Opposition parties and NGOs in Meghalaya have stepped up the heat on chief minister Mukul Sangma to sack home minister HDR Lyngdoh, whose son’s guest house in Shillong was used by rebel-turned-MLA Julius Kitbok Dorphang to allegedly rape a 14-year-old girl last month.
A Shillong court on Saturday granted the police five days’ custody of Dorphang, 52, after he was arrested from neighbouring Assam’s Guwahati on Friday night.
“We met the chief minister and conveyed the growing demand for the home minister’s resignation. He said he will examine whether or not to allow Lyngdoh to continue as the home minister,” former chief minister Donkupar Roy, a senior leader of the regional United Democratic Party, said.
Public pressure has been mounting on the Congress-led Meghalaya United Alliance government to fire Lyngdoh since December 16, when the girl filed a complaint accusing the MLA and seven others of raping her in the guesthouse the previous evening.
The girl also accused Dorphang and the others in video-recorded statements before a magistrate and Meena Kharkongor, the chairperson of State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR). The arrest of a female employee of the guesthouse on charges of child trafficking followed.
Lyngdoh, however, seemed defiant. “Why should the owner be blamed if an employee is involved in a crime? I am not directly involved. Besides, I have given a free hand to the police to probe this case,” he said.
On Sunday, two Shillong-based NGOs – Thma-U-Rangli-Juki, meaning ‘battle of the common man’ and Civil Society Women’s Organisation (CSWO) – filed an FIR at the local police station against the owners of the guesthouse for twice “receiving” and “harbouring” the minor victim of trafficking.
The case was filed under section 21(1) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.
“We also asked the police to register a case under Section 370 of the IPC as amended by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, which holds liable persons who, for the purpose of exploitation, harbour and receive a person or persons,” Agnes Kharshiing of CSWO said.
Kharkongor too has lodged complaints against four others allegedly involved in the guesthouse rape case. They include a soldier, a professor and an archery-based gambling operator.
Refuting allegations that the powers that be were influencing the probe, Shillong City superintendent of police Vivek Syiem said, “We registered a case against the guesthouse owner, have arrested five persons including the MLA so far and are leaving no stone unturned in investigating the case.”
Reacting to demands for Dorphang’s disqualification, Meghalaya assembly speaker Abu Taher Mondal said the MLA will lose membership automatically if the court convicts him.
Dorphang, former chairman of the militant group Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council, is an independent MLA from Mawhati assembly constituency in Meghalaya’s Ri-Bhoi district.
Situation worse for girls in rural Meghalaya
The arrest of Dorphang put the spotlight on crime against women in urban areas of matrilineal Meghalaya. The situation is worse in the rural areas, where even girls below 10 years fall victims, as in the case of a nine-year-old in Lumpokhseh village in West Jaintia Hills on Monday.
Hours before Dorphang was arrested on January 6, the Meghalaya police arrested two village heads on the outskirts of Shillong. Their crime: Abetting six men accused of raping a 17-year-old girl at Mawryngkneng village on January 1 night.
The six men surrendered before a local court late Friday afternoon after the two headmen were arrested. They were allegedly being shielded by Peter J Lawai, sordar (head of a group of villages) of Mawryngkneng, and Goldenstar Mukhim, the deputy head. Mukhim’s brother is among the six rape-accused.
“The sordar was supposed to file the complaint, but he and the other village leaders tried to offer money to the victim’s family instead. We could act on the basis of a complaint filed by a teacher of the locality,” Syiem said.
A similar incident had happened at Jakrem in Meghalaya’s South West Khasi Hills district. The local village heads were initially reluctant to file a case against three persons accused of raping a 13-year-old girl.
“It is a myth that women enjoy superiority in a matrilineal society like ours. Incidents of crime against are as rampant as anywhere else, if not more. Even the women’s commission appears helpless here,” rights activist Agnes Kharshiing said.