(Pic: A computer class in session in the Indian state of Manipur)
Christians in India’s northeastern state of Manipur are fighting government plans to build a technology institute on 300 acres of land where four churches and a synagogue are currently located.
Kim Gangte, a Seventh-day Adventist and a former member of the Indian parliament who heads an action committee against the land seizure, told Ecumenical News International (ENI) the government is using the project as a “tool” to “drive out” the region’s Christian tribal minorities.
Many of the Christians who make up more than 30 percent of Manipur’s 2.5 million people belong to two tribal groups, the Kuki and the Naga. Members of the tribes became Christians after British missionaries arrived in India in the 19th century. Sixty-five percent of Manipur’s population belongs to a Hindu caste group called the Meitei.
It is reported that many Christians in Manipur believe the government has chosen the location because it will not affect the majority community. According to Gangte, the government has not considered alternate building sites.
About 3,000 families — almost all of whom belong to mixed ethnic tribal communities — own half of the 300 acres earmarked in a suburb of the state capital Imphal as the proposed site for constructing the National Institute of Technology.
Shops and offices in Imphal closed December 5 in protest of the plans, ENI reported, adding that the All India Christian Council has threatened a backlash if the government pursues forced evictions and acquisitions of the places of worship.
“The continued protests have evoked no positive response so far,” Madhu Chandra, the council’s regional secretary, told ENI.
“Agitating against land acquisition for industrial parks has become more frequent in India,” said Ron Watts, president of the Adventist Church in Southern Asia. He added that such protests often trigger violence.
A national fact-finding team is set to visit the region December 18. The same week, a non-government-organized “people’s tribunal” is expected to highlight the protest surrounding the construction plans, ENI said.