The abuse of Christian women in Manipur tells a tragic story of the new India

Indian authorities are ignoring attacks by radicalized Hindus on Christians.

Demonstrators hold a banner during a rally in solidarity with the people of northeastern Manipur state, in Ahmedabad, India, Sunday, July 23, 2023. Protests have erupted across the country after a video showing mob assaults on two women who were paraded naked sparked widespread outrage on social media. More than 130 people have been killed in the northeastern state since violence between two dominant ethnic groups erupted in early May. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

(RNS) — In 1972, the course of the Vietnam war was changed by the horrifying photo of a naked girl burned in a napalm attack. Searing Americans’ collective conscience, the picture of 9-year-old Phan Thị Kim Phúc revealed the immorality of the war. Now, a viral video of Christian Kuki women being paraded naked in public, groped, gang-raped by Hindu men, has seared the Indian and even the global conscience.

A day after video of the event went viral, the chief justice of India, D.Y. Chandrachud, demanded that the central government act, saying the Supreme Court would otherwise take matters into its hands.

The central and the state government in Manipur have failed to deal with the ethnic strife and carnage in Manipur, which has targeted the Kuki population with the complicity of the police. But wherever minority Christians have been attacked, in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and other states, local police have allowed Hindu extremist mobs to attack hapless Christians without consequences. Indian authorities can no longer deny the reality that the Manipur attack, while an example of barbaric ethnic cleansing, is also religiously motivated.

The Indian public has only now found out about the Manipur attack because the state was put under an internet blackout for 80 days following the incident. As the opposition member of Parliament Jaya Bachchan put it, “It’s very frustrating. Every day something is happening with women. In (Uttar Pradesh) we don’t get to know what happens there.”

The claim by the chief minister of Manipur, who has been sympathetic to Hindu extremists there, that both sides had precipitated hundreds of similar incidents is grossly misleading. While there has been general unrest, the vast majority of the victims are Kuki Christians.

A massive number of Christians in Manipur, who make up some 40% of the state’s population, have been displaced, while Kuki Christians in particular have witnessed the destruction of hundreds of their churches and the brutal rape of their women. It is obvious that Kuki Christians are under full-scale attack by radicalized Hindu groups and that the police are ignoring this injustice. When he resigned earlier this month, the vice president of the neighboring state of Mizoram, a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP Party, said the party has become an anti-Christian party. 

In the wake of the outrage, Modi has broken his 80-day silence on the Manipur violence and the breakdown of law and order. He condemned the violence against these innocent Kuki women, yet his statement veered into politics by also mentioning violence against women in Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, which are ruled by the opposition party. 

The human rights issue has tragically been politicized here in India, as it often is elsewhere throughout the world. It’s not only within the BJP. Other parties have also succumbed to this. 

The India we knew is fast disappearing. This violent assault and murder of women in Manipur points to the possible India of the future if we fail to awaken the Indian conscience across religious and caste lines. 

Whether it’s a Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Dalit woman who is raped or killed, all of India, and the world, must speak out for justice. Indians must reject any form of religious, caste or ethnic polarization that stands in the way of equal treatment under the law. India must reject any form of politics and hatred as it pertains to these issues.

Archbishop Joseph D’Souza. Courtesy photo

Archbishop Joseph D’Souza. Courtesy photo

Violence and sexual assault against any Indian woman is a travesty, no matter the background of the victim or the perpetrator. Yet if hate speech and bigotry continue to rule the day, as we’ve witnessed in Manipur, India will descend further into chaos for women nationwide. 

(Archbishop Joseph D’Souza, archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India and president of the All India Christian Council, is the founder of Dignity Freedom Network. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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