Easter holiday is canceled then restored in heavily Christian Indian state

st. paul's church india St. Paul's Church, in Imphal, capital of Manipur state, after the church was set on fire in 2023. | Credit: Anto Akkara

After Indian officials’ announcement that Easter Sunday would be a “working day” this year was met with widespread protests from Christians, the governor of the state of Manipur in northeast India issued a statement reestablishing the annual holiday.

The March 28 reversal by the Manipur government, which is led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came within 24 hours after Manipur Gov. Anusuiya Uikey canceled the Easter holiday.

“In partial modification of the government order … dated 27th March, 2024, the governor of Manipur is pleased to declare that only the 30th March 2024 [Saturday] will be working day for all government offices,” the order read.

The previous day the government had announced that “the governor of Manipur is pleased to declare 30th [Saturday] and 31st [Sunday] March 2024 as working days for all government offices.”

Christians account for nearly half of Manipur’s population of 3.7 million. 

Archbishop Linus Neli, who heads the 100,000-strong Catholic Church in the state, told CNA that the Church had protested the cancellations of the Easter holiday to government officials. 

“We are storming the competent authority, awaiting reply,” Neli said.

A half an hour later, the archbishop shared with CNA the government’s “revised order regarding [Easter] working day.”

Tribal dancers waiting their turn at the celebration following the installation Mass of the new archbishop of Imphal Archdiocese, Linus Neli. Credit: Anto Akkara
Tribal dancers waiting their turn at the celebration following the installation Mass of the new archbishop of Imphal Archdiocese, Linus Neli. Credit: Anto Akkara

Prior to that, several Christian groups including those in Manipur had called for the cancellation of the order that stunned the Christians across the country.

“The decision to declare these sacred days as regular working days is not only insensitive but also disrespectful towards the religious sentiments of the significant portion of the population in Manipur,” lamented the Senapati District Catholic Union of Manipur in its condemnation of the governor’s order on the morning of March 28.

Of the 3.7 million Christians in Manipur state, 26% are ethnic Naga tribals, 16% are members of Kuki tribes, and more than 10% of the nearly 2 million Meiteis have also embraced the Christian faith in Manipur.

“By compelling government offices to operate on these holy days, the order not only disregards the religious rights of the Christian community but also fails to recognize the cultural diversity and religious pluralism that should be upheld and respected in democratic society,” the Senapati district Catholic forum pointed out.

“Height of insanity of the Manipur government,” a Christian pastor from Manipur who runs a theological college outside Manipur told CNA.

“What is happening is Manipur is nothing new,” John Dayal, an outspoken Catholic columnist and activist, told CNA.

“The BJP governments both at the national level and in several states had tried to insult and tinker with Christian holy days like Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter several times in the past,” Dayal pointed out.

“In 2002, I moved the Delhi High Court successfully against the bid to make Good Friday and Easter Sunday ‘working days’ against the Atal Behari Vajpayee [who was the BJP prime minister then],” said Dayal, a former member of the National Integration Council headed by the prime minister.

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“This Manipur move is keeping with [Prime Minister] Modi’s consistent scheme to whittle away rights of Christianity and Islam in new ‘Bharat.’” (Bharat is the new name the Hindu nationalist BJP has proposed for India).

Since May 2023, Manipur has seen a protracted violent clash between the majority Meiteis, most of them Hindus, and the minority Kukis (all of them Christians) that has left more than 230 dead by the official conservative death toll. Over 50,000 Kuki Christians have been chased out from the Imphal valley along with over 10,000 Meiteis who were driven out from Kuki strongholds.

Amid the violence, over 600 churches have also been destroyed. The majority of them were Kuki, but 250 Meiti Christian churches were destroyed as well in what is seen as an attempt to stop Meiteis from embracing the Christian faith. 

Meanwhile, in another piece of good news for the Christian community, Carmelite Sister Mercy, who had been arrested on a charge of “abetting the suicide” of a sixth-grade girl at the Carmel School in Ambikapur in central Chattisgarh state, was released on bail on March 28 by the trial court.

The girl student committed suicide at home after the nun had questioned her and two other girls for being together in the bathroom for a long period of time. After other students complained to the nun, she asked the girls to bring the parents to school the next day.

Following the suicide of the girl, Hindu nationalist organizations promptly organized a huge crowd to march to the school. Police were brought in and arrested the nun the next morning. Although the large crowd tried to storm the school on Feb. 8, police prevented an arson attack.

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