A fierce battle between Hindus and Christians is raging in a remote part of northeast India with some human rights experts blaming the country’s government for fueling the religious violence.
What started as a feud over economic benefits now has the state of Manipur teetering on the brink of a civil war.
Manipur means “Land of Jewels” but the state, affectionately known as the “Switzerland of India” for its natural beauty and remoteness looks more like a war zone today.
Religious and ethnic clashes between the Hindu majority Meitei community and the tribal Christian Kuki minority over land and influence in the state has left at least 180 people dead and over 500 injured.
“Three hundred churches have been destroyed and just imagine that if one, two, five or 10 were destroyed,” Dr. David Curry, president of Global Christian Relief, told CBN News. “We are talking about 300 churches destroyed.”
The European Parliament accuses India’s Hindu-led BJP government and its Prime Minister Narendra Modi of fueling the violence by pursuing “politically motivated, divisive policies promoting Hindu majoritarianism.”
Modi, whose party controls Manipur’s state government, faced a no-confidence motion in Parliament last week for his silence on the escalating violence.
“If Manipur is burning, India is burning, if Manipur is on fire, India is on fire. If Manipur is divided, India is divided. So today we are not only talking about Manipur, but of India,” warned Gaurav Gogoi, a Congress Party member.
“The underlying issue here is that the central government, the BJP party led by Prime Minister Modi has not reacted,” argued Curry. “He’s been forced to make one comment but even that was setting a context for why the violence was happening that ignored the violence against Christians.”
Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi accused Prime Minister Modi’s government of its failure to control the ongoing bloodshed in the state.
Speaking to politicians in New Delhi last week, Gandhi urged the BJP government to deploy the Indian army to Manipur.
“The Indian army can bring peace to Manipur in a day. You are not using India’s army,” Gandhi accused Modi.
Gandhi, who recently visited the strife-stricken state, said, “I saw with my own eyes what happened there and what has been done to the people of Manipur. In my 19 years of political life, I have never experienced what I experienced in Manipur.”
In Manipur’s capital city, Hindu women have been creating roadblocks to check cars for Christians.
In May, a Hindu mob paraded two Christian women naked. One had been reportedly gang raped.
“It is as if one person has been torn into two pieces. It is like someone has torn one whole state of the union. The violence, rape and killing just continues. So, it is important that the violence is stopped immediately,” Gandhi told NDTV.
Several videos on social media showed mobs also burning down churches.
“The perpetrators themselves are posting videos of mob attacks on churches, they are showing the churches being burned down,” said Dr. Curry. “They literally show the police stepping aside to allow the mob to attack these Christian churches.”
As a result, Christians have lost complete trust in the Manipur police.
Video emerged recently showing dozens of Christian women kneeling, crying, and begging Indian soldiers to stay in their village, fearful of more Hindu attacks.
Fighting erupted in early May when the state government extended land, jobs and other benefits typically reserved for the minority Christians to the Hindus.
The decision led to some of the worst fighting between the two biggest tribes in the state.
Human rights and religious freedom experts accuse Modi’s government of pushing a radical ideology that believes India is for Hindus only, despite its pluralistic and diverse society.
“This political movement is essentially saying that India is your homeland, but it must also be your holy land. It’s putting a religious umbrella over everything that happens and it’s allowing them to force other minority faiths out,” stated Curry.
The violence in Manipur has displaced more than 60,000 people internally. And it’s not just in Manipur.
The New Delhi-based United Christian Forum says there have been more than 400 incidents against Christians in 22 other Indian states in the first six-months of this year.
India, with 1.4 billion people, is the world’s largest democracy. However, Modi’s critics argue democracy has been in retreat since he took power in 2014.
The U.S. State Department called out India in May for its deteriorating religious freedom and its treatment of Christians and Muslims in particular.
“Government actions, including the passage and enforcement of discriminatory policies such as hijab bans, anti-conversion laws, and anti-cow slaughter laws, have created a culture of impunity for threats and violence by vigilante groups, especially against Muslims and Christians,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, chairman of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said during recent congressional testimony.
Prime Minister Modi, while visiting the United States last month, pushed back on the discrimination accusation.
“Our Constitution and government we have always proved that democracy can deliver. And when I say deliver, this is regardless of caste, creed, religion, gender. There’s absolutely no space for discrimination,” Prime Minister Modi claimed.
But ground realities and deepening fault lines against minorities continue to tell another story.
Members of two radical Hindu groups with ties to Modi’s BJP party clashed with Muslims this month on the outskirts of India’s capital city New Delhi.
A mosque was destroyed, and a Muslim imam was murdered. Several Muslim-owned homes and shops were also destroyed.
Hindus make up nearly 80% of India’s population. Muslims are at 14%. Christianity is India’s third-largest religion with about 26 million followers, or about 2.3% of the population.
Meanwhile, lawmakers on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee are urging the State Department to designate India, among others, as a “country of particular concern” which would make New Delhi subject to U.S. sanctions for violating the International Religious Freedom Act.
“No diplomacy ought to get in the way of calling it for what it is,” argued Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ). “If a country is engaging in serious religious persecution, they need to be designated CPC.”