A Happy Ending for Sarah Baite
Happy endings are more common in the movies than in life, in which every end is the beginning of something else. Still, given all that Sarah Lamsi Baite and her daughter have been through in the last seven years, things could hardly be better .
Sarah’s story is well-known to readers of our Newsletter. A two-time widow and member of Churachandpur’s B’nei Menashe community since 2005, Sarah, now 44, has three children, the oldest of whom is married with a child, and the youngest of whom, a daughter, was raped as a 10-year-old by a Shavei Israel crony in 2016. Warned not to talk about the incident, Sarah was expelled from her Shavei Israel-controlled congregation for appealing for help to the neighborhood authorities, pressured to refrain from filing a police complaint, and barred from the Shavei-compiled Aliyah lists that her daughter’s assailant, who immigrated to Israel in 2018, was put on .When she first spoke to our Newsletter in December 2021 after a written plea to Israel’s Minister of Immigration and Absorption Pnina Tamano-Shata had gone unanswered, she was living with her severely traumatized child and eking out a bare living as a day laborer in nearby rice fields. “My daughter’s life is ruined,” she told us then. “Every time I talk about it, all the hurt comes back. I feel helpless, and it’s a reality I have to live with every day. I have no reason to be happy. Honestly, I have no expectations. I can only put my trust in God.”
Then, though, the tide began to turn. As a result of our Newsletter’s first article about her, Sarah’s case was taken up by ranking Likud member Miri Regev on the floor of Israel’s Knesset, creating a wave of sympathy for her in the B’nei Menashe community. Buoyed by it and backed by Degel Menashe and Manipur’s B’nei Menashe Council, she mustered the resolve to walk into a Churachandpur police station and file the complaint she had long suppressed.
It was a liberating moment. A proud and brave woman who had silently suffered years of degradation, she had finally struck back. To be sure, the consequences were not long in coming. Sarah was denounced by Shavei Israel operatives in an attempt to make her retract her complaint, temporarily forced to flee Churanchandpur under threats of violence, and ejected upon her return from the house, owned by a Shavei Israel sympathizer, that she was living in as an exploited caretaker. Yet she refused to give in. Galvanized by her action, she set about rebuilding her life.
What a difference a year can make! Today, Sarah is living in a rented home of her own with a backyard in which she raises chickens and ducks for sale, runs a profitable sidewalk restaurant, and has a stand from which she sells the vegetables that she and her family grow on a plot of leased land.
A talented singer, she also leads a choral group dedicated to performing and recording traditional B’nei Menashe songs. And her daughter, who for years was in a severe post-traumatic depression, is now back in school, has made friends, and is living a normal life. Recently, she was awarded 50,000 rupees by Manipur’s Child Welfare Committee in initial compensation for her ordeal.
All this would not have happened without Sarah’s grit and determination. But it also needed the support she received from Degel Menashe and the B’nei Menashe Council. The BMC especially, via the efforts of its chairman Lalam Hangshing and its general secretary Ohaliav Haokip, has accompanied Sarah closely over the past year. It has provided her with legal services, helped her with necessary paperwork, assisted her in finding and moving to a new home (for which it paid the first months’ rent), and forced her persecutors to back off by letting them know that she was under its legal and physical protection.
“And the BMC’s supporters in Israel,” Sarah told us, “even stepped in and bought me a new refrigerator for the little restaurant that I opened! This has been very useful to me, because I can now buy supplies for many days at once and save time. I typically serve forty to fifty customers on a good day. Even on less good ones, I earn enough to pay the bills.
In the morning, the customers are a mixture of children and adults dropping by for a quick breakfast on their way to work or school. Afternoons, it’s mostly the children coming for a snack before heading home. We serve paratha [an Indian flatbread with a potato filling], chow mein, and other lights meals with rice. Right now, we’re thinking of expanding the menu.
“This last year has been a very good one for my family,” Sarah says. “I’m so grateful to God. We have about twenty-five hatchlings in our back yard right now, which I’ll sell when they mature and turn a profit on. We grow more than enough for ourselves on the land that we’ve leased, mostly pumpkins, beans, and peas, and sell the rest at the stand that we operate. We’re comfortably off and never have to worry any more about where the next meal is coming from, or whether the landlord will renew the lease, or what the future will bring. And best of all, my daughter is smiling again!"
True, her daughter's rapist has not yet been brought to justice. Sarah still hopes that he will be. But the changes in their lives have been great, "In fact," she says, "I've never been happier!"