Massive Turnout Greets BMC Chairman On Return to Manipur

(May 12) A large crowd, estimated at 400 to 500 people, turned out in Churachandpur this week to welcome B’nei Menashe Council chairman Lalam Hangshing on his return from a three-week trip to Israel and to hear him report on it.


The size of the audience surprised the event’s organizers, “We were prepared for one hundred people,” our Newsletter was told by Jesse Gangte, the BMC’s secretary of finance, “and we ordered refreshments accordingly. As people began pouring in, we had to send out for more refreshments, and before we knew it, we were ordering still more and still more. We hadn’t appreciated how much curiosity there was regarding the Chairman’s visit to Israel and how many people would want to hear about it from him personally.”


The event was held at Churachandpur’s YMA Hall, since the ordinary venue for B’nei Menashe occasions in the city, Beit Shalom Synagogue, would have refused to host it. The synagogue’s chairmanship, as reported on this Website, was recently seized in an electoral putsch by pro-Shavei Israel activist Seithang Haokip, two of whose operatives, Ronel Letkholien Haokip and Binyamin Nehmang Haokip, according to Finance Secretary Gangte, came to his home the night before the reception and threatened him with “something bad” if he did not call the event off. Gangte ordered them to leave with no further ado.


Despite Shavei Israel’s boycott of the reception, it was attended by official delegations from 14 of Manipur’s 25 congregations, as well as by individuals from many of the other eleven “The attendance would have been even greater,” Finance Secretary Gangte stated, “if we hadn’t held the event on a Sunday, when public transportation in Manipur operates on a very limited basis. Numerous people who would have liked to attend were unable to come or found it too difficult.”

Lemuel Haokip introducing Lalam Hangshing (seated on stage, second from right).

Lalam Hangshing was introduced to the crowd by BMC Advisor Lemuel Haokip. Taking the floor, Hangshing told the audience of his two meetings in Israel with Almog Moscowitz, a senior advisor to Minister of Immigration and Absorption Pnina Tamano-Shata, and of a third meeting with Ya’akov Hagoel, Acting Chairman of the Jewish Agency, at which Knesset Member Miri Regev, a strong supporter of the B’nei Menashe, was present too. “On all three occasions,” said Hangshing, “we spoke in detail about ways of improving and accelerating the B’nei Menashe’s Aliyah. I stressed that no private organization, be it Shavei Israel or any other, should be allowed to be in charge of this Aliyah, which should be the sole responsibility of The Jewish Agency.”


Hangshing reported that he submitted to both the Ministry of Immigration and The Jewish Agency a 9-point BMC plan for B’nei Menashe Aliyah reform. This plan, he said, called for both Shavei Israel and the BMC to participate in the Aliyah process. “However,” he went on, “just before I left Israel, the news broke of Shavei and its chairman Michael Freund having been found guilty by a Tel Aviv court of forging documents and fraudulent activity. As a result, the BMC no longer believes that there is any room for Shavei’s inclusion in the process, and we have revised our plan accordingly and resubmitted it. There is nothing that Shavei has done for Aliyah in the past that the BMC can’t do just as well or better.” Hangshing expects that the revised plan will be a main subject of discussion when a joint Ministry of Immigration/ Jewish Agency fact-find mission visits Manipur and Mizoram next month.


Another of the points in the BMC plan, Hangshing stated, was a call for a timetable for bringing all of northeast India’s B’nei Menashe to Israel. There was no reason, he said, why their Aliyah should drag on for so long and leave so many of them in a permanent state of uncertainty. “There are at most 5,000 or 6,000 of us still in India,” he declared. “Surely it should be possible for us all to make Aliyah within a few years.”


Musical ensemble led by Sarah Baite (first row center, holding page).

Apart from Hangshing’s remarks, the highlight of the evening was the appearance of a newly formed ensemble, dedicated to the performance of traditional B’nei Menashe and Kuki music, under the direction of its organizer and director Sarah Lamsi Baite. The group, which is being supported by Degel Menashe’s musicology program, plans soon to issue its first CD.


The unexpectedly large turnout, says Degel Menashe’s executive director Yitzhak Thangjom, is a sign of the B’nei Menashe Council’s growing strength in Manipur. Despite Shavei Israel’s many efforts to discredit the BMC, Thangjom believes, “there is more and more of an awareness that it is the one organization capable of uniting all the B’nei Menashe of northeast India. Shavei Israel is increasingly perceived as a divisive force that has its own interests at heart rather than the community’s, and people have had enough of this.”


Many of the reception’s attendees agreed. “Under Shavei Israel I’ve been waiting for Aliyah for over twenty years,” said Ardon Kipgen, who traveled to the event from the village of Gamgiphai. “Now, after listening to the BMC chairman, I feel hope for the first time. It’s a joy to hear that The Jewish Agency will be finally coming in.”


And Ariella Haokip of Churachandpur, a member of the Beit Shalom congregation who was not deterred by its new executive’s boycott of the BMC, was speaking for much of the audience when she said:


“Hearing Pu Lalam Hangshing’s report has made me and my family very happy. We feel reassured that things are now heading in the right direction. Still, I can’t help worrying that Shavei Israel will try to cause problems. As long as it’s around, there will be neither peace nor unity in our community. An end must be put to it. Whoever stands for justice must stand with the BMC.”