Sarah Baite Files Rape Charge In Face of Shavei Intimidation
Updated: Jan 30, 2022
(January 22) Bolstered by mention of her case on the floor of Israel’s Knesset by MK Miri Regev, and by the rallying to her side of many B’nei Menashe, Sarah Baite overcame her fears and went to the police on January 11 to file a complaint. In it she charged a fellow member of the B’nei Menashe community with close connections to the Manipur leadership of Shavei Israel with the 2016 rape of her then 8-year-old daughter.
Since the rape’s occurrence over five years ago, Baite, a 43-year-old widow and mother of three, has undergone heavy pressure not to file charges with the police. [See “Sarah Baite Tells Her Story” in our December 30 Newsletter.] Shortly after the incident took place, she was expelled from Churachandpur’s Beit Shalom synagogue, Shavei Israel’s Manipur headquarters, for allegedly appealing for help to a Gentile authority, the headman of the Churachandpur neighborhood of Tuibong in which she lived. (Each of Churachandpur’s many neighborhoods, all formerly independent villages, has a chief with quasi-legal powers.) Subsequently subjected to the additional punishment of being barred from Shavei Israel’s Aliyah lists, she wrote a letter in 2020 to Israel’s minister of immigration Pnina Tamano-Shata, pleading for intervention on her behalf. No answer from the ministry was received. In a December 22 Knesset debate with Regev on the subject of B’nei Menashe Aliyah [see our December 23 story, “Regev, Tamano-Shata, in Knesset Showdown”], Tamano-Shata claimed never to have seen Baite’s letter.
When Baite walked into the Crimes Against Women division of Churachandpur’s police station two weeks ago, she handed the officer on duty, a Sub-inspector in the department, a formal accusation that read (in keeping with its policy to date, our Newsletter is printing only the first letter of the accused’s name):
“I, the undersigned, would like to inform you that an individual, Mr. K--------, raped my daughter (8 years old at the time of the rape), at knifepoint at his residence, L. Semoul Village, at around 6 p.m. on 15th July when she was at his house playing with his children.
“I would like to request you to kindly investigate the matter and if possible book the culprit with the appropriate Indian penal code and serve us justice so that I and my daughter will live in peace.”
A police investigation will now be launched. While the accused rapist lives in Israel, having made Aliya under Shavei Israel’s auspices in 2018, witnesses able to testify to events surrounding the crime are still in Manipur. Moreover, Israeli law makes provision for an accused’s being tried in Israel if the country in which the crime was committed does not request extradition.
On June 12, the day after her visit to the police station, Baite began receiving telephone calls from Shlomo Sehjalal Kipgen, Shavei Israel’s chief administrator in Manipur, threatening her that, “for your own good,” she had best withdraw her complaint. After several such conversations, Baite decided to record the next one. Translated from Kuki, here is a transcript of a section of it:
Shlomo Sehjolal Kipgen: It seems you’ve been a very active woman.
Sarah Baite: What have I done?
SSK: I’ve been hearing about you.
SB: What have you heard?
SSK: Oh, I don’t know. Nothing much. I went to the home of Satkhohao [the headman of Tuibong] and was told that you had been there.
SB: I went to his home twice, but he wasn’t in. Did you meet with him?
SSK: Yes, I met with him.
SB: Satkhohao was the headman where I used to live. He was the one who dealt with my case. That’s why I went to look for him now.
SSK: The matter will be discussed by the K. N.O. [the Kuki National Organization] tomorrow.
SB: The K. N. O. is discussing it?
SSK: Yes. They know there was an FIR [a “First Information Report,” i.e., a complaint] filed in your name at the police station.
SSK: You did go there, didn’t you?
SB: Yes, I did.
SSK: I thought the case was all over.
[The remainder of the conversation dealt with Sarah Baite’s 2016 expulsion from Beit Shalom.)
The Kuki National Organization referred to by Sehjalal Kipgen is a semi-underground body founded in 1988 with the aim of carving out a Kuki-majority state within the Indian Union and has an armed wing known as the K.N.A. or Kuki National Army. Exerting a powerful influence in Kuki-populated areas of Manipur, it is often turned to for settling intra-Kuki disputes and its decisions are expected to be obeyed. Most Manipur Kukis choose not to run afoul of it.
Clearly, Shavei Israel’s chief administrator in Manipur was seeking to frighten Sarah Baite into withdrawing her police complaint by letting her know that he had K.N.O. contacts that could endanger her. Baite, however, refused to be intimidated. Two days later, on January 14th, she returned to the police station with a new complaint, this time against Sehjalal Kipgen, that said in part:
“I, the undersigned, would like to inform you that an individual, Mr. Sehjalal Kipgen, has been harassing me on account of the FIR which I have lodged against my daughter’s rapist on 11th January at your office….I would like to request you to kindly take stern action against Sehjalal Kipgen so that my FIR is not swept under the carpet and I and my daughter are served justice according to the law of the land.”
Further developments can soon be expected.