Shavei Hounds Sarah Baite From Her Home
(June 30) As if it had not already persecuted her enough, Shavei Israel effectively drove Sarah Baite from her home last week. Baite, a 41-year-old widow whose teenage daughter was raped by a Shavei crony in 2016, had been mercilessly threatened and harassed by her landlord until she finally packed her few belongings and moved out. Here, as related by her in a lengthy phone conversation between Manipur and Israel, is her account of the latest episode in Shavei’s campaign against her.
Baite and daughter had lived for many years in Churachandpur, Manipur’s second largest city and the center of its B’nei Menashe community, in a house belonging to a Shavei loyalist – a man we will refer to by his first initial of T., since we have been asked not to publish his name for fear of retaliation. T., a resident of the town of Moreh on the Manipur-Myanmar border, kept the house as a second home for himself, his family, and whatever guests he might have on his frequent visits to Churachandpur. Baite was employed by him as his housekeeper. Whenever T. arrived, she was charged with looking after him and his entourage, in return for which she and her daughter were allowed to live in the house without rent.
This arrangement, Baite says, lasted without incident until January of this year, when she filed a police complaint against her daughter’s accused rapist, who was brought by Shavei to Israel in 2018. She had waited six years to take such a step because of pressure by Shavei not to do so when the rape occurred, at which time she agreed under duress to a private settlement involving a small sum of hush money. (Not that this helped her, because, as reported by this Newsletter, she was then blamed by Shavei when news of the rape got out anyway, expelled from the B’nei Menashe congregation to which she belonged, and placed on Shavei’s black list of B’nei Menashe denied Aliyah) When she did finally go to the police early this year, encouraged by growing anti Shavei sentiment in Manipur, the campaign of intimidation against her was renewed more brutally in the form of threats of physical violence if she didn’t withdrew her complaint.
This time, Baite, backed by the B’nei Menashe Council, refused to give in, even though she temporarily had to flee Churachandpur out of fear for her safety. Yet after a brief lull following her return, the situation grew still worse when it became known that a Ministry of Immigration/Jewish Agency fact-finding mission was about to visit Manipur and Mizoram. (Originally scheduled for April, the mission arrived in Manipur on June 9th and spent several days there.) Fearing that she would be invited to appear before it and implicate Shavei in the rape’s cover-up, Shavei operatives intensified their warning that she had better retract her accusation.
Things came to a head, Baite says, with the arrival in Manipur from Israel of Tsvi Khaute, Shavei Israel’s head administrator, who came in advance of the Ministry/Agency mission. Khaute called on Shavei’s supporters to descend on Churachandpur in a show of strength, and among those responding was T., who brought with him a party of Shavei supporters from Moreh. “On any given day,” Baite relates, “there were up to five of them staying at the house. I had to cook for them, wash their dishes, draw their baths, make their beds, clean their rooms, do their laundry, and still more. And far from thanking me, they treated me terribly. They would get drunk and constantly cursed me and ranted at me for being a troublemaker who should be ashamed of herself. I couldn’t talk back or defend myself, because that’s not something a servant does. I simply had to put up with it, because I had nowhere else to do go.”
Despite all the harassment, Baite appeared before the fact-finding mission and testified briefly. On June 10, Khaute, whose presence in Manipur had become known to the authorities, was questioned at the Churachandpur police station about Shavei’s complicity in the rape’s cover-up. After the mission’s departure for Mizoram on June 12, he escorted them, came back and remained in Manipur to rally Shavei’s forces. Stung by his police interrogation, he heightened the pressure on Baite still more. “My landlord kept telling me,” she told us, “that I had better go see Tsvi Khaute, apologize, and do whatever he told me. When I refused to, T. informed me that I was summoned to a meeting with Tsvi on June 22.”
Baite ignored the summons. “The next day,” she narrates, “My landlord called me up and demanded an explanation. I told him, ‘Ever since my daughter was raped, I asked to see Tsvi Khaute each time he was in Manipur. I literally stood outside his door for hours, begging to talk to him and tell him about my situation. Each time, he refused to see me. His underlings never let me through the door. And now I’m supposed to come crawling to him? It’s he who should apologize to me.”
T. reported Baite’s reply to Khaute and returned to tell her that another meeting had been scheduled for Saturday night, June 25, and that she had better attend it -- or else. Meanwhile, Baite also received another summons, this one from the headsman of the neighborhood in which she had lived at the time of her daughter’s rape, under whose jurisdiction the 2016 settlement had taken place. At this meeting she was informed that the Kuki Inpi Manipur, a roof organization of Manipur’s Kuki population, and the Kuki Lawyers Association, were both threatening to take her to court unless she honored this settlement. It was obvious to Baite that Shavei was behind this, too. “I told the headsman” she said to us, “that I had come this far to seek justice and had faced every possible humiliation and insult, and that I wasn’t going to back down now. By then, I had had enough. I realized that it was only a matter of time before I was kicked out of T.’s house, in which life had become unbearable in any case. And so I went to the B’nei Menashe Council and asked for help.”
The BMC swung into action. BMC general secretary Ohaliav Haokip and treasurer Jesse Gangte spent the morning of Friday, June 24 looking for new lodgings for Baite and found her a one-room flat that the BMC would pay for. It was decided that she should move as soon as the Sabbath was over, before anyone could arrive to drag her to a forced meeting with Khaute. Right after the Havdalah prayer that ends the day of rest, a team of seven volunteers arrived from the BMYO, the BMC”s youth organization. Within a short time, Baite and her few belongings were transferred to her new home, which was only several hundred yards away from her former one. “The next day,” Baite says, “T’s wife called me and asked me why I'd left their house without notice. I told her that considering all the harassment I went through, I should have left long ago. Now that I’m gone from there, I’m as happy as can be. It’s a huge load off my back.”