Genesis of Manipur Conflict and Christian Conversions

Genesis of Manipur Conflict and Christian Conversions

Manipur (Mani+pur, city of jewels) has a long history going far back to Mahabharata. One of Arjun’s wives, Chitrangada was from Manipur and their son ruled it later. Since then, Hinduism has been the mainstay of the region, with most of the kings professing to be Vaishnavas. Manipuri dance is a famous classical dance, showcasing the Raas Leela of Krishna, a reminder that Vaishnav Parampara is well-entrenched in the region. The situation started changing after the arrival of the British in the area in the late 19th century, and with them, a lot of missionaries also checked in, as usual. However, the conversions in the region started a little late compared to Nagaland and Mizoram. It was a virgin territory, and it soon caught the probing eyes of the missionaries. William Pettigrew, a British Christian minister of the Arthington Aborigines Missionary group, arrived in India in 1894. At that time, all the conversion activities in the Northeast were being spearheaded by the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, so he converted to the Baptist to synergize the operations.

Manipur has two distinct geographical areas with hills and a valley. People living in the valley were Hindus, while hill people were all tribals, mainly Kukis, and this is true even now, and they lived in harmony. There was lot of cross-cultural connection between the tribals and Hindus with many of the tribal gods being assimilated within the infinite pantheon of Sanatana Dharma. Pettigrew started his activities first in a valley among Hindus, but after facing much resistance, he shifted to Ukhrul, one of the hill regions of Manipur. Pettigrew opined about the Manipuri Hindus: “Nagas have for generations been in constant touch with the Manipuris of the valley, who are bigoted Hindus, and it is a fact that the Nagas also have conservative ideas of their own beliefs in evil spirits.”

He opened a primary school and a dispensary in the hills to help the local people. At that time, Bengali was considered the intellectual language in the region, which many people couldn’t speak. Pettigrew started teaching in regional dialects and simultaneously translated the Bible into the local Tangkhul dialect. He was soon followed by Watkin Robert, U. M. Fox, and Dr. G.G. Crozier to spread the gospel. Pettigrew was later awarded the honour of Kaisar-I-Hind Medal for his contribution to propagating the word of God and imparting Western education.

As per standard modus operandi, locals were told that their religion, way of life, and everything associated with them were barbaric and savage. The way they pray to multiple gods, headhunting, drinking rice beer, open sex environment, wild celebrations, half-naked attire and even their haircut were all uncivilised. They were further told to pray to one true god whose messenger had once turned water into wine. What missionaries did was to uproot the shared heritage in the region and wreck the inter-community harmony in the North East. Additionally, they set every tribal community on warpath with the other.

However, despite much effort, conversions didn’t pick up, and the number of Christians in 1911 was not even in three digits, but churches began to dot every second village. When asked about the failure of his conversion efforts, Pettigrew asserted that ‘the seed has been sown, and pray God that His Spirit will commence a mighty work in many hearts.’

However, World War I changed everything. British were recruiting labours and soldiers to fight on their behalf. Kuki tribals, however, had something else in mind and refused to do the British’ bidding. They launched guerrilla warfare against the British in 1917, which lasted two long years before the British successfully brought down the rebellion. For the British, it was the longest, largest, and costliest military operation in the whole of India since the first war of independence in 1857. The war had an unusual, strong side-effect in coalescing all the Kuki tribals who were spread in Nagaland, Mizoram and Burma. It also made the work of Christian missionaries far easier as now they were dealing with one unit instead of multiple tribal units. As elsewhere in the Northeast, conversions really took off post-1941 and by 1951, Christians were 12% in Manipur. The significant change happened in this period, primarily because of the Nehru-Elwin policy. Nehru argued that the Adivasis should not be kept as anthropological specimens just for study, and at the same time, they should be protected from the exploitative grip of outside society. It meant Hindus were barred from these regions while missionaries had a free run on the pretext of anthropological tribal studies. The result was that while rest of India was on the development path, Northeast only got Bible and Churches. Today when any tourist visits Northeast, they get a time-travel feeling. Elwin even went on to become the Anthropological Adviser to the Government of NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh).

Consequently, their population crossed 20% by 1961. Continuous Illegal Influx of Kukis from Burma took their population further to 41% now, equalling the number of Hindu Meities and completely changing the demography. After independence, Kukis got the ST status, even when they were Christians, while Hindus were just given the status of OBC, that too just a decade back after lot of protests. The Meiteis, hence, are prohibited from settling in the hilly regions of the state due to hills being the ST region and have to be content with living in the Imphal Valley, constituting only 10% of the state’s land. The tribal population has the lion’s share of land and resides in the reserved and protected hilly regions of the rest 90% of the state. The Christian tribal people are not prohibited from settling in the valley region, they can buy the land easily in the valley and also corner most of the state government jobs. The unending donations from American Baptist Churches further tilt the scale in their favour. Flushed with illicit funds, many Kukis have even taken up arms and formed militant groups to cleanse their region of Hindus. Now they are asking for a separate homeland. All these factors, coupled with irreconcilable religious differences, set both communities on a violent collision path. However, the situation would have been less violent if Kukis were not Christians.

The current crisis occurred when on 20 April 2023, the Manipur High Court requested the state government to include the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list. The Kukis fear that the ST status would allow the Meiteis to purchase land in the prohibited hilly areas.

Constitution writers were primarily responsible for the mess Hindus are currently in. By allowing everyone to propagate his religion, we have committed hara-kiri. Islam and Christianity have a free run in this scenario. Under the protection of Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, Abrahamic religious organisations premise their propagation on the narrative of much better religions than Hinduism. They constantly strive for a sustained impression of being agents of a superior civilization in the sea of kafir and pagan Hindus. Through these endeavours, they continuously and falsely exhort Hindus to a higher station of existence, both spiritually and in the temporal world. As most Hindus are poor, they become quite susceptible to all the temptations offered by cash-rich proselytising institutions. They get converted, hoping that at least their children will receive an excellent education and health care. They are also constantly fed the narrative of wretched caste hierarchy within Hinduism, and any equality is just not possible; consequently, social justice is only possible in the egalitarian reign of one true god.

For the current woes, article 25 and the word ‘propagation’ in the article remains the biggest bogey. No such clause exists in any country’s Constitution where minorities are granted the fundamental right to propagate their religions freely. Loknath Misra, a member of the Constituent Assembly, who later served as the governor of many states, had suggested during a meeting of the assembly while debating on the contentious article 25 that the right to propagate one’s religion should not be made a fundamental right. He further contended that people might have the right to ‘propagate’ their religion among themselves, but including it in the Constitution would create a bad situation later. He stressed the need to protect Hindu Dharma from the onslaught of conversion:

Islam has declared its hostility to Hindu thought. Christianity has worked out the policy of peaceful penetration by the back-door on the outskirts of our social life….. Hindu generosity has been misused and politics has overrun Hindu culture.

However, his suggestions were overruled by other members as they averred that Hindu Dharma was resilient enough to take onslaughts from other religions. The clauses in the articles thus made way to the Constitution, to the immense detriment of Hindus. The last straw on the camel’s back was when Indira Gandhi inserted the word ‘secular’ in the Preamble of the Constitution during Emergency days. Most of her amendments were rolled back afterwards by the successor government, but not the word ‘secular.’

World over, conversions have destroyed many civilisations as they not only destroy the fabric of a community but also its ancestors’ spiritual and cultural knowledge, heritage and continuity. It is a heinous act of emotional, physical and intellectual violence, a crime that should have no place in the twenty-first century. The cumulative result of such blunders is the catastrophe unleashed in India, especially in the Northeast.

The Church in Manipur, just like mosques elsewhere, are providing complete logistics and moral support to Christian militants and openly exhorting its followers to kill Hindus.

The country along with Manipur is burning. The situation is pathetic. Cruel demographic change is going on. Make no mistake about it. Have no doubts about it.

Written by Amit Agarwal, author of the bestseller on Indian history titled “Swift horses Sharp Swords” and “A Never-Ending Conflict”. You may buy the books at the following link: (Hindi)

Twitter handle @amit1119, Instagram/ Facebook – amitagarwalauthor

Source: Bharat Voice