When the world watched with horror as violence swept through Manipur State in northeastern India in May 2023
, many were shocked at how many Christians were
killed and how many churches were burned. More than 10,000 followers of Jesus were displaced, and some observers even wondered if it would result in a civil war in the State.
While many sought to portray the violence as strictly an ethnic conflict, that isn’t entirely true. The tribal groups in Manipur State—especially the Kuki and Naga tribes—are largely Christian, and the most populous people group are the Meitei, who are
majority Hindu. Among the Meitei, only about 3% are Christians—and though they shared an ethnicity with the Meitei, they found themselves targeted by their own kinsman in the May riots.
One person who probably wasn’t
surprised that religion played an important role in the brutality is Istuti*, an Open Doors partner from Manipur. She knows about the violence against believers among the Meitei. “They suffer secretly,” she says.
She should know—she’s one of them.
Growing up a Hindu Meitei
Growing up, Istuti was a Hindu, just like most people in the Meitei people group. “I used to worship idols,” she says. “We have a temple in our house, and my father used to serve [in] the temple as a Hindu. So, I also used to serve at the temple. I didn’t
know the Lord.”
But Istuti’s life changed when a chance visit to a church led her to hear a sermon on John 3:16. “That word took to my heart, and I felt that God loves me so much, He gave the only Son for my sin,” she says. “I came to know my Savior—my personal Savior!
And I was so happy when I went home. I was so excited. I had so much peace in my heart, so much joy that I shared to my family.”
Istuti’s family did not share in her excitement. It wasn’t long before her father began regularly beating her violently, destroying her Bible and persecuting her. “[My new faith] provoked the anger of my family because before, I used to serve all the
idols, and suddenly I stopped,” she explains.
“When I read the Bible, they’d throw the Bible or they’d burn it,” Istuti remembers. “They’ve burned [more than five of my Bibles]—but I used to have a small Bible that I hid under the hay [on our land]. We have cows and buffaloes, and whenever my father
told me to go and cut the hay, I was so happy that I get to read the Bible! When I would finish, I would hide the Bible again.”
Her family also stopped her from attending church. They would pull her hair and drag her back in the house whenever she’d try to go to services. They would even tie her up on Sundays so she couldn’t go to church.
Over the course of her teenage years, Istuti endured regular abuse for her faith in Jesus. She was beaten so severely one Christmas she couldn’t leave her bed. Her father kicked her out of the house one time, and she had to stay in the jungle. One of
her uncles even offered to kill her.
That was now 20 years ago. Istuti was able to escape her situation and attend Bible school. She’s now married and has been able to leave her family home, though she still wants to have a relationship with her family.
But this upbringing is why the violence in May wasn’t surprising—and why Istuti continues to pray for peace and the hope of Jesus among the Meitei people.
‘They want to erase Meitei Christians’
When churches and Christian villages were set on fire by Hindu extremists on May 3, 2023, Istuti was in a neighboring city in a different state, conducting a training with other believers. She was also expecting a baby.
“There was lots of tension that night [in May],” Istuti remembers. “The people were struggling … Our volunteers and believers kept calling me all night. They couldn’t sleep! I was on the phone all of May 3 and the next day—they told me that they [Hindu-extremist
groups from her own Meitei community] were forcing them to [re]convert [to Hinduism]. ‘They are going with guns!’ they would tell me. They were even beating women and children.”
What’s most heartbreaking for Istuti is that members of her own family participated in these attacks. “That hurt me the most,” she shared, her voice breaking. “They burned my church. After they burned the church, they forced [the Meitei believers] to
reconvert … All my relatives, they are the ones who destroyed my church.
“My neighbors, my relatives, all of them are included in destroying the church … They feel that Meitei Christians support the tribal Kukis, so they want to erase all the Meitei Christians and they want to destroy Meitei churches.”
The Hindu extremists went to Meitei believers, demanding they reconvert and sign a statement saying they had left behind their faith in Jesus. “The [extremists] told [the Meitei believers] they should stop being Christians, that they should come back
to being Hindu,” Istuti says. “And they cannot build churches anymore. That's what they stipulated on a paper and told them to sign. They were beaten if they didn’t sign the paper.”
Istuti was torn and deeply troubled. Her faith and ethnicity seemed at war. She couldn’t help her fellow believers in the Kuki tribes because she is Meitei—and she was being targeted by Meitei extremists because she follows Jesus.
“I was lost, I just prayed – ‘Lord, please heal our people, heal our people,’” she says. Istuti couldn’t go back to Manipur because of the violence, and the grief took a toll on her body. Eventually, the emotional trauma was so dramatic that she miscarried
‘I believe the Lord will save them’
Months after the May attacks, Istuti continues to grieve the loss of her baby, and the continued hostilities among her people. Yet, she continues to hold on to who God is. “I remember the word of God says that from Isaiah 40: ‘Do not be afraid,
I'm with you,’” she says. “That word encouraged me a lot and I know He strengthens me until now. He's always with me.”
She also hasn’t stopped praying for her family. “I love them so much,” she explains. “I'm praying for them. I believe the Lord will save them. My prayer is that one day, they will testify that Jesus is their Lord.”
Istuti is still praying for peace in Manipur, for the restoration of the relationship between the Meitei and Kuki tribes. Yet, her heart breaks especially for her fellow Meitei believers, who are ostracized by their own community for being followers of
"I want everybody who’s praying for Manipur to know that [Meitei Christians] are facing lots of suffering. I want to give them a voice, to pray and stand with them,” she says. “Everybody hates them because they are Meitei, and people don't see how they
are struggling. They are struggling [with oppression] from their family, from their relatives, and those who are pastors, they are facing being beaten, and are threatened [with death].
“Even in my community, when I became a Christian, they told me to reconvert! My family, my relatives, all of them! But I strongly stand because I know that the Lord will be with me. Jesus died for me; why do I need to reject [Him]? I cannot deny Him.
I cannot leave my faith, even if they kill me.”
As one of Open Doors’ local partners, Istuti continues to reach out to Kuki and Meitei believers affected by the ongoing violence in Manipur with grocery relief, presence ministry, and other practical aid. Thanks to your gifts and prayers, she’s been
able to help Christians recover from the horrific violence.
“The day before yesterday, I talked to them, and we also gave [those whose houses have been damaged] tin roofs,” she shared. “Thank you so much for listening to my stories and praying with me. When you spent time with me, I felt that I am not alone, I
am able to pour out my heart. Thank you for your encouragement from the Word of God. Thank you for remembering the persecuted church and supporting them through your constant prayers and help; indeed we are one Body of Christ. Thank you for all your prayer
support for Manipur."
*Name changed for security reasons.
- Continue to pray for peace in Manipur—pray that the Kuki-Christian tribes and Meitei-Hindu tribes will find reconciliation.
- Pray for the ministry of Istuti with affected believers during this conflict. Pray that the Lord will continue to use her mightily and that He would protect her.
- Pray for Meitei Christians who are a small minority in their community. Pray that they would stand strong in the promises of God in Christ, and that they would hold on to their faith despite being forced by their own friends and loved ones to recant
- Praise God for Istuti’s enduring faith and testimony. One of the things Sister Istuti rejoices about is the fact her father, who persecuted her before, came to know Jesus before he passed in 2020. She shared: “My father told me ‘what you are doing is
right. Because of my fear, because of the pressure of the community, I have behaved like that. I am so sorry. I know that what you are doing is right.’” Praise God for changing the heart of Istuti’s father—please continue to pray for the rest of her
family to know Christ.
- Pray for Open Doors’ partners like Istuti who take the risk to reach the persecuted church amid challenges and dangers.