MSCW inquiry pins blame on three NGOs

Illegal confinement, torture of 12 women in Tura

MSCW Chairperson Theilin Phanbuh addresses
media persons in the city on Friday. (ST)

SHILLONG: The Meghalaya State Commission for Women (MSCW) has taken a strong exception to the action of the three NGOs – Civil Society Women’s Organisation, A·chik Mothers’ Association and the Garo Hills Sentinel for Human Rights – for illegally detaining 12 women in Tura, West Garo Hills, by allegedly accusing them to be sex workers.

The MSCW had constituted a two-member inquiry commission consisting of its vice-chairperson Gamchi Marak and member Angela R. Ingty to conduct a probe into the incident.

The panel had examined a total number of 44 people including the 12 women victims, parents of the victims, police and the villagers.

The inquiry report released to the media on Friday revealed that the twelve girls were reportedly picked up from the vehicles on the road at Chaingre, Orchid Lodge at Asanang and from their respective homes at different intervals and dates and were illegally detained inside the rented accommodation of one of the ‘activists’ identified as Jaynie Ningring Sangma at Daldagre locality under Tura from May 1 to May 8.

“From the statement of all the victims it is clear that they were illegally detained, confined and tortured, both physically and mentally and also threatened with dire consequences taking the names of the GNLA (militant group),” the Commission said in its inquiry report which was submitted to Principal Secretary in charge of Social Welfare department recently.

Many of the witnesses have confirmed the tortures, physical assault, verbal assault, intimidation and public viewing and humiliation of the victims as workers, videos of the beating and uploading of the same on the social media.

“One girl was so intimidated that she had even tried to commit suicide but she was rescued before anything could happen,” the Commission said.

While suspecting the alleged nexus between the NGOs and some police personnel, the Commission said that West Garo Hills Superintendent of Police Mukesh Kr. Singh was unaware about this nexus. “The subordinates have failed to report to their higher ups about this incident. The police in question (Tura Circle Inspector B.N. Marak) has failed to go by the rules and acted on emotions without verifying the false claims of the NGOs against the 12 women,” the Commission said.

According to the Commission, the Inspector concerned had not even called the women or taken the girls to the Women Cell of the police station, but instead informed the NGOs and handed over the girls to them, which is highly illegal and unfounded.

“His (Circle Inspector) failure to act as per law has complicated the whole situation,” the Commission said.

The Commission also admitted that the alleged assault and confinement of the 12 women by the NGOs is a stark case of ‘moral policing and vigilantism’ disregarding the law and duping the administration, police and public.

“A gross violation of Human Rights is observed in the case,” the Commission noted.

The Commission said that West Garo Hills Deputy Commissioner Pravin Bakshi ‘had an inkling’ of what was going on, but was ‘not aware’ that Jaynie and the group were detaining the girls and keeping them confined. Bakshi was ‘only in the knowledge’ that Jaynie and others were ‘counselling’ the girls, the commission claimed.

“A media person reportedly coordinated and acted as a go-between for the administration and the NGOs in the matter of pre-meditated busting of the alleged sex racket. The administration viewed the NGOs at face value and took the matter lightly without verifying their antecedents. The media seems to have called all the shots and was reluctant to inform the police on the matter,” the findings revealed.

The Deputy Commissioner had suggested to the media person to coordinate with the police during the raid, which the latter had failed to do so and this reflects the lack of coordination between the administration and the police, the Commission added.

Coming to the church members, the Commission said the church members who were called to give counselling were not provided with full information about the torture, all of which continued even as the ‘spiritual counselling’ was taking place.

“The Church is also found to be too trusting and ignorant of women’s legislations and related laws. Without verifying matters, they went about counselling the girls,” the findings stated.

“Even the doctor stated that the bruises appearing on some of the girls’ bodies were not fresh bruises as the victims were sent for medical check-up on May 8 itself,” the Commission said.

Moreover, the Commission noted that several illegal activities were openly taking place in the Tura District Jail where prisoners could even have access to mobile phones and interact with the outside world.

It also said that prisoners were beaten inside the jail premises, but the jail authorities have not been serious enough to communicate this to their higher authorities to correct the system for the safety of the prisoners.

Apart from the findings, the Commission had also submitted a slew of suggestions to the government to prevent similar occurrences from recurring. One of these suggestions includes that the district administration should be more vigilant about different NGOs and not just listen to them at face value. It also suggested for conducting legal awareness and setting up of a shelter home.

While taking to newsmen, Commission vice-chairperson Gamchi Marak said that they were not able to establish whether the 12 women are really involved in any sex racket.

It may be recalled that on May 1 evening, during vehicle checking, Jaynie had reportedly zeroed in on two vehicles, one coming from Williamnagar and the other from Tura, the Commission said.

The vehicle from Williamnagar had four occupants, of which two were girls while the other had six occupants, of which, three were girls, the Commission said.

The cop then reportedly informed the ‘activists’, the Commission said, adding that while the police took away the five men to the police station, the ‘activists’ brought the girls to Jaynie’s house.

In the subsequent days, the other seven girls were picked up from different places in and around Tura, it added.

From the overall observations, the Commission said it was found that the so-called “tortures were made at the NGOs’ house and not in the police station.”