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23 April 2024

Elections in Manipur rescheduled after violence

Violence broke out at polling booths in Manipur, India, on 19 April. Christians in the state are praying for peace and unity.

Manipur elections were cancelled and postponed because of violence

Elections got off to an unsettling start in Manipur, India, last Friday. Voting will continue across the country in several stages until early June – but eyes were on Manipur on Friday, 19 April, as elections were due to start. But gunshots and violence meant that they had to be rescheduled to 22 April.

Violence continues a year after initial clash

It’s almost a year since an ethno-religious clash in Manipur led to violence breaking out between Meitei and Kuki tribes, with Christians on both sides disproportionately targeted. Thousands of people are still displaced, and many have lost everything. On 19 April, Meitei extremists from the Arambai Tenggol group attacked polling booths, vandalised ballot machines and even cast false votes on behalf of other citizens. Clashes and gunfire alarmed locals, and videos circulated on social media of attacks with stones and other violence.

“On the day of the election, there were complaints of voter intimidation, booth-capturing, and violence,” shares Priya Sharma*, a local Open Doors partner. “Armed men were roaming around polling stations despite the presence of security forces, while others showed miscreants firing multiple rounds near polling stations, following with voters fleeing.”

"It is hurtful to see how Manipur is suffering." Priya Sharma, Open Doors

People had hoped that the elections would pass peacefully – but this unrest has shown how deeply the divides run. “An important event like the elections where the security is high and tight has not been spared by miscreants to create violence – this shows the real situation of Manipur,” says Sharma. “There hasn’t been a month where violence is not reported. It is hurtful to see how Manipur is suffering.

“Communities that once lived in peace and harmony are at loggerheads with each other due to the hatred and misconception spread by the extremists, while there is still a huge section of people who still long to live in love and tranquillity.”

Re-attempt at voting more peaceful

Many from both tribes had planned to boycott the elections, due to this conflict, while others went to cast their votes with the hope for peace and stability to prevail. But many more haven’t been given the choice. Displaced people from Manipur – including thousands of Christians – have not been able to vote, as they cannot enter their villages. They have also been unable to change their address and vote elsewhere, because they lost vital ID documents in the violence. Open Doors partners have heard stories of men returning home to collect these crucial documents for the family, and being ambushed and killed while doing so.

Because of this violence, the initial votes on 19 April were declared null and void and re-polling in Manipur was held on 22 April. The Hindu reports that the second attempt at voting was more peaceful, with an 81.64% voter turnout.

Violence and heartache continue in Manipur

This violence is far from an anomaly in Manipur. On the ground, local residents continue to witness clashes and killings between the Meitei extremists and Kuki extremists. Displaced families are unable to return to their villages and homes, and are still taking refuge in relief camps and neighbouring states. As recently as 12 April, two Kuki Christians were shot dead.

"I believe that the God of all understanding will restore the peace and goodwill in Manipur." Kiran, local pastor

“I must go meet the church believers secretly,” says Kiran*, a Meitei pastor. “Our heart desires to have a place to worship freely, have stability in the state, and live in unison with each other. There is division, hatred, and enmity. I believe that, with patience, the God of all understanding will restore the peace and goodwill in Manipur.”

Minthang*, a Kuki pastor, agrees: “When the violence broke out, I thought it would last a day or two, but it has been one year, and we continue to witness clashes and hear gunfire and bombing. It is painful to see this state turn into a battleground. I also believe that God is mindful of our situation, and He will put back the state to peace and unity.”

Keep praying as elections continue

Amidst the ongoing violence, Open Doors partners are continuing to reach out to the affected victims with presence ministry, food aid, safe housing, small-scale projects, income-generating projects and trauma counselling. The need is ongoing and the partners are trying to reach as many people as possible.

“The situation is grim and agonising in Manipur,” says Priya Sharma. “Violence-hit victims continue to grapple and strive for survival and normalcy. The state and its people need our continued prayer and support; along with them, we also are eagerly anticipating solidity, law and order, and amicableness with the communities and state,” requests Priya Sharma.

The second phase of voting in Manipur is scheduled for 26 April, covering other areas from the first votes. Given the violence on 19 April, Priya Sharma believes that there would be tight and high deployment of security forces, and election officials would be extra vigilant to have peaceful voting. Please pray for peaceful, safe voting.

*Names changed for security reasons

Please pray
  • For the elections to be protected from further violence
  • For displaced people in Manipur to be able to return to their homes
  • That God would bless Manipur with peace and unity.
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