By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
NEW DELHI (Worthy News) – Indian troops are deployed to India’s north-eastern state of Manipur with orders to “shoot on sight” after thousands of people, mostly Christians, fled Hindu mobs, killing six people and burning at least 25 churches, officials said Friday.
Since Wednesday, people began fleeing as, besides churches, their homes and businesses were torched, several sources said.
Tensions over property rights and economic interests existed between the state’s ethnic groups for decades, but local leaders linked church burnings to rising Hindu nationalism among the dominant Meite community.
The violence and arson forced about 9,000 people to flee their homes in the remote state, which borders Myanmar, according to local authorities.
The state government has not confirmed that at least six people were killed and suggested the death toll could rise.
India’s chief minister, N Biren Singh, said that “precious lives have been lost,” and at least 20 people were reportedly injured, including two local politicians.
He called the situation a “prevailing misunderstanding between two communities” and said his government was committed to protecting “the lives and property of all our people.”
LACK OF PROTECTION
Christians have often complained about what they say is a lack of protection by local police and authorities.
On Friday, authorities told media they had evacuated about 20,000 people to camps under army protection to prevent further escalation.
Police and paramilitary personnel have been unable to rein in the clashes, which broke out on Wednesday, forcing the interior ministry to send in the army on Thursday, authorities said.
More troops may yet be deployed, authorities have said. Mobs of people have burned cars and buildings, vandalized shops and hotels, and destroyed churches, according to witnesses.
Analysts say the violence arises from ancient ethnic faultlines between the majority Meitei community, which is predominantly Hindu and lives in the valley in Imphal, and mainly Christian tribes who live in the surrounding hills.
The tribes, including Nagas and Kukis, form about 40 percent of the state’s 3.5 million people.
For two decades, the Meitei have demanded to be given the status of a “scheduled tribe,” making them eligible for reserved quotas in government jobs and colleges.
The tribes argue that the Meitei community is already the majority, more affluent and educated, and more influential politically, with greater representation in the state assembly.
Christians, many living in poverty in several parts of India, have reported growing persecution by Hindu extremists in the mainly Hindu nation.
Adding to the problems are controversial anti-conversion laws in several states that critics say are often used to target Christians and former Hindus who converted to Christianity.
Christians comprise more than 2 percent of India’s predominantly Hindu population of roughly 1.4 billion people, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
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