NEW DELHI — Chingngaihlian Tunglut, a counselor at the Evangelical Baptist Convention Church in Mumbai, said he often talks to people traumatized by the violence in the northeast Indian state of Manipur.
“I often counsel people who tell me that they are unable to sleep because of what they saw back in Manipur,” she said. “The violence, the trauma of leaving their house and the trauma of leaving their family behind make them anxious. People complain that they wake up at the slightest sound and often have nightmares and flashbacks of violence.”
Chingngaihlian is the co-founder and counselor of The Abundant Life, an organization that has been involved in counseling people. Since the violence ensued in Manipur on May 3, she has been receiving frantic calls from her relatives and friends in Manipur.
“Earlier I was able to counsel people through video calls and it was much more impactful,” she told Religion Unplugged. “However, as the government ordered a complete shutdown of the internet, the counseling has been only through phone calls.”
Chingngaihlian provides support to those affected in several ways. First, she offers a patient and empathetic ear, allowing people to share their worries with her. The church plays a significant role in this support, as prayer services held each Sunday provide a platform for communal sharing.
Another way she assists others is by teaching people coping skills, guiding them in recognizing their triggers and encouraging them to reassure themselves that they are in a safe environment.
Chingngaihlian is one of many individuals who have been playing an important role in the rehabilitation of people who have been impacted by violence. Amid challenging circumstances, churches across India have stepped up admirably, showcasing the strength of faith, compassion and solidarity.
Their initiatives to offer counseling, assistance and health care services have emerged as sources of hope, revitalizing a region deeply affected by violence. Emphasizing healing and community growth, these churches not only address urgent requirements but also plant the seeds for a more harmonious and prosperous Manipur. Their inspiring tale highlights the profound influence that faith-based organizations can exert when they extend their services beyond the spiritual sphere and become agents of positive transformation in society.
The Rev. L. Kamzamang, founder and director of Home Fellowship Movements, is another such individual who has been involved in rehabilitation work since the violence started in May.
Speaking to Religion Unplugged on the question of rehabilitation, Kamzamang stressed the important role that churches played across the country in providing shelter and food to people.
“As the violence engulfed Manipur, many people fled to Delhi,” he said. “We received a call that close to 80 people are looking for shelter. As we were looking to provide them with a temporary home, we reached out to the Evangelical Fellowship of India, who provided us space for 80 people … for free. To date we have provided support to more than 800 people in the form of food, shelter, part-time work, counseling and many other ways.”
Kamzamang also shared an anecdote as to how heartbroken he was to see people fleeing their houses with just the clothes they were wearing and nothing else.
“I saw young girls with tears in their eyes who had no clothes to change” he said. “There was a young couple who married recently but left the town without any belongings. We have provided women with undergarments, pads and clothes. Although we are doing what a human being is supposed to do, it is heartbreaking to see what our sisters and brothers are going through in Manipur.”
A divided Manipur
More than 150 individuals have lost their lives in confrontations between the Meitei and Kuki ethnic groups that have swept through Manipur, a northeastern state of India situated on the border with Myanmar.
The unrest originated in Churachandpur, a town located just south of the state capital, Imphal, on May 3. It was triggered by a tribal solidarity march led by the Kuki community in 10 out of Manipur’s 16 districts. In response, the Meitei community organized counter-protests and blockades, escalating clashes that eventually spread throughout the region. The rally addressed various issues, including the demand from several Meitei groups to be recognized as Scheduled Tribes.
As per the 2011 census, the Meitei community makes up more than half of Manipur’s total population of 2.7 million and is mainly concentrated in and around the state capital, Imphal. In contrast, the Kuki-Zo community, along with the Nagas, makes up approximately 40% of Manipur’s population and primarily resides in the hills.
The violence has resulted in thousands of injuries and more than 60,000 people being displaced, with over 12,000 seeking refuge in the neighboring state of Mizoram. The unrest has led to the destruction of hundreds of houses, places of worship and vehicles, along with the theft of thousands of weapons from government armories. Arson and other attacks continue to occur without restraint.
Disturbing reports have emerged of sexual violence committed by Meitei men, militias and militants against Kuki women. Evidence strongly suggests that sexual violence is being used as a tactic in this ethnic conflict.
The violence was triggered by fake news about the rape of a Meitei woman in a Kuki-dominated area, sparking a violent reaction from the Meitei community. A video depicting a mob of Meitei men assaulting two naked Kuki women on a rural road before reportedly raping one of them went viral online on July 19.
The incident caused nationwide outrage, leading to protests in various cities across India. Manipur’s chief minister, N. Biren Singh, acknowledged that there have been “hundreds of such cases.”
Despite drastic measures taken by the government, including internet shutdowns, curfews and “shoot-on-sight” orders issued by district magistrates in extreme cases, the situation remains uncontrollable. The federal government dispatched around 50,000 security personnel from other regions and established a unified command for the deployed security forces, but these efforts have had limited success.
As a result of the violence, Manipur has become divided into exclusive ethnic zones, with the dominant Meiteis, mostly Hindus, residing in the valley around the state capital, while the predominantly Christian Kuki community lives in the surrounding hills.
Security forces played a role in evacuating Kukis from predominantly Meitei areas and vice versa, resulting in the creation of a buffer zone between the two communities. Currently, these forces are patrolling the buffer zone, while militias on both sides have constructed trenches and are waiting for opportunities to launch attacks.
The state’s police force, like much of the local administration, is mainly composed of Meiteis. As a result, Kuki members have been either transferred or have fled to Kuki areas, leading to a complete physical and emotional separation of the communities within just over two months of the crisis.
While there has been limited international concern regarding the Manipur violence, the European Parliament passed a resolution on July 13 urging the Indian government to take all necessary measures to promptly halt the ongoing ethnic and religious violence. The resolution also called for an end to the internet shutdown and for journalists and international observers to have unimpeded access.
In response, the Indian government expressed strong disapproval of such interference in the country’s internal affairs, considering it to reflect a colonial mindset.
Importance of a religious institution
The Rev. L. Kamzamang presented an important depiction of the church in light. He said, “Church is not just a religious institution, but it is a place where one finds solace. It is not just a building, but that building is an embodiment of the body of Christ.”
He also added that the reason why people from a particular community are burning churches is because they know what significance church holds.
“They want to show that when we burn your churches, you won’t have any place to hide,” he said.
A recent report from the UCF reveals that Manipur has experienced numerous instances of targeted violence directed at the Christian community during the ongoing civil unrest. In the first half of 2023, there were over 400 hate crimes against Christians, averaging more than two incidents per day. In June alone, approximately three incidents were reported daily.
The report expressed disappointment, as written appeals to President Droupadi Murmu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have not received any response yet.
However, the example put up by the people and the church in this whole incident shows how religious pluralism and activity can be a force of good for India. It shows that in times of conflict, religious institutions play a very important role in peacemaking.