Mapping the Troubles
Updated: Jun 15
(June 8) As the current crisis in Manipur entered its second month this week, violence between the majority Meiteis and minority Kukis flared in many places. These were concentrated along the line separating Manipur’s Central Valley, a traditionally Meitei area centering on Manipur’s capital of Imphal, and the predominantly Kuki hills surrounding it. As of now, an unofficial population exchange has taken place, many thousands of Kukis having been driven from the valley and some of its adjacent hill villages, and a smaller number of Meiteis having fled in the opposite direction. Although each side has accused the other of instigating the violence, the evidence clearly points to a premeditated Meitei campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Despite a visit to the area of Indian Interior Minister Amit Shah at the beginning of June, tensions continue to run high. In response to Kuki demands that the Kuki-controlled areas of Manipur be given a separate administrative status that would remove them from Meitei control, the Indian government has invited leaders of the Kuki and Naga communities to discuss the situation with federal officials in New Delhi. (The Nagas, Christians like the Kukis as opposed to the Hindu Meiteis, are concentrated in the higher altitudes of Manipur’s hill country.) A joint Kuki-Naga autonomous region has been mooted, although at the moment it is a vague concept.
The situation of Manipur’s estimated 3,500 B’nei Menashe, all ethnically Kuki, remains unchanged. Some 650 have fled their homes, mostly to three locations: the largely Kuki town of Kangpokpi in Manipur’s north; the heavily Kuki Churachandpur, Manipur’s second largest city, in the state; and the neighboring state of Mizoram further to the southwest, where there is a smaller B’nei Menashe community of about 1,000. Joining Degel Menashe week in providing humanitarian aid and food relief for the B’nei Menashe refugees was the Kerala-based Christian evangelical organization Ebenezer Operation Exodus, which has in the past raised funds for the Aliyah of Jews to Israel. Led by Pastor Abe Thomas Oomenn, the organization distributed 9.5 tons of relief materials, mostly rice, in Manipur, and another 1.2 tons in Mizoram.
To help our readers to understand the situation in Manipur and Mizoram better, we have chosen this week to publish maps of the two states. In Manipur, the Central Valley is indicated by the area marked around 1. Other localities are numbered according to the following key:
1. As per the 2011 census, Imphal has population of 277,196 (The 2021 census had been postponed due to covid 19). Of these, the Kuki comprise about 20,000, including the B'nei Menashe who account for barely about 300. The number rises to 650 if we include the other two communities of Sajal and Kangchup in the valley area. As of now, Imphal has been cleansed of all its Kuki population.
2. Sajal is a small hamlet which lies southwest of Imphal in the Kuki dominated Kangpokpi district. However, it is closer to the Meitei dominated Bishnupur district and more accessible from there. The village has a population of about 350, entirely Kuki. The B'nei Menashe are little more than half of the village’s population, with the headman being a B'nei Menashe. The village, in its entirety, has been razed to the ground, including the synagogue and the Torah, by vigilantes belong to a Meitei rivalist group called the Arambai Tenggol on the 3rd of May 2023 (Please see our article dated 11th May, A Sajal Survivor Tells his Story). Survivors have fled to Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and even to the neighboring Mizoram.
3. Kangchup lies northwest of Imphal. It has a population of about 300, entirely Kuki with about 100 Bnei Menashe. It lies in the Imphal West district. It has mostly been burnt and abandoned, the survivors having fled to Kuki dominated areas like Kangpokpi and Churachandpur.
4. Another tiny hamlet of about 300 people, Gamgiphai lies on the border of Kangpokpi and the Meitei dominated town of Sekmai in Imphal West district. It has a very small Bnei Menashe population of about 10 families. Due to its location, it has been a scene of intense fighting with Meitei groups attempting to make incursions several times, unsuccessfully, as it stands today.
5. The villages of Kangvai and Sugnu. Kangvai is situated on the northern Churachandpur border with the Meitei Bishnupur district and Sugnu is in the Meitei majority Kakching district on the border with Churachandpur. While Kangvai is wholly Kuki, Sugnu has a mixed population of Kukis and Meiteis. In early May, when the conflict began Kangvai saw heavy fighting, the Meitei group Arambai Tenggol supported by the state police made several attempts to capture and bring it under its control. They were met with stiff resistance by the village volunteers who managed to stave off successive attacks. Unconfirmed reports say that the Meiteis lost about 60 compared to 15 loss admitted by the village volunteers. Having failed here, the Meiteis shifted their focus to Sugnu, which is east of Kangvai. Up until now, there has been intense fighting. It may be noted that during the Indian Home minister’s visit last week to hold a 15 day ceasefire, a couple of Kuki villages were burnt in that area. As in Kangvai, there is a stalemate with reports of heavy losses on the Meitei side. Neither of the two have Bnei Menashe population.
6. Kangpokpi town has a population of 7,476 as per 2011 census and is home to about 300 Bnei Menashe. With the recent influx of displaced people seeking shelter it has grown to about 400. Some half of them have found refuge with relatives and the rest have been put up at the local Beit Shalom synagogue premises. Degel Menashe has provided relief materials in terms of grain and medicines. The main supply line to Imphal passes through it and it had been blocked following the conflict. In the recent plea by the Indian Home minister the highway had been opened much to the chagrin of the local population who are mainly Kukis.
7. Churachandpur is home to roughly about half of the 5,000 Bnei Menashe in the region. There are about 15 communities and synagogues. The main town has a population of about 120,000 and is the second largest city in Manipur after the capital Imphal. Most of the displaced Bnei Menashe have found refuge here, numbers estimate that anywhere between 500 to 600. Degel Menashe has concentrated its relief programs here given the size. About 3.5 tons have been distributed along with some medical attention to those who require it. Operation Exodus has dispensed a large amount of aid as Shavei Israel has too but reports have not reached our newsletter to what extent.
8. Ever since the conflict began, flow of goods and foodstuff had been suspended from Imphal by the Meitei groups. That led to the largely unused southern road to Mizoram being opened up to traffic. It has become a lifeline for the people of Churachandpur. So far, according to reports, close to 10,000 bags of rice (a staple) have been delivered so far, besides others.
9, 10. Besides Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, two other northern towns, Bairabi and Kolasib have seen a flow of refugees. While the the numbers of those seeking refuge in Mizoram is estimated at over 8,000, the Bnei Menashe account for about 200, a tiny fraction. But as things look now, the conflict does not seem to have any resolution in sight in the near future, the numbers will only grow. Some B'nei Menashe going to Bairabi and Kolasib are joining family members who live there.
Official figures for the current conflagration stands at 90 dead, 300 injured and 2000 houses, besides 200 plus churches and a synagogue burnt. Actual figures are bound to be much higher. The state has seen a suspension of internet services for a month now and there is no knowing when it will be restored. It may be noted that 4000 arms and 500,000 rounds of ammunition were looted from the state armories by various Meitei groups. After an appeal, about 800 have been returned or recovered, the rest remain at large. The sheer amount of arms in the hands of unauthorized people does not forebode well for peace initiatives that are mooted. In the meantime, with economic hardship faced by the population, it will only be wise to keep the relief programs going.
B’nei Menashe have been continuing to flow to Mizoram in gradually increasing numbers. Unlike the first wave,
those now streaming south, some from Churachandpur itself, it in the future, as well as of general social and economic uncertainty. The displaced persons in Mizoram are being taken care of by the government and NGOs such as the YMA, Young Mizo Association. Meitei-Kuki tensions in Manipur, which have been brewing for long decades, are likely to get worse before they can get better. There is only one answer to this fear for all the B’nei Menashe of Manipur: Aliyah to Israel as soon as possible.