Sarah Baite Tells Her Story
Updated: Dec 31, 2021
(December 30) Since the rape of her daughter in 2016 by a Shavei Israel crony, Sarah Baite has publicly spoken of the incident only once, in a letter sent in July, 2020 to Israel’s Immigration and Absorption minister Pnina Tamano-Shata. Originally written in Kuki, it read in the English translation sent to the minister:
To, Penina Tamano Shato, Minister of Immigration and Absorption, Government of Israel. Subject: A request for Aliya Respected Madam, my name is Sarah Hatneilam Baite, I am 40 years old, member of the Bnei Menashe community in Manipur. I am a widow living with my only daughter under abject poverty. I have been with the Jewish community for the last 20 years and till now Shavei has not given me permission for Aliya. I am neglected maybe because I am unable to influence since I am only a poor widow. Shavei has misused Aliyah, I say this because on the 15th July 2016 an unworthy fellow Kailam Singson raped my 10 year old daughter. I reported the matter to Shavei and our congregation but they have ignored my plea. The reason is that this man Kailam is very close to the Shavei leadership. I used to belong to the congregation which also serves as the Shavei Centre and its leadership does not have the courage to stand up due to its fear of being left out of the Aliya list. When the matter of Kailam Singson came up for discussion to the Village Authority, District Head Quarter, Shavei used a bye-law to have me expelled from the community. But what hurts me the most is that on the 10th June 2018, my daughter’s rapist, Kailam Singson was granted Aliyah by Shavei. As long as Shavei is in charge of Aliya, my daughter and myself, we have no hope of ever coming to Israel. It pains me that I have no one to help me. Madam, I am a widow with no hope, but with you my hope has renewed. I plead with you to remember me this coming Aliyah. I pray to you that Shavei should not be given charge of Aliyah because it is used as an instrument to oppress widows and destitute like me. I thank you, may Hashem help you in all your endeavors. Sarah Hatneilam Baite, Ex-member of Beith Shalom B. Vengnom, Shavei Israel Centre, Churachandpur, Manipur-795128
After last week’s Knesset exchange between Tamano-Shata and former Likud minister Miri Regev in which the latter referred to Sarah Baite's letter, Tamano-Shata, who professed not to have seen it, reportedly expressed an interest in speaking to Baite in a Zoom meeting. Baite promptly indicated her readiness; Tamano-Shata, as far as is known, has yet to contact her. Meanwhile, however, Sarah Baite has agreed to be interviewed by our Newsletter. Here is our conversation with her:
Let’s pretend you’re talking to the minister. Can you tell us a bit about your personal history?
I was born in 1979 in a village called Zoupi, in the Chandel district of Manipur. Not long after that, my parents moved to a nearby village, Sugnu, where I grew up and was sent to school, although I never got further than first grade. In the mid-1980s, when I was still a small girl, my parents joined a Messianic church. [“Messianics” in Manipur are Christians who, while believing in Jesus’ messiahship, stress his Jewish roots and the need to observe many of the practices laid down by the Hebrew Bible.] From there, it was natural to make the move to Judaism. My family did that in 1993 or ’94.
In 1999, I married a man who was from a B’nei Menashe background, too. We weren’t together for long when he left me, saying that he was going off to earn some money. He never came back. Later, I found out that he had joined an anti-government underground movement and been killed in an armed encounter.
Were there any children from that marriage?
There was a child even before it, because when I was married, I was already caring for my older sister's son. Her first husband had died, and when she remarried, she and her second husband moved away and left me with their little boy, whom I brought up as my own.
After my own husband’s death, I found out that I was pregnant from him and some months later I gave birth to my older daughter.
My younger daughter was born in 2006, after I was happily remarried to another man from the B’nei Menashe community. Our happiness didn’t last long, though, because he died of stomach cancer in 2007.
So you were now a widow again, now with three children to support.
Yes. I owned some family rice fields, but it was too risky to depend just on them. It was hard for me to tend to them while raising the children and if there was a year of poor rainfall, we faced starvation. And so I began to take all kinds of odd jobs, whatever I could find. That’s how I make a living to this day. I work in other people’s fields as a day laborer. I sell jewelry and clothes. I have a good voice, and sometimes, I’m invited to events at which I sing traditional songs. I don't charge a fee. I take whatever is given me. It can be one or two thousand rupees [15 to 30 dollars], or sometimes just a meal and a shawl. For important occasions, like Independence Day or Republic Day, the government might pay me up to 10,000 rupees. It’s never enough, but thanks to God, I’ve managed to get by and even to send my older daughter to an inexpensive boarding school.
Did you think in those years of making Aliyah?
I was never invited to any of Shavei Israel’s Aliyah interviews. I was a poor widow and had no influence with anyone in the Shavei leadership. The one time I inquired, I was told that my family wasn’t eligible because my daughter’s attendance at a boarding school kept her away from Jewish communal life. I was told that she would have to leave the school and that we would then have to wait three more years until we would even be considered for Aliyah.
Tell us about what happened to your younger daughter.
I had a trusted friend in the community, K [K’s full name, blackened out by us, is given by Sarah Baite in her letter]. We visited each other a lot and our two families shared many of our Shabbat meals. K often invited my daughter to go shopping with him and bought her candy and other treats. He was related to Meital Singson, who was Shavei Administrator for Manipur at the time and close to Tzvi Khaute [Shavei Israel’s second-in-command], which made her very powerful. All major decisions affecting the B’nei Menashe of Manipur were made by her..
I was out of the house most of the time, making a living. One day when I had to go somewhere, K. offered to take my daughter to a neighborhood grocery to buy some sweets. I never imagined anything bad might happen to her. But when I came home that night, I found her curled on her bed, crying. That wasn’t like her. I asked what was wrong, but she just went on crying without answering, and so I thought she must be ill and took her to the doctor, the next day. He, too, couldn't figure out what the matter was, but since she seemed weak, he put her on a glucose drip to perk her up. Having things to do, I left her in his clinic with her grandmother, my mother. While I was away, she told my mother what had happened to her and my mother told me as soon as I returned. I then told the doctor, who suggested a vaginal examination. It confirmed that she had been raped. It was hard to believe. She was barely ten. How could anyone have done such a thing to her?
Word of what happened reached relatives and one of them informed the neighborhood authorities. As soon as K. and his wife heard about this, his wife rushed to my house in tears and apologized profusely on her husband’s behalf. She even brought a shawl, wrapped it around me, and begged me to forgive her husband, and begged me not to go to the police, since that would bring shame on our community. The next day, heads of Beit Shalom [Churachandpur’s largest synagogue, controlled at the time by Shavei Israel] came and also warned me against going to the police. They assured me that the matter would be settled within the Jewish community, and that justice would be done and the perpetrator suitably punished in accordance with Jewish law. I believed them and did not file a police complaint. After all, the dignity of the community was at stake.
And did they punish K.?
No. They did just the opposite. They held a meeting, and a few days later I received a letter telling me that I had been expelled from the Jewish community for informing on one of its members to non-Jews. Nothing was done to K. at all. It was too painful for words.
Its English translation is:
Mrs. Lamshi Baite,
District Hqrs Tuibong, Churachandpur.
We want to inform you today, 20.07.16 Wednesday at 7:30 am, in connection with the unpleasant event that took place in your household in matters of you not respecting Law and Order, after the Executive Committee had a meeting and deliberated it over with deep thoughts with consultations on the laws which cannot be by-passed, in accordance with the Bye-Law Article No.10, Clause(D) the leaders have decided to cancel your name from community census. In addition we request you not to bear bitterness and ill-feelings to the leaders of the community.
In the name of the community.
Beith Shalom, B. Vengnom
What happened then?
My family was thrown out of Beit Shalom. We weren’t allowed to attend prayers there. Many members of the congregation were sympathetic and knew an injustice had been done, but no one had the courage to speak out. They all knew that if they did they would incur the wrath of Shavei and forfeit their chance for Aliyah.
Did that mean you were no longer able to live a Jewish life?
No, I was still able to, because there was one congregation in the area, Petach Tikvah, that welcomed us. We were able to observe Shabbat and all the holidays there. .And in 2018, I was told that if I apologized, I could rejoin Beit Shalom.
You were told to apologize to them?
Yes. I was made to stand up in front of the whole Beit Shalom congregation and say that that I was sorry for having caused it problems. I did it because I felt I had no choice. The Petach Tikva synagogue was a long walk from my home, and my entire social world had revolved around Beit Shalom.
And how is your daughter now?
Since the incident, she’s become totally withdrawn. She hardly talks. For about a year, I took her to a doctor for treatment, but I had to stop because I could no longer afford it. She was left back in fourth grade because she didn’t pass her subjects, and when the following year the school agreed to promote her to fifth grade after I begged it to, the same thing happened again. Now, she’s dropped out of school entirely. She has no friends and takes no interest in anything.
I’ve given up hope. My daughter’s life is ruined. Every time I talk about what happened, all the pain of it comes back again. It’s like reliving a nightmare. I feel helpless -- but that’s the reality I have to live with. I can tell my story to the minister, but will she listen to me, a poor widow against so many powerful people? Some who saw the video of the Knesset debate have even accused me of selling my soul by writing to her. To be honest, I have no expectations any more. I can only put my trust in God. And even if I were someday to get to Israel, the land of my dreams, I’d have to live with the fear of running into my daughter’s rapist. What a terrible thing to have to think of!