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A Letter From Manipur

(July 21) Our Newsletter has received the following letter to our readers from Ohaliav Haokip, General Secretary of Manipur’s B’nei Menashe Council:

Ohaliav Haokip.

“The second wave of Covid 19 has struck India with a ferocity not seen the first time around. This time, it has also hit the two states of Manipur and Mizoram, home to the B’nei Menashe community of India’s northeast, with a devastating effect. There is now a complete lockdown in all of Manipur, with only essential services like ambulances, fire trucks, and the like allowed to travel. Although the lockdown is officially in force until July 31, there is no doubt that it will be extended. The streets and roads are deserted. Curfews have been imposed. Yet this does not even seem necessary, since the fear of infection and death is so great that most people have simply shut themselves up in their homes.

“Practically all economic activity has been halted and few people have work. Everyone has been affected financially, and things only seem about to get worse. Even those with money have trouble obtaining food, because the market places and groceries have been shut down, and food can only be bought at shops that are operating clandestinely and charging higher prices.

"Things are much worse than they were a year ago, during the first wave of the pandemic, when part of the economy remained open. At the present moment, I would estimate that some 180 B’nei Menashe households out of close to a thousand in Manipur are in an emergency situation.

“The rate of illness is climbing and is currently averaging close to 20 percent of those tested in Manipur, one of the highest figures in the world. On July 21, 1,327 positive tests were reported in a state of 3.1 million people. Moreover, the real rate is undoubtedly much higher, since many people with symptoms not requiring hospitalization prefer not to be tested at all, and no testing is available in most rural and outlying areas. For the most part, reliable tests can be conducted only in hospitals. Even in Churachandpur, Manipur’s second largest city, testing stations can be found only in the center of town. In the suburb of Songgel in which I live, a testing unit has arrived only once since mid-May, when the epidemic’s second wave began – and response to it was minimal.

A shuttered street in Churachandpur.

“Daily news of new cases and fatalities circulate daily through every neighborhood. People are scared to report symptoms because they do not want to stigmatized or ostracized. Although vaccinations are obtainable, many people have refused to get them because of rumors of health complications caused by them. An atmosphere of uncertainty and distrust hangs over all of us: in Churachandpur, Imphal, Kangpokpi, Moreh, and all over Manipur and the Indian northeast. For the B’nei Menashe, the problem is even more acute because there is talk of new Aliyah groups and people are afraid to be excluded from them or left behind. Everyone knows about the high incidence of Corona in the last batch of olim that left for Israel in May, and all are aware that the next time there will be much more stringent examinations. Although there have most certainly been quite a few cases of illness in the B’nei Menashe community, almost none are being talked about.

“One of the few incidences of Covid among the B’nei Menashe that I know of is that of Michael Kipgen from Gamgiphai, a small village of 50 families some 25 kilometers west of the state capital of Imphal.

Michael Kipgen on a hospital cot.

"Michael, 32-years-old, married, and the father of two small children, spoke with me over the phone this week from his hospital bed in Kangpokpi, where he is recovering from a serious case of the disease and is still on oxygen. His medical bill is being paid for with the help of an appeal put out by our B’nei Menashe Council, which has raised over 30,000 rupees for the purpose. “I have no idea where I caught the virus from,” he told me. “Gamgiphai is a small, isolated village. If I can get it, anyone can. No one is safe anywhere.”

Ohaliav Haokip Speaks with Michael Kipgen

Question: How and when did you come down with the corona virus? Michael Kipgen: It happened about two weeks ago. One day I ran a fever. My back ached, I had no sense of smell, and I felt weak, tired, and short of breath. On July 11, my family took me to Kuki Christian Church Hospital in Imphal, where I was tested. The results came back positive the next day. . To this day, I have no idea who I caught the virus from. Our village has little contact with the outside world. Maybe it was from someone in the local marketplace. Judging from my case, the virus is everywhere. . Q: Have other members of your family been affected? MK: My 69-year-old father is also seriously sick with Covid and undergoing treatment at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal. My younger brother, who was to have taken his high-school matriculations exams this year, is in isolation at home. Q: When were you moved to where you are now? MK: On July 14. That’s when I was taken to the Leikop Covid Care Centre in Kangkokpi, where I’m now being treated. Q:What has it been like? MK: As I told you, I was very weak and found it hard to breathe, so I had to be put on oxygen. My oxygen level was very low. If I’m off the oxygen for even five minutes, I can't breathe. I’m very lucky to have received financial assistance, because there is an oxygen shortage not only in Manipur but in all of India. If I hadn’t been able to pay for it privately, I surely would have died. Now I’m recovering, slowly but surely. The fever has gone down and I’m not so fatigued any more. I’m very grateful to the BMC for the aid that it gave me and for its support and prayers.

Editorial note: In light of the situation, Degel Menashe has decided to send emergency funds to Manipur for the purchase of 5. 5 tons of rice for needy B’nei Menashe families.



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