Construction Nears Completion at Suongpi
Updated: Dec 15, 2023
(September 14, 2023) The initial structure of a joint Degel Menashe-B’nei Menashe Council project for housing homeless B’nei Menashe displaced by the recent ethnic violence is Manipur is nearing completion, our Newsletter has learned. The building, the first of several planned for the site, stands on 250 acres of land outside the city of Lamka (formerly Churachandpur) that have been donated by BMC chairman Lalam Hangshing.
“The interior and exterior wall frames are in place, the tin roof is up. and the concrete floor has been poured,” we were told by Jesse Gangte, the BMC’s Manipur treasurer and director of the project. “All that remains to be done structurally is finishing the walls and installing doors and windows. We already have the agreement of the nearby village of Vangphai to connect us to its electric grid, which will call for 600 meters of cable on wooden poles, while water will be supplied by tanker trucks. Our plan is to acquire a large plastic storage tank with a capacity of several thousand liters and to pipe water to it from a nearby stream, but this will be costly, and for the moment, we’ll have to rely on water deliveries by tanker trucks.”
The building will be divided into five small dwelling units, each housing one family and measuring 25 x 20 feet. (Since its total cost, it is estimated, will be about $7,000, this will come to $1.400 per unit, a small sum for resettling an entire family.) A separately standing shed that has already gone up will serve as a communal kitchen, while additional sheds will be erected for a communal bath and latrines. The complex should be ready for occupancy, Gangte told us, by Sukkot. “Two of the five families,” he says, “have already chosen adjacent plots of land and begun to farm them: one is growing beans and the other has a large vegetable garden. Once all the families have moved in, each will be given its own plot. The idea is for them to grow complementary crops that will make them relatively self-sufficient in terms of food while leaving enough over for sale at local markets in order to provide them with some cash as well.”
The head of the construction crew at Suongpi is Shem Haokip, a builder by profession and a B’nei Menashe from the village of Sajal, which was attacked by Meitei assailants last May. “The Meiteis burned everything to the ground, including our synagogue,” he told us. “My family spent many days in an army camp, and then moved to Lamka, where we were put up by the BMC at the Eliyahu Avichail School. Suongpi is a godsend for us. We all hope that the settlement will grow. There’s plenty of land and plenty of still homeless B’nei Menashe households in need of permanent quarters.”
According to Yitzhak Thangjom, Degel Menashe’s managing director, there are some 35-40 such households in Lamka and Kangpokpi. “”We’ll try to house them at Suongpi as quickly as we can raise the money to build more units,” he says. “The idea is to create more than just a refuge. It’s to build a small, self-sustaining community that will lead a semi-collective life, democratically making its own rules and decisions. One might think of it as a little B’nei Menashe kibbutz.”
Asked what the logic of such an investment was when all the B’nei Menashe of Manipur are looking forward to their Aliyah to Israel, Thangjom said: “No one knows when and how quickly the Aliyah of the remaining 5,000 B’nei Menashe in Manipur and Mizoram will take place. To judge by the pace of Aliyah in the past, it could easily be a matter of another five or ten years. Meanwhile, the displaced families need a place to live. Suongpi is not only the best and cheapest place for this, it has exciting possibilities that do not exist elsewhere. It’s not an opportunity to pass up.”
Right now, Thangjom told us, Suongpi is missing, not only the funds needed to build additional units, but missing the Hebrew name that Lalam Hangshing wants to give it in time for its occupancy late this or early next month. Our readers are invited to write in their suggestions.