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07/20/2023 India (International Christian Concern) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, famously taciturn with the media and known for refusing to comment on major situations in the country, made a public statement Thursday on the situation in Manipur. The statement, his first on the situation, comes two and a half months after the violence began.  

The eastern state of Manipur has been enveloped in ethnoreligious violence since May 3, when a peaceful Kuki student protest was attacked by Meiti fomenters who burned an important Kuki cultural site as well as numerous homes and churches. 

A video emerged earlier this week showing two Kuki women stripped naked and being paraded about by a crowd reportedly composed of 800-1,000 Meiti men. An eyewitness of the incident, which happened during the second day of violence on May 4, says that the two women and another not pictured were violently assaulted, gang raped, and then left by the mob. All three women survived, though the mob killed at least two male relatives in the same incident. 

The two-month gap between the incident and the video becoming known is likely due to the Indian government’s draconian internet lockdown in the region, a common practice by the government in troubled areas and one that has drawn international condemnation for its dampening impact on the flow of information out of these critical areas. 

Speaking before the opening of the monsoon session of the Indian parliament Thursday, Modi called the May 4 gang rape a “shameful incident” and one that reflected poorly on the whole country.  

“I want to assure the nation, no guilty [people] will be spared,” he told gathered reporters, according to the Guardian. “Action will be taken according to the law. What happened to the daughters of Manipur can never be forgiven. As I stand next to this temple of democracy, my heart is filled with pain and anger.” 

Though the violence is largely ethnic in nature, religious differences between the main ethnic groups involved have inflamed tensions, as demonstrated in the targeting of places of worship. 

Reliable information is scarce due to the lack of internet access in the region. Still, ICC sources and others suggest that 200-400 Christian churches, including at least two dozen Meiti churches, and some dozens of temples have been destroyed along more than 3,500 houses. Tens of thousands have been displaced by the ongoing violence.  

The immediate cause of the current unrest lies in a recommendation made by the Manipur High Court that the executive branch of the state government make the majority Meitei people eligible for Scheduled Tribe benefits, including access to land traditionally reserved for the minority Kuki community and other historic indigenous tribes. The Meitei have been pushing for this for over a decade, but they have not historically been considered an indigenous tribe and have not traditionally desired Scheduled Tribe status, given certain stigmas associated with that designation.  

A long-term solution to the violence in Manipur must do more than quell the immediate violence—it must address the root issues at stake, including religious tensions where applicable. Though religion is not the only issue at play, it is a serious one and cannot afford to be ignored moving forward. 

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