My God my God, why have THEY forsaken us? – A reflection on Manipur

I am on a two-year sabbatical; that is a privilege considering the shortage of priests in the Archdiocese of Mumbai. It would seem that every hand should be on the deck and here I am, away in Goa. While my compulsions of health and ideological issues have forced me to take time off, the “fire within me” does not seem to burn out. God, it seems, won’t let me go even though my Archbishop so kindly did. So, it is with fear and trepidation I write my thoughts while entrusting my life to being HIS disciple who spoke his mind.

Everything within me tells me to shut up and sit back and take my sabbatical easy but then there is this ‘Jeremiah moment’ that I seem to be experiencing all of this week. What is that you ask? I echo the sentiments of the prophet Jeremiah, not that I am even a far cry to who or what he was but that ‘Jeremiah moment’ resounds loudly. Jeremiah 20:9 says, “If I say, “I will not mention him (God), or speak any more in his name, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in and I cannot.” So here goes…..

Manipur has burnt for more than 60 days. There is now enough evidence to point to the complicity of silence, if not more, of the powers that be; both federally and locally. Government officials have now told us that at least 500,000 pieces of ammunition, including grenades and mortars, and around 3,500 weapons were stolen in the riot-hit state and that too from the police armoury; that itself, as one commentator stated, is reason to file charges of sedition. These were most obviously put in the hands of those who have been given the mandate to terrorize the tribals of Manipur, many, if not most of whom, are Christians.

The Archbishop of Imphal has gone on record to state that more than 349 churches in the state were burnt within 36 hours of the violence erupting. That is not coincidence, that is a well-planned and coordinated attack. Fr Matthew Fernandes, director, NERSC, in an interview with Karan Thapar clearly indicated that churches in little know areas in the forests were targeted? How could city boys on motorbikes know where to go and what to target? This is the Gujarat model now being unleashed on Christians in Manipur and a model I suspect which is being perfected for other states too.

But is this too much to read all at once? Not at all. We have had enough of wrapping murder and violence in pretty bows of secularistic jargon and social niceties. It is time to call the failure of the Manipur government what it actually is, state sponsored ethnic cleansing. Which federal system allows an incompetent state government to continue in power sixty plus days into riots and looting and with what seems to be the clear intent to drive out the tribal Christians from their homes in forest? How does India’s first tribal President continue to keep her constitutional post in ceremonial splendour when her tribal people continue to suffer? Why has she not gone to them when they came to her at Rashtrapati Bhavan?

But why throw stones so far? Today, (July 2nd, 2023) the president of the CBCI, Archbishop Andrews Thazhath of Trichur, president of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India (CBCI), has directed Catholics throughout the country to observe this day as a day of prayer for peace in Manipur. Seriously Your Grace? More than sixty days after our brothers and sisters have been murdered, terrorized and displaced, all we can do is issue an appeal for prayer? Make no mistake, I am not undermining or diminishing the power of prayer, I am questioning the collective conscience of the Bishops of India and even more their collective silence. Why did the office bearers of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India (CBCI) not go hat in hand and camp themselves outside the Prime Minister’s office and demand no less for his silence to be broken?

This is the same prime minister who stood in White House just a week back and said, “democracy is in India’s DNA, it is in India’s spirit, in its blood, the democratic Indian government works on the basis of a democratic Indian Constitution, and if there are no human values, no humanity, no human rights, there is no democracy.” Really Modiji? Then why have you not uttered a word about the situation in Manipur or has that just become your style; to speak up too late? Is this but not tacit approval to those with vested agendas to continue the mayhem they have begun? The PM did not bat an eyelid when he spoke on foreign soil, in Australia to be precise, on the attacks on temples in that country; but not a word even when 349 churches were burnt and attacked in your own country and that too in one tiny state?

But to the many Christians who are reading this article, nodding their head in agreement, let me pick a stone for you too before you throw many at me in a series of questions that have come to be known as the ‘whataboutry’ form of evasion of the real issues at hand. Why are you silent while our brothers and sisters die in Manipur? Were you not educated by the Church whom you ought to defend? Why are you waiting for the hierarchy of the Church to speak up? Why have you relegated your role as voices of conscience to those who will not speak because they have ‘their compulsions?” How many Catholics have flooded face book and social media with their protests about the situation in Manipur as much as they have with the events of joy and blessedness in their lives (read your recent holiday or party)?

Ironically, I have reposted two or three articles on this matter on Facebook. Believe you me, not one like, not one share, not one comment as of this morning. I wonder if Facebook has received instructions to make sure that these post never get any likes. But what I fear more is the silence of this nation and in particular of the Christian community who have now begun to fear reprisal from government for speaking up for democracy. So much for a democratic nation!

I guess today I will lose friends on both sides of the aisle. The government for sure will not see this article as fair criticism. Today, to criticise the government makes you anti-national. It is more likely that you will go to jail for writing an article critical of the government but not for burning a Church. But I also suspect I will have lost friends in the Church because I dared to question their silence. The Gospel of today is emphatic, to be a disciple one has to put everything else in second place and embrace the cross of Christ. The fire burns in my bones!

Perhaps many may question why I speak just for my faith, my community; why not for all who suffer as we rightfully ought to each time violence breaks out. Let me make no apology for speaking for the underdog of the moment. The majority it seems, have the backing of government.

Christ bleeds on the cross; for the persecutors and the persecuted. Today, the people of Manipur, suffering with our Lord on the cross have this to say, “ My God, My God why have THEY forsaken us? “

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