The Catholic Church in Kerala, which had been accused of cosying up to the Bharatiya Janata Party, has come down heavily on the Union government over the raging violence in Manipur, effectively ending the bonhomie that developed over the past many months. Joseph Pamplany, Archbishop of Thalassery diocese, who had made a guarded statement earlier terming Manipur violence ‘a clash between two tribes,’ and that ‘nobody should use it for political gains’ has now unleashed a scathing criticism on Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling the violence in Manipur a genocide.
Jacob G Palackapilly, the official spokesperson of Kerala Catholic Bishop Council (KCBC), in a speech called Narendra Modi a man with double standards. “In Manipur and in Karnataka, when BJP came to power, Christian institutions were attacked. Though the Indian media is silent about it, the international media is talking about it. When Christians and Muslims are attacked here others don’t feel secure. Small communities can be attacked anytime. Because India has a fascist government,” he said.
On June 28, while addressing a gathering in Thrissur held in solidarity with victims of Manipur, bishop Pamplany said what is happening in Manipur is a planned genocide with the help from government. Flaying the statement made by the PM, while on a recent visit to the United States, that there is “no question of discrimination on the grounds of caste, creed or religion” in India, the bishop said minority communities will no longer believe it.
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“Initially, it began as violence between two tribes and we thought it would end soon. But it was slowly revealed to us that, in the name of a conflict between the tribes, there were planned, intentional efforts to destroy Christians. Now the Christians within both communities (the Meitei and Kuki) are being targeted. Many incomparable cruelties and murders are happening. More than 300 Christians have been killed, more than 500 churches were destroyed. This huge genocide is happening in Manipur,” Pamplany said.
The bishop, who in the past had received flak for supporting ‘Love Jihad’ conspiracy theory, and had recently suggested that they could elect a BJP MP from the state if the price of rubber was hiked to Rs 300 per kg, extended his support to Muslims in North India, stating that they are being targeted.
“PM Modi, while addressing the US Congress said there is no discrimination in India. We are asking the honourable PM whether he can tell that there is no discrimination happening in India looking at the faces of Christians in Manipur. To keep up the power, some are cruelly hijacking the freedom of faith given by the Indian Constitution. This is not just confined to Manipur, Christians and Muslims are being victimised through brutal torture and unjustified mob attacks in North India. The authorities responsible are watching it silently. Many people are being lynched on the roads over mere suspicions. No believer hailing from a minority community can say that there is no discrimination in India,” he said.
Finally, taking a direct hit at the BJP government, the catholic bishop said that violence is government sponsored.
“Manipur is ruled by the regional unit of the party that is in power at the national level. The assailants in Manipur use the uniforms of armed forces and police. We should think how they got access to it. Is it government sponsored violence to destroy a community they don’t like? Neither the Prime Minister nor any authorities were ready to disown the assailants or take any action.” Pamplany said. Those who provide support and create conditions favourable to the assailants cannot be beleived when they deliver speeches about protecting the minorities, he added.
Speaking to the media the bishop compared Manipur violence to Gujarat riots.
In April 2023, Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, in an interview said Christians are secure in Modi’s India, sparking a controversy. When the churches, Christian institutions and organisations were widely attacked in northern India, such a statement from the topmost priest invited flak. Alencherry is currently facing a probe by the Enforcement Directorate over irregularities related to sale of land owned by the Church.
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Why a U turn?
Some critics had alleged that the ED’s action of turning heat on Alencherry, summoning the Church’s apostolic administrator and procurator to appear before it, could have played a role in the Church taking a position vehemently critical of the BJP’s role in Manipur.
However, a priest from Thalassery diocese, who sought anonymity, said it was due to realisation by the Church leadership regarding the truth behind Manipur violence. “The situation in Manipur turned worse than we expected. We all already knew that BJP was getting close to us only for electoral gains, but the bishops had expected something else. Only now do they realise that it is a party that minorities cannot come close with. What is happening in Manipur is really is a genocide,” he said.
The KCBC is planning to organise a meeting on July 5 at 5 pm at their office in Palarivattom, Kochi to declare its solidarity with the people of Manipur.