We believe the dictum ‘All is fair in love and war’ does not stand with regard to desecration and sacrilege in religious places and sacred spaces. Early in the ethnic clashes which started on May 3, there were incidents of burning of churches and temples besides sacrilege in sacred sites. But it was projected as an all-out attack on the Church and Christians by the majority Hindus which found many takers in the Christian world and some media houses and journalists who view anything through the prism of anti-BJP lenses. It is a quirk of fate that Manipur is being ruled by BJP presently when this ethnic strife started.
As a small state almost entirely dependent on the good graces of the party in power in New Delhi, Manipur followed the trend and voted for BJP. So clearly, a strong pro-Christian and anti-Hindu bias was running in interpreting or narrating events in the state while incidents of sacrilege on temples and holy sites or sacred spaces going back to antiquity had been neglected.
Many Churches belonging to the Meiteis were also burned and destroyed in the violence and nobody knows who had done it although there were allegations. We are against any kind of desecration or sacrilege of any religious place and everyone should also be against such actions.
The All Manipur Christian Organisation (AMCO) was right in condemning such incidents and acts. We have seen and heard who use to swear by ‘neutrality’ or of not being involved in this ethnic strife pass judgments and condemnations whenever there are incidents of arson or desecration of churches but strangely silent whenever incidents of desecration of temples or holy sites and acts of sacrilege are reported.
As we have said earlier that, a sizeable number of Meiteis, mostly among the poorer sections of the society have converted to Christianity, while the majority remains Vaishnavite Hindu. But the latest craze is towards the indigenous faith. Yet, one must realise that the particular brand of Hinduism being followed and practiced here is much too different from that of North India. The ancient culture and value system of the Meiteis are still deeply rooted in its religious practices and rituals while on the surface it is seen as part of Hindu Vaishnavism practices.
Pluralism is inherent in the Meitei society and it is evident in its culture and religious practices. Anyone who tries to negate this pluralistic tradition and culture would be at peril.
A Meitei pastor who ridiculed the ancient rituals of the Meiteis was chastised until he was saved by a powerful Christian MLA. He had provoked the anger and fury of Meiteis both Vaishnavites and of indigenous faith. He was a Meitei turned Christian pastor with some oratorical skills and he simply loves to ridicule the traditional rituals and culture of certain communities including the Meitei to press home his Christian message.
Given the religious divide in the state, many people like it when a Meitei pastor ridicules his own community’s rituals and cultural practices. Likewise, it is not uncommon among people who convert either to Christianity or newer faiths to forget their roots, culture and traditional practices. Yet in recent times, the realisation of the need of projecting a unique identity in its own right for every community has compelled most communities to relive and revive the age-old cultural tradition inherent in the yearly festivals. The desecration of sacred spaces linked with origin theories and other traditions of yore of the Meiteis had started long before the May 3 clashes began.
The Meitei community was particularly unhappy when the Kukis desecrated the sacred sites of Mt Koubru and Mt Thangjing and it was before the clashes started. But the Meitei community kept its cool and waited for the state government to act. The government had declared both Mt Koubru and Mt Thangjing as protected sites under the Manipur Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1976. They asked the state government to act. And then the ethnic clashes broke out while the Meiteis were shut out of either Mt Koubru or Mt Thangjing. Now, the Kukis have erected a Cross at Mt Thangjing. We are waiting to see how the ‘neutral forces’ react and the state government act in this regard. The directive of the apex court is very clear on this.