Church Burned, Christians Attacked in Manipur, India

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Christian leaders form fact-finding committee, plan response.

by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI, April 26, 2005 (Compass) -- Christian leaders in the northeastern state of Manipur held an emergency meeting on April 22 to consider their response to an attack on a church in Thoubal district on April 19.

During the four-hour meeting, delegates formed a fact-finding committee to look into the attack on the Believer’s Church. They also decided to form an Inter-Church Peace Council and agreed to contact the Manipur State Minorities Commission to discuss the plight of Christians.

Believer’s Church, situated on the outskirts of Lamding village in the Hindu-dominant Tentha Lamkhai area, was completely destroyed and four Christians were injured in the attack.

The church had already been attacked twice and a local court had ordered police to provide security while reconstruction took place.

Villagers have now asked members of the Believer’s Church to abandon the premises or “face the consequences,” the Sangai Express reported on April 22.

Compass spoke to Mohammed Kamaruddin, personal assistant to the Superintendent of Police in Thoubal district, who said that although the court had ordered local police to take action, “We do not know if the security was provided.”

“We had arranged for security, but only as a patrol,” said Mangal Jao Singh, another member of the superintendent’s staff. “We had not deployed policemen (permanently) at the church.”

The Rev. S. Prim Vaiphei, pastor of the Believer’s Church, told Compass, “A mob of 200 Hindus overpowered (the patrol) and succeeded in launching an attack.”

“The mob, carrying dangerous weapons like axes, sickles, pickets, sticks and torches, set fire to our church and violently attacked our church members belonging to the Meitei tribe in Lamding village, about 35 kilometers southeast of the capital city of Imphal.

“Mr. Romol, a local believer, was severely injured and had to be hospitalized,” Vaiphei added. “But he is out of danger now.”

Three other church members, Mr. S. Tombi, Mr. O. Tiken, and Mr. L. Thoiba, received minor injuries and were given basic first-aid.

In a letter to the Fire Brigade Department of Thoubal district, the Believer’s Church claimed the loss due to arson and physical destruction of the church was about 445,000 rupees ($10,350).

The church building, which was still under construction, had a worship hall, kitchen and parsonage. Kitchen items, personal belongings and construction equipment stored at the building were damaged in the attack.

Police have arrested three suspects, identified as Nahakpam Inao, Khumanthem Gojao and Laishram Ibomcha, the Sangai Express reported.

The attack was the third on Believer’s Church since the beginning of the year.

On March 8, about 20 people attacked the church and dismantled its boundary wall.

“On April 11, more than 100 people tried to destroy the church,” said Vaiphei. “They used filthy and derogatory words, asking us to vacate the place. However, the police came and prevented them from desecrating the church.”

On November 23, 2004, a crowd of Hindus demolished the church while construction was underway. Following the attack, the Deputy Commissioner (DC) called for a meeting between members of the church and the Hindu community.

Seeing that the Hindus strongly opposed the construction of the church, the DC imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code and prohibited all persons from entering the building.

This led the church to file a civil suit. The court then passed an injunction order, directing local authorities to provide a security guard for the church to ensure its peaceful construction.

The leaders who convened the emergency meeting last Friday hope that an appeal to the State Minorities Commission might bring a solution.

A member of parliament raised the issue of attacks on minority Christians during the March session of the State Assembly. Mr. Behring of the Bharatiya Janata Party informed the House on March 18 that Hindus were attacking Christians in the region. In response, the Chief Minister said he would take steps to end the violence.

Just over 737,500 Christians are among the total population of 21.6 million in Manipur, according to 2001 census figures.