Christians in Manipur, north-east India, have been warned off celebrating Christmas, sources told World Watch Monitor. The threats were made after vandals attacked Manipur Baptist Church on 17 Dec. The men and women pelted the church with stones, broke windows and damaged a gate and the church sign. They then posted a sign that said: “No one is allowed to worship and celebrate Christmas without prior permission”. No casualties were reported after the attack.

On the same day Tangkhul Baptist Church in nearby Imphal was told by a group of attackers that if they conduct worship services their church will be burnt down. Manipur Baptist Church members come mostly from the Naga hill tribe who are Christians. The Naga and other hill tribe groups identifying as Christians are often in conflict with the Meitei ethnic group who are mostly Hindus.

There has been a constant rift in the population of this north-east Indian state, which is made up of the two ethnic groups. Because of growing tension between the two groups a curfew has been imposed, with a ban on internet use, across the state until Christmas day (25 Dec).

“This might just seem to be a communal issue but this is all planned to create problems for the Christians,” a local church leader said.

Tensions in the state escalated after an incident on 15 Dec. when Manipur Chief Minister, Ibobi Singh was on his way to inaugurate a new district in Lokchow. The Naga insurgency group, National Socialist Council of Nagaland, which is not in favour of the new district formation, launched an attack that left three security guards dead. Following the attack, Meitei Hindus called a strike across Manipur.

India’s north-east corner consists of seven states linked to the rest of the country by a narrow strip of land: tribal peoples there perceive themselves to be very different – in culture, identity, and even looks – from the rest of India.

Manipur, on the Myanmar border, is about half the size of Switzerland and is made up of a valley surrounded by hills.

The majority Meitei people group have been Hindu for three centuries and live mainly in the valley. However, nearly all the (hill) tribal peoples (the Naga, Kuki and many others) are now Christian, at least in name, after the activities of Western missionaries who worked among them during the 20th century.

World Watch Monitor reported in September 2015 on violent clashes following new ‘marginalisation’ legislature across the state. The latest violence in Manipur will fuel the suspicions of militant tribal groups that the majority Meitei population is working with the state government to ostracise the tribal people.