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Intimidation Impacts Round 3 of Food Relief in Manipur

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

(August 27) The third round of Degel Menashe’s food relief operation in Manipur, conducted with the generous help of the Jewish Federation of Long Beach, California and Scattered Among the Nations of San Francisco, ended on Wednesday, August 26. The operation concluded with 12.5 metric tons of rice being divided among 378 households. This was an almost 50 percent reduction from the number of households reached in Round 2.

Ohaliav Haokip.

The reason for the decrease, according to Ohaliav Haokip, secretary of the B’nei Menashe Relief Committee on Covid-19, was a “fear psychosis” spread by representatives of Shavei Israel, which has called for a boycott of Degel Menashe and all its activities . Haokip singled out Meital Singson, Shavei’s community organizer in Manipur, and Elon Lunjang Haokip of the Shavei-dominated Ohel Menashe congregation, as the two main instigators. Several B’nei Menashe communities that participated in Round 2, Haokip said, such as those of Imphal, Monglianphai, Zohar, and the Ohel Menashe congregation of Buojol, refused to take part in Round 3 because of threats from these two figures and others.

Even in congregations that did not expressly forbid accepting aid, Haokip added, many individuals were reluctant to take it. In the large Beith Shalom congregation of Churachandpur’s Vengnom neighborhood, for example, only 61 households participated, as opposed to 150 in Round 2.

Yet in other places, where Shavei’s influence was not as great, the numbers stayed at previous levels. In Phailen, Lhangnom, Matiyang, Mawlkoi, and still other congregations, there was no drop. This shows, Haokip said, that food relief was not turned down because there was no need for it. “The economic situation in Manipur is still grim,” he told our Newsletter. “It’s safe to say that the percentage of needy people in Vengnom is no less than in Matiyang or Mawlkoi. The only explanation of what happened in Vengnom and elsewhere is fear. Many people who have been badly affected by the Covid-19 epidemic and would have liked to receive aid didn’t dare ask for it.”

Beith Shalom has been the focal point of Shavei Israel’s efforts to impede the Relief Committee’s operations. As reported by our Newsletter last week (see “Drama, tension, precede food distribution in Manipur” on this page), the Vengnom synagogue denied the committee the facilities it had previously granted it for the relief effort and came close to expelling four of its members for having taken part in Rounds 1 and 2. Moreover, the chief of Vengnom village, S.Tatkhogin, whose wife is said to be a confidante of Meital Singson’s, expressly forbad the distribution of rice in Vengnom, forcing those who wanted it to collect it elsewhere.

S. Tatkhogin’s letter. Its last sentence translates as, “It is hereby decreed that no organization or congregation will be allowed to distribute [rice] without the permission of the "village authority".

Nechemiah Lhouvum

Another Round 2 relief worker, Yosef Chongloi, was expelled in early August from Churachandpur’s Shavei-dominated Ohel Menashe congregation for his role in distributing food. (See “B’nei Menashe congregant expelled from synagogue” on this page.) Still another, Nechemiah Paokim Lhouvum, reported being blacklisted by Shavei for being a member of the Relief Committee and being told that he and his family would be banned forever from Shavei’s Aliyah lists. (Lhouvum’s letter to Israel’s Minister of Immigration Penina Tamano-Shata also appears on this page.) Yet a third relief worker, who has asked to remain anonymous for fear of Shavei retaliation, told our Newsletter that he was warned never again to have anything to do with Degel Menashe if he did not want to be ejected from his congregation and permanently lose his chance for Aliyah.

Such requests for anonymity were not unusual. One rice recipient told the relief workers,

“Degel Menashe has provided us with food not once but three times, while Shavei not only did nothing to help but tried to sabotage the Relief Committee’s distribution. We all know this. It’s only our fear of never making Aliyah that keeps us from speaking out.”

Others, "like Nechemiah Lhouvum" refused to be silenced by threats of blacklists. Some were already on them. Menashe Kipgen, writing on behalf of the Petach Tikvah congregation of Churachandpur’s Lhongchin village, declared:

“We, the community of Petach-Tikvah, have been left alone and uncared-for by Shavei Israel for the past 15-20 years, even though we were among the first in Manipur to practice Judaism. Now, Degel Menashe's act of generosity has given us a beacon of light. May you prosper in all your endeavors!”

Despite the smaller number of relief recipients, the total volume of rice distributed in Round 3, Ohaliav Haokip informed our Newsletter, remained the same, since larger allotments were given to many families. As opposed to Round 1, he explained, in which all families received the same amount of aid, and Round 2, in which aid was apportioned by family size, Round 3 took need into account. Households were given between 20 and 50 kilos of rice according to the severity of their situation, with per person allotments ranging from 7 to 10 kilos.

Degel Menashe food relief operation underway

Yosef Chongloi in his office.

Since Beith Shalom could not be used as a distribution center, the headquarters of the relief operation were moved to the offices of Yosef Chongloi’s Losei Finance and Investment Company in Churachandpur. One-hundred-and-fifty 50-kilo bags of rice were picked up there by recipients. Another 50 bags were issued by a voucher system that allowed recipients to obtain them from merchants, while 50 more were brought by relief workers directly to the homes of those unable to avail themselves of the first two methods.

Meanwhile, as this week drew to a close, relief distribution began in the smaller B’nei Menashe community of Mizoram, where no efforts to obstruct the operation were reported. If all goes well, said Jeremiah Hnamte, chairman of the relief committee in Aizawl, Mizoram’s capital, distribution in the state should be finished next week. The easing of the local Corona lockdown, whose strict enforcement made food distribution difficult in Rounds 1 and 2, should facilitate matters, Hnamte said.



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