(Laura Ben David/Shavei Israel via Israel21c)
Bnei Menashe

One Bnei Menashe member killed and at least four injured in attacks that broke out amid tribal clashes in Manipur.

By United with Israel staff and Avi Kumar, JNS

One member of the Bnei Menashe community in the Indian state of Manipur last week was killed and at least another four injured after violent clashes broke out between Meitei tribe and rival tribes, ynet reported.

The Bnei Menashe identify as Jewish and observe Jewish laws and customs. Most belong to the Kuki and Mizo tribes. An estimated 5,000 Bnei Menashe remain in India, and nearly that same number has made aliyah in the past several decades, according to JNS.

According to ynet, during the clashes, members of the Metei tribe shot and killed Yoel Beita, a member of the Bnei Menashe community and father of four.

In Imphal, the capital of Manipour, Meitei tribal members set afire at least 120 Bnei Menashe family homes and their cars.

In the nearby village of Beit Shalom, the Meitei reportedly set fire to at least 60 Bnei Menashe homes, as well as a local synagogue and mikvah. Community members said that Torah scrolls were also burned in the building, ynet reported.

According to JNS, many Bnei Menashe who fled the violence have been living in shelters awaiting the chance to return home, and some people have been unable to reach missing family members.

“The conditions we face are appalling,” Lalam Hangshing, chairman of the B’nei Menashe Council, told JNS.

Lemuel Haokip, another communal leader, told JNS that the homes of many members of the group were razed, and the Bnei Menashe had to flee to the forest to hide until the Indian military arrived. Individuals are now housed in military camps operated by the Assam Rifles—part of the Central Armed Police Forces under India’s home affairs ministry—and others are hiding in private residences.

Conditions in the military camps are “very chaotic,” and the Bnei Menashe and others are “living in squalor,” Haokip told JNS.

Those in the camps have to wait in line for three hours to receive basic meals, rice and lentils, with more than 100 people assigned to a single toilet and shower facility, according to Haokip. People are sleeping on mats on floors or in makeshift tents.

The government has been trying to return people to their homes, but there are still reports of mobs attacking the camps and vehicles parked outside the camps, said Haokip.

Shimon Gangte, a Bnei Menashe leader in Israel, told JNS that the Indian government has blocked the Internet and social media, and some displaced people lack the means to charge their phones. This hampers their ability to contact their loved ones.

Isaac (Yitchak) Thangjom, who serves as the Israel-based director of Degel Menashe, a group that aids Bnei Menashe people in India and Israel and that grew out of an oral history project funded by the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, called what was happening to the Bnei Menashe “ethnic cleansing.”

“We urge the Indian government to expedite a comprehensive investigation. The perpetrators should be brought to justice.”

Disagreements about which “scheduled” tribes the Indian state recognizes triggered the recent violence. For years, the Meitei Hindus, who form the majority of Manipur’s population, have sought recognition in the category, for which the government sets aside jobs, college admissions and elected seats, responding to historical discrimination and exclusion.

Haokip and Hangshing told JNS that only scheduled tribes can purchase land in the Manipur hill region, and there is a fear that if the Meitei are granted that status, then they will take over the land inhabited currently by the Kuki, Mizo, Naga and other hill tribes.

India deployed its army to Manipur with shoot-on-sight orders to halt the riots.

“It is just appalling that the state government took two days to quell the riots, but the central government of New Delhi was able to do it in no time,” Hangshing told JNS. “The state government has behaved like medieval warlords and is complicit in this.”

Rioters have attacked buses and private vehicles transporting displaced people, according to Hangshing. “Whichever corner the army can’t get to, the Bnei Menashe will face impending danger.”

He added that there are reports of Meitei attacking houses of worship used by Christians from their own group. “The fact that they torched churches attended by their own ethnic group shows how much disregard they have,” he said.