Indian Americans Hold Prayer Vigil at United Nations in Support of People in Manipur

Hundreds of Indian Americans from across the United States gathered in front of the United Nations at a prayer vigil on Saturday, August 5th, 2023 organized in solidarity with the suffering people in the Northeastern state of Manipur in India.

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.

Violence and State Inaction in Manipur Condemned Across the World

The ongoing ethnic/religious violence in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur and the lack of adequate response from the state have been condemned by people and organizations around the world.

The violence erupted on May 3 after the Kuki-Zomi community protested against the Meitei demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. The majority Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley, while tribals, which include Nagas and Kukis, constitute 40 percent and reside mostly in the hill districts.

Reports of tribal Kuki attacks on ethnic Meiteis circulated immediately after the protest, which in turn plunged the Imphal Valley which accommodates 90% of Manipur’s population into an outburst of violence against Kuki tribal Christians. At the same time, ethnic Meitei settlements in the Kuki-dominated hills surrounding the valley also were the targets of violence.

While the official death count now totaling around 150, with the overwhelming majority of the victims being Kuki Christians, human rights observers estimate the figure to be underestimated.

Nearly 60,000 people, most of them Kuki Christians, now have fled their homes to the Kuki-dominated hills and to other states to escape the arson attacks, and more than 300 churches have been burned and destroyed.

According to multiple media reports, a clear anti-Christian political agenda is in play in the strife, with the Hindu nationalist BJP state government condoning the targeted violence by Meitei groups.

The unprecedented attacks on Christian targets in Manipur have galvanized Christians across the country to participate in the street protests, including at the parish level in the southern Christian heartland of Kerala, where Hindu nationalists led by Modi have been trying to woo Christians to support the BJP by assuring them of “security.”

The situation in Manipur has also provoked international concerns. On July 13, the European Union parliament passed a resolution urging India to “take all necessary measures and make the utmost effort to promptly halt the ongoing ethnic and religious violence, to protect all religious minorities, such as Manipur’s Christian community, and to pre-empt any further escalation.”

The US is “shocked and horrified” by the video of an extreme attack on two women in Manipur and supports the Indian Government’s efforts to seek justice for them, Vedant Patel, Deputy Spokesperson of the State Department. a senior Biden administration official said.

The video showing two women being paraded naked and molested by a group of men on May 4 in Kangpokpi district surfaced on July 19, attracting condemnation countrywide.

“We were shocked and horrified by the video of this extreme attack on two women in Manipur. We convey our profound sympathies to the survivors of this act of gender-based violence and support the Indian Government’s efforts to seek justice for them,” Vedant Patel, Deputy Spokesperson of the State Department, told reporters at his daily news conference on Tuesday, July 25th.

Picture : Prokerala

The Executive Committee of the Supreme Court Bar Association of India has expressed its deep concern and condemnation regarding the several incidents of violence in Manipur, including the recent incidents involving women being paraded naked by a group of armed men. “Such incidents in Manipur, which have been taking place, since have not only brought suffering among the people of Manipur, but also have led to the loss of several lives,” a statement issued by the SC Bar Association led by its President Dr. Adish C. Agarwala, Sr., stated. “The Executive Committee expresses its deep concern over the incidents which have tarnished the humanitarian ethics to its core. We categorically condemn the gender-based violence and humiliation as it has far-reaching consequences on the victims’ physical and psychological well-being.”

It is noteworthy to state that from its very inception, the Supreme Court Bar Association has been in the vanguard of the movement for upholding, maintaining and consolidation of the constitutional values of democracy, the rule of law and the independence of the Judiciary. In its meeting dated 4th May 1951, the Executive Committee of the Bar Association consisting of legal luminaries like M. C. Setalvad, C. K. Daphtary and K. M. Munshi spoke of their deep concern against the first amendment of the Indian Constitution.

The prestigious and top Bar Association in the nation also condemned “the inaction of the state police in bringing the culprits to book for a long period of two months and the inability to generally tackle the debilitating violence in the state of Manipur. We call upon the state government and the central government to immediately take action to punish the perpetrators and prevent other acts of violence in the state, which are still continuing,” the statement signed by Rohit Pandey, Honorary Secretary of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

Indian Americans and allies have held protests in the US states of California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts throughout the past weekend to condemn the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur, which has left hundreds of people dead and thousands displaced. The protests were in part a response to a horrific video last week, showing two young tribal women being paraded naked while being molested by a group of men in the violence-hit state.

Other protest rallies and prayer vigils have been planned across several states including infront of the United Nations, condemning the government’s inaction and in solidarity with the suffering Manipuri people.

Pieter Friedrich, a well-known freelance journalist, has been on hunger strike since July 25 with a call on Representative Ro Khanna to speak about the Manipur issue in US Congress.  ‘One thing I know about Ro is that he’s passionate about human rights. It’s close to his heart and he has always been swift to speak about it, even on international issues, except when it comes to India. I want to stand in solidarity with Ro’s grandfather, Amarnath Vidyalankar, who struggled for the freedom of India. I hope that Ro chooses to follow his grandfather’s example by taking this one very small, easy step of speaking on the House floor against the anti-Christian violence which is still happening in Manipur,’ Friedrich told the media. “What is happening in Manipur is far more awful than my experience of not eating. I hope and pray Khanna speaks out,” he said.  Two other people have also joined the fast in solidarity as of the 25th, he said.

“The Prime Minister’s reaction has come too late. He should have spoken out when the bloodshed started but just kept quiet all through,” Archbishop Dominic Lumon of Imphal, who heads the Catholic Church in the strife-torn state, told the media. “Fear is pervasive even now [after 79 days] and peace remains a dream for us. Everyone is living in fear as violence keeps erupting in the [Imphal] Valley and its peripheries frequently,” added Archbishop Lumon, who heads the 100,000-member local Catholic Church in the tiny state in northeast India, which has a total population of less than four million people.