Hindus search villages, raid churches, and burn Christian books.
On May 3, 2023, bloody clashes, assassinations, church burnings, and homes belonging to Christians were engulfed in the city of Manipur in northeastern India, near the border with Myanmar (Burma), by extremist Hindus.
These violent incidents persisted until the sixth day of the same month.
Following their ongoing attacks on mosques and homes of Muslims throughout India, the violence by radical RSS groups (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) also extended to Christians.
These mentioned groups adhere to the ideology of Hindutva, which believes that “India is solely for Hindus” and that Muslims and Christians must be expelled from the country.
The increasing incidents of Hindu attacks on Muslims, who constitute 14% of India’s population according to international reports, did not prevent the machinery of killing, violence, and racism from targeting Christians as well, incited by Hindu religious leaders.
Western reports and Christian websites indicated that Hindu extremists vandalized churches, demolished statues, burned the Gospels, closed Christian schools, and assaulted Christians and priests without accountability or punishment.
Christians have spoken about a “genocide” of Christians in the city of Manipur by armed extremist Hindu groups wielding sticks and swords, brutally killing many, and burning others alive.
Reports have stated that Christians responded by burning police stations, temples, and Hindu homes, turning the city’s surroundings into a civil war between the two parties that threatens to spread to other cities.
The story began with clashes on May 3, 2023, between the Kuki-Zomi people (Christian) and the Meitei people (Hindu) in Manipur, resulting in the burning of churches, houses, and police stations.
On May 4, 2023, the Christianity Today website confirmed that Hindu extremists killed six Christians and burned 25 churches and 23 houses in northeast India, where ethnic tensions have been escalating for decades, fueled by Hindu religious extremism targeting minorities.
On May 5, 2023, The Hindu website quoted Archbishop Peter Machado of Bengaluru stating that 17 churches have either been destroyed or desecrated, and some are still burning.
Furthermore, the Indian website, The Wire, based in New Delhi, explained that, according to official sources, the death toll had reached 54, with dozens injured as of May 6, 2023, without specifying their religious identities.
However, church sources stated that the majority of the victims were Christians.
Local leaders told Christianity Today that the burning of churches results from the growth of Hindu nationalism in the region, which has witnessed tensions over land ownership, control, and economic interests among ethnic groups for decades.
They affirmed that these tensions have worsened due to the political influence of Hindu nationalist organizations, such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which have sought to promote their ideology as the dominant religion in India.
The Christian website emphasized that as a result, thousands of victims, mostly Christians, have fled as their homes and businesses were set on fire.
The violence followed a Supreme Court order issued on April 19, 2023, in response to a request from Hindu tribes called Meitei for special tribal status, as well as the growing influence of militias affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2017, it sought to establish a Hindu nationalist identity for the Meitei community, according to Christianity Today.
Thousands of people, mostly Christians, peacefully protested against this special protection, which meant increased political and economic influence.
However, the Hindu extremist militias affiliated with the ruling party began attacking them and burning churches.
According to the South Asia Newspaper, on May 6, 2023, Christian tribes in Manipur fled to neighboring states to escape the violence perpetrated by Hindus in the cities.
Sources mentioned the evacuation of around 20,000 people by the authorities in Manipur to camps under the protection of the army to prevent further escalation of racial violence.
This came after days of clashes, looting, and deliberate arson. The Catholic priest, Peter Machado, stated to Indian Express on May 6, 2023, that Christians, who make up 41% of the population in the state, are being targeted.
Meanwhile, Vatican News on May 5, 2023, reported that 50% of the city’s population is Christian and that many Christians have fled the city out of fear for their lives.
According to The Wire, on May 7, 2023, the Christian population in Manipur is estimated to be 41.29%, Hindus 41.39%, and Muslims 8.4%.
However, the Hindu Post defended the extremists and claimed on May 6, 2023, that they were victims of violence from Christians and Muslims.
The newspaper alleged that Christians are driving Hindus out of their land to make it a “purely Christian territory under Christ.”
Radical Christians are burning Hindu Temples in Manipur. We Hindus are are requesting PM Modi to deploy army in Manipur and snatch ST status of invader Christian in North East India who are k!lling Hindus kids & women.#manipurisburningpic.twitter.com/JYFKkxBWqf
The newspaper claimed that Christians in Manipur are cultivating and smuggling drugs under the name of “Christ” and that “the recent clashes began when the government started demolishing churches and illegal poppy farms.”
Despite the escape and migration of thousands of Christians following the clashes, the newspaper claimed that Hindus always lose “culturally,” while Christians and Muslims always emerge victorious “culturally,” according to their expression.
One of the reasons that drive Hindu extremists to launch these attacks is their claim that there are conversion operations to Christianity and Islam taking place among Hindus through “seductive offers.”
Therefore, they sought to enact laws that prohibit conversion to these religions.
Campaigns against the adoption of Christianity or Islam began in 1920 under the slogan of “purification,” but they intensified in 1981 when 150 marginalized families in southern India converted to Islam to escape the persecution inflicted upon them by the wealthy Hindu classes, according to Indian Muslim writer Zafarul Islam Khan.
In a report published on Al-Jazeera website on December 28, 2021, Khan clarified that these Hindu organizations accuse Muslims of conspiring to turn India into an Islamic state again through religious conversion and their natural population growth. They claim that Muslims have outnumbered Hindus, contrary to official data.
Interestingly, unlike the Hindu accusations, the Vatican used to accuse Hindus of converting Christians and Muslims to Hinduism using money.
A report published on Vatican Insider’s website in December 2014 stated that the cost of converting Christians to Hinduism in India was 2,500 rupees, while it reached 6,500 rupees if the targeted person was a Muslim.
In late December 2021, the Parliament of the Indian state of Karnataka approved a bill titled “Prevention of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act,” which prohibits conversion from one religion to another using deception, force, fraud, inducement, or marriage.
The new law grants the Indian government the authority to suspend the conversion process of an individual if a relative reports it to the police or files a lawsuit casting doubt on the authenticity of their religious conversion.
The law stipulates penalties, including fines and imprisonment ranging from 6 months to 10 years, if it is proven that someone coerced another person into converting his religion.
Dozens of members of the Christian community expressed their rejection of the new law in a march held in Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka state, in December 2021.
Hindus also claim that Muslims lure Hindu women to change their religion for the purpose of marrying them as part of a conspiracy theory called “Love Jihad,” a term frequently used by Hindu extremists.
As part of the campaign against Muslims, Hindu extremists who support the ruling party seek to distort the word “Jihad” by describing cinematic love stories between Muslims and Hindu women as attempts to impose what they call “Love Jihad.”
Christians of India
The Christian community in India represents about 2% of the country’s total population. In recent years, they have faced harassment, including the suspension of many of their celebrations, disruption of ceremonies and prayers, and the destruction of statues of Christ and Santa Claus.
According to human rights reports, crimes against Christians have witnessed a disturbing increase in recent years, by around 60% between 2016 and 2019.
It has been noted that Hindu extremists from the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have carried out 300 attacks on Christians across India during the first nine months of 2021.
One notable incident occurred in the district of Kandhamal, located in the state of Odisha, in 2008, when more than 395 churches were burned, 500 Christians were killed, Christian women were raped, and 6,500 Christians were left homeless as a result of the violence, according to activists.
Hindus are repeating Kandhamal-type violence in Manipur, during the kandhamal violence they burned 395+ churches, killed 500 Christians, and raped Christian women. 6500 Christians became homeless after the violence. https://t.co/Si3lq9vgeEpic.twitter.com/8cpmXof6ka
In March 2022, Archbishop Peter Machado, along with the National Solidarity Forum and the Evangelical Alliance of India, filed a request with the Supreme Court to address the “phenomenon of violence” and “hate speech” directed against Christians.
However, the Indian Attorney General, Tushar Mehta, claimed that these demands aimed to “defame India internationally.”
Therefore, in April 2023, the court rejected the Christian plea.
Hindus allege that Christians are engaged in “forced conversion of Hindus to Christianity” through evangelistic campaigns and enticing them with gifts distributed by Santa Claus to children, aiming to attract them to Christianity and church celebrations.
On December 22, 2021, the New York Times reported an incident where an Indian Christian priest was surprised while reciting prayers in a church by angry extremists chanting Hindu slogans, storming the church, and physically assaulting the clergy.
When the police arrived, they did nothing to the attackers. Instead, they arrested the priests on the grounds that they were engaged in converting Hindus to Christianity, which is prohibited by some state laws that require permission for religious conversions.
Priest Manish David, speaking to the New York Times, said: “They kept beating us, pulling out hair,” said Manish David, one of the pastors who was assaulted. “They yelled: ‘What are you doing here? What songs are you singing? What are you trying to do?’”
It is surprising that when the police arrived, they did not intervene with the attackers but instead took the priests and worshipers to prison under the law enacted by the ruling Hindu party, which prohibits Hindus from converting to Muslims or Christians, emphasizing that “we were just praying.”
According to the newspaper, opponents of Christianity search villages, invade churches, burn Christian books, attack schools, and assault worshipers.
In many cases, the police and members of the ruling party in India assist them, as revealed by government documents and dozens of interviews with The New York Times.
The newspaper states that many Christians have become so afraid that they try to disguise themselves as Hindus to protect themselves, despite the constitutional protection of religious freedom.
In September 2021, a crowd of young people stormed a police station in Chhattisgarh city, throwing shoes at priests and beating them in front of police officers who did not intervene.
Hindus also prevented Christians from using water wells and gathering for Christmas celebrations.
Many Hindus justify these attacks as a means to prevent religious conversions, claiming that the possibility of even a small number of Indians converting to Christianity or Islam poses a threat to their dream of turning India into a “pure Hindu nation.”
Previously, the Indian authorities issued a decision to suspend foreign funding and freeze bank accounts of the charitable organization founded by Mother Teresa, which has been providing shelters for the poor and offering charitable church assistance to Indians.
The Wire confirmed on May 7, 2023, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to build bridges with Christians, especially in Kerala state, where Manipur is located. However, the incidents of violence there have been a setback for him.
It was explained that Modi and his extremist ruling party sought to attract Christians in these areas to their party, and some of them voted for him, despite his party’s efforts to change the faith of Christians in these areas to Hinduism and enact laws that prohibit their conversion to Christianity or Islam.
Modi visited the state of Kerala on April 24, 2023, and also visited a church in New Delhi on Easter Sunday, April 9, 2023, as part of his attempts to “woo Christians.”
Therefore, the sectarian clashes were a setback to his attempts to build closer ties with Christians to please the West.
The Wire confirms that Modi’s continued engagement with Christians has two reasons: First is his pursuit of their votes in the upcoming Indian elections (state elections in 2023 and general elections in 2024).
The second reason is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempt to create a divide between the two minority groups, Muslims and Christians, who together constitute 45% of the population of the state of Kerala.