Ohaliav Haokip Tells Of His Arrest
On the morning of June 8, I was going over some documents related to the rump B’nei Menashe Council created by Shavei Israel to challenge the democratically elected BMC of which I am General Secretary when a police van pulled up outside my residence and I was served with an FIR or First Information Report. In it I was accused of falsely putting two names on a petition against Shavei Israel’s grip on B’nei Menashe Aliyah that was sent to The Jewish Agency and Israel’s Ministry of Immigration nearly a year-and-a-half ago. I was told that I was being taken into custody and barely had time to assure my family that I would quickly be released and to contact the BMC executive, whose members reacted immediately. Some even reached the police station before I did.
The next unpleasant surprise came when I was taken from the station to the district hospital for a medical checkup. This is a procedure followed only when an arrested person is slated for a lengthy detention. Why was this being done, I wondered, when no preliminary investigation of the charges against me had been conducted? It was totally irregular.
Upon returning from the hospital, I was informed that I would be held by the police until brought before a district court judge. I was then kept for five hours, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., locked up by myself in a dingy, dirty cell with a doorless toilet and no running water. The stench was unbearable. The cell walls were covered with graffiti. One of them said, “Only God in heaven is my shelter and I have full trust in Him. Please help me, O Lord! Release me from this dark room and I will always serve You forever.” My first reaction was to panic. I knew I was the victim of a Shavei Israel plot and I knew Shavei was capable of anything.
However, after reading the FIR I had been served with, I calmed down. I realized that the charge was not a serious one and had been concocted, among other things, to keep me from meeting with the fact-finding team from Israel that was then in Manipur. In addition, I knew that my fellow BMC members were in the police station with me, and had even brought a supply of food and water that was passed on to me. I actually had a chicken lunch, although I had to eat it standing up because there was no chair in the room. I thought of Mahatma Gandhi and of all the times he was arrested during his struggle for Indian Independence, and I said to myself: “This is no big deal, Ohaliav. The B’nei Menashe are downtrodden by Shavei Israel just as India was by the British. It’s just something you have to go through.”
My spirits restored, I lay down for a nap on the filthy floor with an empty water bottle for a pillow. I never knew that a plastic bottle pressed against my ear could make so much noise! Meanwhile, my wife arrived along with her mother, carrying our three-month-old son, and she encouraged me through a small window that was out of my line of sight and from which all she could see of me was my arm dangling through the cell bars. I told her that Shavei was afraid of me because it knew I was about to produce incriminating documents against it and that, if I continued to be detained, she should help the BMC executive to locate them in the closet in which they were kept.
Later in the afternoon, I was finally taken to the district court in a police van, followed by an escort of BMC members, and brought before a judge. On examining the FIR, he noticed that the file number on it was that of an old FIR pertaining to someone else who was wanted by the police – in other words, that it had been faked to enable my arrest. This so enraged him that he debated out loud whether to lodge a complaint with Manipur’s High Court, accusing the Churachandpur police of negligence and maltreatment, from which he was deterred only when the police officer in charge pleaded with him not to. In the end, I was released on the surety of the BMC’s Culture Secretary Yoel Sehmang Haokip and told to appear in court again on June 22 at a session at which I would be able to defend myself.
I left the courtroom and we all went to my home for tea and a review of the day’s events. Then my friends who had stood by me all day long went their way and I sat down to dinner with my family. It was already late at night.