Church Attacked Again in Manipur, India

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Christians ask Chief Minister to take security measures.

by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI, June 6 (Compass) -- The Believer’s Church in Lamding, Thoubal district, Manipur state, suffered another attack on May 29.

Members of the church submitted a memorandum to Manipur Chief Minister O. Ibobi Singh on May 30 in protest.

Copies were also sent to the director general of police in Manipur; the deputy inspector general and the superintendent of police (S.P.) in Thoubal district.

The memo requested that Singh provide security for the church, and urged the return of a police security guard.

“Lamding Believer’s Church and other victims of minority faiths approach your high office once again to seek protection from anti-people elements,” the memo said. “In spite of repeated demands prompted by series of attacks and threats to the minority people, security measures are yet to be taken in this regard.”

Unidentified gunmen opened fire on the church late on the night of May 29. One person was injured when he fell into a ditch in panic after hearing the gunshots. However, 30 church workers and missionaries who were on the grounds at the time of the attack remained unharmed.

The attack is the fourth on the Believer’s Church. The first attack occurred on November 23, 2004, when a crowd of Hindus demolished the church while construction was underway.

A second attack took place on March 8, when about 20 people attacked the church and dismantled its boundary wall. The church was attacked again on April 19. (See Compass Direct, “Church Burned, Christians Attacked in Manipur, India,” April 25, 2005.)

In the most recent attack, a number of Christians were gathered at the church when a Maruti Gypsy jeep drove slowly up to the premises at around 11 p.m. “When they turned on their torch lights to see who was in the vehicle, the people in the jeep opened fire,” the Rev. S. Prim Vaiphei, pastor of the Believer’s Church, told Compass.

“They fired as many as 40 rounds in the air and around the church, due to which there was panic and chaos in the church area. As a result, one of our workers, Mr. Jangkhogin Chongloi, fell into a ditch and received minor injuries,” Vaiphei added.

Earlier that day, a Hindu villager who sympathized with Christians had warned Vaiphei by telephone that villagers were planning an attack on the church that night.

“I immediately called the superintendent of police and informed him about the warning,” said Vaiphei. “One policeman, seemingly sent by the S.P., came in civil clothes at around 7 p.m. to view the situation around the church then left.

“Our workers and missionaries were afraid and could not sleep,” Vaiphei explained. “In fact, they were watching over the church; which is why, as soon as they saw the jeep coming towards the church, they got suspicious and focused their torch lights on it.”

Vaiphei said the Christians immediately reported the incident to the police, but police did not visit the church until 7 the following morning. When the church members went to the police station on the afternoon of May 30, the police refused to register a complaint.

“However, the office of the S.P. accepted their complaint the same afternoon,” Vaiphei added.

The situation at Lamding has been tense since the previous attack on April 19. A “Committee Against the Construction of the Church at Lamding” (CACCL), formed by local villagers, has issued continual threats against the church members.

“On April 21, Mr. Nityai Meitei, convenor of the CACCL, told a local newspaper, the Sangai Express, that the Believer’s Church should vacate the land or they would have to face the consequences,” Vaiphei told Compass.

Compass also spoke to Sub-Inspector N. Manikant of the Thoubal Police Station, who claimed the attack was unplanned.

“The attackers were seemingly from a local extremist group called the ‘Valley’ because they were carrying sophisticated arms,” Manikant said. “They opened fire only when two church missionaries focused their torch lights on them.”

Manikant admitted there were no security personnel deployed near the church that night, despite the warning of a possible attack and a court injunction order, issued on February 3, directing local authorities to provide a security guard for the church.

Manikant denied the existence of the court injunction, VIDE No. 117 of 2004, claiming that the S.P. had voluntarily provided a “mobile team of policemen” to protect the church against any attack.

However, when Compass phoned Nikhit Kumar Ujwal, the S.P. of Thoubal district, he declined to comment.