Manipur: Hymns of Hope

Babu K. Verghese | 16 Aug 2023

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In early June 2023, National Highway 2 that passes through India’s Northeastern state of Manipur displayed an unusual sight. It wasn’t the mayhem of vehicles but a human chain that stretched for 40 kilometers. Thousands of men and women from the Kuki-Zo tribe lined the road, some standing, some sitting, some kneeling, but all of them praying for peace to descend on the strife torn state of Manipur. Their tears mixed with the rain as it fell to the hard asphalt. These Christians sang hymns of praise and redemption, they grieved for their murdered families, they wept to the Lord and pleaded for his deliverance. The surrounding mountains echoed their cries. But did it reach the heavens?

Manipur has been a war zone since 3 May 2023, with a battle raging between the extremist fanatics of the majority Meitei religion and the minority Christian Kuiki-Zo tribe.

Manipur has been a war zone since 3 May 2023, with a battle raging between the extremist fanatics of the majority Meitei religion and the minority Christian Kuiki-Zo tribe. At the Churachandpur/Bishnupur border of Manipur, the battle line is clearly drawn. On one side are thousands of Meitei civilians armed with sophisticated rifles, mortars, bombs and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). These weapons are said to have been ‘stolen’ from the high security government armories. But others allege that these were ‘given’ to the militants by ‘the powers that be.’ Facing them are a few hundreds of Kuki-Zo people, least armed, and helpless, trying to defend themselves.

The soil of Manipur has turned black with the ashes of thousands of burnt down churches and homes. The air is thick with the smell of the shed blood of the martyrs. Even after three months, the arson, looting, and burning down of churches, houses, schools, hospitals, orphanages, and Bible colleges continue unabated. Scores of women are stripped naked, paraded, raped, and cut into pieces. Dead bodies are thrown to dogs and not allowed to be buried. 

Not only the Christians, but the Jews of Manipur are also under the threat of extermination by two extremist, fanatic and armed terrorist outfits belonging to the majority religion, namely, Arambai Thankoul and Meitei Leepun. 

In an interview with Karan Thapar, renowned journalist of ‘Wire’, the Chief of Meitei Leepun, Pramot Singh, said that his organization is ‘committed to wiping out Christians and Kukis from Manipur.’ Again, in an interview with ‘Week’ magazine, Mr. Singh said, ‘We, the Meiteis are the true indigenous people of Manipur, and the Kuki communities have no right to demand anything.’ (The Week, 13 August 2023). 

I travelled to Manipur in July 2023 and visited several refugee camps, both of Meitei and Kuki-Zo communities. Thousands of Christians were packed into small rooms and shared tales of barbaric brutality. But these believers smiled through their pain as they shared of their joy and hope in Jesus Christ. Many of them were reading the Bible and were huddled together in groups, praying. The little children were running around the camps, playing games to occupy their time, oblivious of the bleak future that awaits them.

As in any war, truth becomes the first casualty. Administrative powers and several factions of the media spread various narratives, based on their vested agenda. Mobs have taken over control of the capital city of Imphal and the surrounding districts. Within 36 hours of the start of the riots, 241 Meitei churches were burnt down in Imphal city. It is estimated that over one hundred thousand people have fled from Manipur and over one hundred thousand refugees are in the jungles and temporary camps.

However, the Christians of various tribes including Naga, Kuki and Meitei are laboring for lasting peace and prosperity. ‘Back to the Word and the Lord, is the future of the Christian community in Manipur,’ asserted a senior Naga community leader. 

People all over India have expressed their solidarity, demanding justice, holding placards, lighting candles, and singing ‘we shall overcome someday,’ the anthem of the American civil rights movement which was fought for racial equality, during peace marches. These may seem small, helpless gestures, but they do matter. Every action for restorative justice matters, just as every silence amplifies the harm and horror.

The tentacles of persecution have spread all over India. In the jungle district of Bastar, Chhattisgarh, thousands of Christians were thrown out of their homes and forced into the forests in the dead of the winter of 2022. When I visited these regions a few months later, I witnessed over 300 believers singing praises to God, vowing to die as martyrs. This testimony is attracting several neighbors to the Lord.

In Uttar Pradesh, hundreds of pastors and evangelists are thrown into the prisons. But prisons bars have not halted the spread of the gospel. Amazing miracles of many prisoners giving their life over to Christ have been reported. 

In 1999, Australian missionary Graham Staines and children were burnt alive in Manoharpur, Odisha. Later in 2008, Khandamal, another district in the same state, witnessed severe persecution against Christians, claiming thousands of lives. Currently however, the church is reported to be growing in leaps and bounds in Odisha.

The persecuted church is growing day by day and the recent stories are tales of divine courage and commitment. The blood of the martyrs has become the seed of the church in India and witnessing Christians are working towards the goal of ‘every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord.’  

The persecuted church is growing day by day and the recent stories are tales of divine courage and commitment.

‘Persecution teaches us three things,’ said a Kuki leader from Manipur, ‘It gives us an opportunity to participate in the suffering of our blessed Lord. It demands purification of our lives. Also, it is an opportunity to propagate the gospel of Christ with forgiveness, love and compassion.’

While the heaven resounds with the praise of the King of Kings, the Lord bends down to hear the cries of the persecuted believers in India. The solemn hope is that the Lord is able to deliver. But even if He does not, the advance of His Kingdom will continue till He comes. 

Dr Babu K Verghese is a journalist, historian and author of 26 books. His doctoral thesis is on the development of Indian languages and literature which is published as Let There be India: The Impact of the Bible on Nation Building. An inspiring and sought-after speaker, he has lectured in 32 countries.