning the violence, praying for peace and urging the government to effectively intervene to stop the deadly violence, participants at the rally expressed solidarity with all the grieving people of Manipur. Prayers by the Clergy reflected the deep pain felt across the Indian American Community in the U.S. for the great calamity that has impacted the people of Manipur with immense loss of human lives and destruction of homes and churches.
The Prayer rally was initiated by a handful of concerned citizens that was instrumental in bringing together the Indian American community in several buses form the New York tri-state region. As per the organizers, “People from all denominations and regions in cooperation with FIACONA (Federation of Indian American Christians of North America) united for the cause of the Manipuri Christians who have taken the brunt of the suffering in the last 90 days.
President of FIACONA, Dr. Koshy George stated the purpose of the vigil at the beginning. “This is not a protest rally. We aim not to examine why the riots happened, who is responsible, or politics. We are here today to pray for the rule of law in Manipur, and obviously, there are limits as to what we can do to help. However, Prayer does not have any limitation.” He further clarified that “We aim not to condemn or oppose anyone politically.”
Dr. Anna George, a lead organiser of this event, pointed out that “when our brothers are in pain, it hurts us too. It is a reflection of this that so many people gathered here on the day off, putting aside all other programs,” she said. “People are being killed and become refugees. Women are sexually molested, gang-raped, and marched naked. People are without food, water, or shelter. Their anguish and pain are beyond our imagination,” she added.
“We have lived in India in harmony with various religious sects for years. But what has happened now? A genocide or massacre is taking place right before our eyes. One hundred forty-five people died. Sixty thousand people were left homeless. Over three hundred churches were destroyed, and One hundred seventy villages were burnt. It is continuing. Undoubtedly, Christians are being targeted. These are massive human rights violations,” she said.
“We cannot be silent when we see the tears and lamentation of our brothers and sisters. So far, neither the State Government nor the Central Government has intervened adequately. It must end. This vigil also demands that the American media and government speak for us on this issue. It is a shame that this country is silent on women being abused and run naked,” Dr. George added.
In a remarkable speech, American activist and journalist Peter Friedrich pointed out that Manipur is a repeat of what was done in Odisha’s Kandhamal. “The police and the government need to do more. The central government is not moving. The U.S. government, on the other hand, pretends to have seen nothing. America is strengthening trade ties with Delhi while Christians are bleeding in Manipur. He also criticized the reticent American churches. As free people, we have a duty to fight for freedom. We are one in Christ. Let us unite and pray for Manipur from our knees. Let us act against the forces trying to suffocate the Christian people,” he said.
New York State Senator Kevin Thomas attended in solidarity with the victims. The only elected legislator to attend, Mr. Thomas clarified that “justice and peace should prevail and that the lives of all human beings are equal. There is no difference between Hindu, Christian, Sikh or Jain.” He called to work for a world where people live as one.
Bishop Johncy Itty of the Episcopal Church said,” the wonderful thing about humanity is that we reveal ourselves in times of distress and how we come together in times of anxiety and frustrations because we care about justice, freedom, and peace. He urged the gathering to be resolute in fighting for justice and praying for those who are persecuted”.
Pastor Robinson Frank, a Catholic priest of the American Church, said that the governments should wake up and work to develop the legal system in Manipur. He said that the persecution of Christians in India also saddens us.
Wumang, a woman from Manipur, while sharing the experiences of violence in her homestate pointed out that their houses were burnt down in Imphal. They have a family of 28 members. They escaped by seeking shelter in an army camp. Later, they were transferred to Delhi. They are now living in rented houses. Mark Mang from Manipur described how his relatives were killed. His cousins, who were protecting the village, were shot dead by security forces.
FOMAA president Jacob Thomas said that India is a country with a secular constitution. He demanded that the government should act according to the Constitution. FOKANA leader Leela Maret appreciated those who took the initiative to hold such a prayer vigil. She said, “The sorrow of Manipur is our sorrow too, and there should be justice and peace.
Pastor Jacob George gave the opening prayer. Evangeline Jacob sand the American National Anthem, and Fr. Francis Nambiaparambil sang the Indian National Anthem. Pastor Babu Thomas, Dr. Sam Samuel, Pastor Itty Abraham, Rev. Dr. Taylor, Rev. Jess M. George, Rev. Dr. Hemalatha Parmar, Pastor Percy McEwan, Rev. Jatinder Gill, were prominent among those who had participated in speeches, prayers, and scripture readings. Mr. Mathew George expressed vote of thanks.
Special buses were arranged from various places. Organizers also submitted a petition to the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights asking to protect human rights in Manipur, considering today’s gross violations. The petition pointed out that the United Nations has an obligation to intervene to protect human rights, life, and property in this situation.
The organizing committee was led by Anna George, Koshy George, George Abraham, Raju Abraham, Mathew George, Jimmy Christian, Mary Philip, Paul Panakal, Leela Maret, Pastor Jatinder Gill, Shaju Sam, V. J. Macwan, and several other community leaders from across the US.