Kim Gangte: Dialogue with an Adventist member of parliament in India

Tears ran down the cheeks of women that day in Imphal, Manipur, a state in Northeastern India. Kim Gangte, the candidate who had fought for their rights, was victorious. The crowds were ecstatic as she took the microphone to speak after her victory.

“You have witnessed a miracle today,” she told them. “Insurgents captured polling booths. Many of you were beaten and threatened. I was kidnapped to prevent my visiting the polling stations. Yet I was victorious. How did it happen? This is not because Kim Gangte is good. It is because God is great! He has heard our prayers. God is alive. He still reigns.”

That day Kim Gangte became the first Adventist to enter the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament. Even though Kim won with a narrow margin, she is using her position in New Delhi, the Indian capital, to continue working for the rights of the underprivileged, especially those of women and children.

Kim comes from a family of farmers of the Kuki tribe from the Churachandpur district of southern Manipur. At the age of seven her parents sent her 700 kilometers away to the Adventist Training School at Jowai, Meghalaya. She received a B.Sc. from Guwahati University, Assam, and an M.A. in English from Pune University, Maharashtra. She taught at Spicer Memorial College and at the Adventist Training School before accepting a position with the University of Manipur in Imphal. It was while at Imphal that she began extensive social work among the women of Manipur who had lost husbands because of communal clashes.

How did you become involved in working for human rights?

I saw women and children die. I saw villages burned. I met women whose husbands had been killed in the fighting. I saw so many human-rights violations, especially involving women and children. Thousands were homeless and without food. I had to do something.

I visited remote areas, sometimes going through the mountains on foot, to reach the women. I organized them and began to educate them about their rights. I held workshops. Most of my salary went into my social work.

I also became an announcer for All India Radio and a free-lance magazine correspondent. I wrote about human rights, women’s empowerment, and children’s rights.

Why did you leave teaching to enter politics?

I wanted to change the conditions I saw. Sometimes I wept. Sometimes I shouted. Sometimes I got angry. But weeping, shouting, and fighting did not bring any change. So I went to my bedroom, fell to my knees, and prayed, “God, please send someone to help my people as you sent Moses to lead your people to the Promised Land.”

I realized we needed someone in the policy-making group. I looked around to find someone I could support, someone who would mobilize women and children and youth. I tried to find such a person for three years, but was disappointed when those I thought would use their power for good, used it instead for themselves and their family.

I wondered if I should run for office myself. I would have to leave my position as lecturer in the college in order to run in the elections. This was a struggle for me. If I gave up my salary from the college, how would my parents eat? How could I continue my social work?

But the thought persisted. Again I went to my room, locked the door, and prayed: “God, if it is not your will that I should become a candidate in the elections, then please erase the idea from my mind.” I fasted and prayed for several days. The idea became stronger. Two months before the elections I resigned my teaching position, and many people told me how foolish I was to give up my good job. But I knew God wanted me to contest and that He would take care of me.

What obstacles did you face in the election?

On the day before elections, an edict was issued by the underground that no one should vote for Kim Gangte. I took the pamphlet to the electoral observers, but they did nothing. I went to the polling station the next day, but armed insurgents were there to prevent anyone from voting. Government security forces were not there. People were weeping. We all felt so powerless.

At the next polling station and the next, it was the same. No one was allowed to vote. I was not allowed to speak. Suddenly armed men kidnapped me to prevent me from visiting the polling sites.

I was so angry. I said to them, “You must honor human rights. This is the greatest violation of human rights. You must let people vote. The women are weeping because they want to vote. Tell them to vote against me, but you must let them vote!”

After three hours they let me go. However, still the insurgents were at the polling sites threatening people. I felt it was no use to visit anymore. I went back to Imphal and when my supporters saw me they wept. “Don’t worry,” I told them. “There is God!” Women’s groups fasted and prayed all night. I too prayed.

What did you pray for?

I never prayed that I should be elected. I said, “Lord if it is your will and you want me to do justice for your people, I will do it.” I read the Psalms and prayed. “Lord, you know my opponents are mighty, but you are there. You are the God who caused Jericho to fall. You are the God of David who triumphed in you. You are a God who can work in the ballot boxes so that everyone will know that you still reign.”

The next morning my opponent was 22,000 votes ahead. By evening he was 6,000 ahead. The following morning the lead came down to 4,000. By afternoon, to 3,000. By evening I was ahead by 364 votes. When the last 40 polling booths had reported, I was 2,500 ahead. God had done this miracle for us.

What message do you have for Christians who would like to get involved in politics?

It is good for Christians to get involved in the public life of their country. I count Moses as one of the greatest politicians because he loved people and he sacrificed the throne for the sake of his people. Many people say politics is a dirty game, and politicians are looked upon in a negative light. Certainly, there are risks. But religious people should come into politics so that politics is kept clean. If the politicians are clean, then politics will be clean and people will benefit.

My definition of politics is very simple. Politics is loving people, counting human values, honoring human rights, and serving people. My target is helping people. Maybe this does not involve preaching from the Bible, but it means putting the teachings of Scripture into practice in giving practical help to those who need it.

There have been accusations made in the newspapers against missionaries, that they are bringing money into India to aid the insurgents. Have you been able to do anything to counteract these statements with government officials?

I met Mr. L. K. Advani, the Union Home Minister, with some of our church leaders. I said to him, “You know me for a number of years and how I have been fighting for the poor and downtrodden people. If you have confidence in me, then you must have faith in my church. This is the church that brought me up and taught me the values I uphold. I was educated in Seventh-day Adventist schools. I know my church leaders. These stories about them are false. I know they are only trying to help the poor and needy of this country.”

Do you see any role for the Adventist Church in the cause of human rights in India?

Yes, the Seventh-day Adventist Church can play an important role. I would like to see Adventists visiting jails and prisons and supplying books for the inmates to read. I would like to see them involved in literacy programs. One of the main reasons we have so many insurgents in the Northeast is because of unemployment. I think the church could play a bigger role in introducing vocational training for young people. We need to teach people skills to support themselves. The government will appreciate our church getting involved in such non-political activities.

How do you feel about your being the first Adventist in the Indian Parliament?

God has answered my prayers. He has given me this opportunity to serve people and to show that He is a great God, and He still lives and works today.

Interview by Dorothy Watts and Dittu Abraham. Dorothy Eaton Watts is Associate Secretary of the Southern Asia Division of Seventh-day Adventists. Dittu Abraham is Director of the Communication Department of the Southern Asia Division. Kim Gangte’s address in New Delhi is: Kim Gangte, M.P.; Manipur Bhavan, Sardar Patel Marg; New Delhi, 110 001; India. Her home address is: Kim Gangte, M.P.; G-69, Type-III, Langol Housing Complex; Lamphel, Imphal 795 004, Manipur; India.