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'In 2 nights, 246 churches were burnt down'

By SHOBHA WARRIER
July 17, 2023 11:24 IST
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'Somebody strong is playing a game behind the violence in Manipur.'
'It is a pre-planned attack on churches, Christian organisations and Christians.'

IMAGE: The police fired several rounds of tear gas shells to disperse a crowd gathered near the Bharatiya Janata Party's regional office in Imphal, June 29, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Only recently the Catholic church in Kerala was criticised in some quarters for getting closer to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

It seems the friendship has ended as soon as it started.

While the official spokesperson for the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council sharply criticised the BJP government for the attacks on Christian institutions in Manipur, the archbishop of Thalassery in north Kerala likened the violence in Manipur to the violent riots in Gujarat in 2002.

"Why is it that only one community is the target of all the violence? Had it been a conflict between two ethnic communities, there would be damage on both sides. But only churches were destroyed," Father Jacob G Palackappilly, deputy secretary general, Kerala Catholic Bishops Council, tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier in the first of a two-part interview:

 

When did you get the news that the violence in Manipur is aimed at the Christian community?

What we heard first was that the conflict was between two tribes, and since this has been going on for decades, we thought the violence would slowly end.

When the violence prolonged for days and weeks, we got the message from Christian religious leaders in Manipur that the target of violence had been the churches, Christian institutions and Christians as a whole.

It was through some journalists who visited the state that the world came to know what exactly was happening there.

We became very concerned when we were told Christians belonging to both the Meiteis and Kukis were being attacked. When we got in touch with church leaders there, we heard the same thing.

Have they been very nervous and anxious?

Not just anxious, they had to escape from where they were. The Kuki Christians went up the hills and the Meiteis moved to the valley.

It was a kind of exodus from where they were stationed.

The Kerala MP, Hibi Eden, said that even BJP Christian MLAs and BJP Christian supporters felt insecure there.

This is a very worrying situation for all of us.

IMAGE: MPs Hibi Eden, left, and Daniel Kuriakose at a church that was attacked in Manipur. Photograph: Kind courtesy Hibi Eden

Do you think it is a deliberate attack on the Christian community?

It's like what happened in Kandhamal in Odisha in 2007. There was a planned attack against Christians then after some Hindu organisations spread negative propaganda against the Christian community.

A similar negative campaign is taking place against one community in Manipur.

Who is behind such a campaign?

We don't want to name anyone. We want to say there is a negative campaign by some vested interest groups.

It is the duty of journalists to find out who these vested interest groups are.

In fact, the government itself should expose them.

The truth is, somebody strong is playing a game behind the violence in Manipur.

It is a pre-planned attack on churches, Christian organisations and Christians.

By destroying all the structures belonging to one community, somebody wants to wipe out any trace of that community from the history of that place.

How can you say that this is not done consciously and with a motive?

Why is it that only one community is the target of all the violence?

Had it been a conflict between two ethnic communities, there would be damage on both sides. But only churches were destroyed.

If it is not a pre-planned attack, how is it that in just two nights, 246 churches were burnt down?

IMAGE: Father Jacob G Palackappilly

Is the state government turning a blind eye to what is happening to the Christian community?

My question is, when our Constitution talks about treating everyone equally, who wants to erase us, our traditions and practises from Indian society?

More than 35,000 army personnel are posted in Manipur. Then there is also the state police and Assam Rifles.

Still, why is it that Christians and our churches are being attacked?

Unless you order them to act, what is the use of the presence of all these personnel?

We just can't believe that women are looting the Indian Army and leaving with their weapons.

Why are the authorities not asking the armed forces to act effectively?

Why are the authorities keeping silent?

It shows the elected state government, which is obliged to safeguard both people and their possessions, has failed miserably.

Prime Minister Modi has not said anything though it has been two months since the violence started in Manipur.

It is very cruel. The prime minister's silence is frightening. Why is he silent? Who is forcing him to keep quiet?

How can a prime minister sit idle and remain silent when people are being brutally murdered? When he is sitting in a responsible position to serve people, how can he keep silent?

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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