| Meghalaya State Commission for Women chairperson Theilin Phanbuh and vice-chairperson Gamchi Marak (right) in Shillong on Friday. Picture by Evanjoplin Dkhar |
Shillong, July 11: The Meghalaya State Commission for Women has come down heavily on “social activists” in the alleged detention and torture of 12 girls in Tura under West Garo Hills, and termed the incident as a case of “moral policing” and “gross violation of human rights”.
The commission, which had conducted an inquiry into the incident, had submitted its report to the state government recently. In the course of the inquiry, the commission had examined 44 people, including the girls.
These 12 girls, who were branded “call girls” by the “activists”, were allegedly detained, tortured and assaulted in the rented accommodation of one of the “activists”, Jaynie Ningring Sangma, at Daldagre in Tura.
According to the commission, which released its findings to the media today, the girls were reportedly picked up from vehicles at Chasingre, Orchid lodge at Asanang and from their respective homes at intervals on different dates.
The girls were kept at Jaynie’s rented house from May 1 to May 8, the commission said. It also said that the NGOs involved in the incident were the Civil Society Women’s Organisation, A’chik Mothers’ Association and Garo Hills Sentinel for Human Rights.
“Many witnesses have confirmed the torture, including physical assault, verbal assault, intimidation and public viewing and humiliation of victims as sex workers, also allowing of taking pictures, videos of the beatings, uploading of the same on the social media and threat to life. One girl was so intimidated that she was even contemplating suicide,” the commission observed.
From the statement of all the victims, the commission concluded that it was clear that they were “illegally detained, confined and tortured, both physically and mentally, and also threatened with dire consequences by taking the names of militant groups (GNLA)”.
Commission vice-chairperson Gamchi Marak and member Angela R. Ingty had conducted the probe into the incident.
While Marak stated that it could not be established that the 12 victims were “call girls”, the findings pointed out that the incident was “very much a stark case of moral policing and vigilantism disregarding the law and duping the administration, police and public”. A gross violation of human rights was also observed in the case, the commission added.
The commission said West Garo Hills deputy commissioner Pravin Bakshi “had an inkling” of what was going, but was “not aware” that Jaynie and her 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 mediaperson reportedly co-ordinated and acted as a go-between the administration and the NGOs in the matter of premeditated 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 that the mediaperson co-ordinate with the police during the raid, which the latter had failed to do so and this reflects the lack of co-ordination between the administration and the police, the commission added.
Coming to the church members, the commission said those 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 legislation and related laws. Without verifying matters, it went about counselling the girls,” the findings stated.
Further, the findings noted that the NGOs had a “nexus” with some police personnel and reportedly worked together. However, it said West Garo Hills superintendent of police Mukesh Singh was found “to be unaware of the happenings”.
“The subordinates failed to report to their higher-ups. The policeman in question (B.N. Marak) failed to go by the rules, and acted on emotions without verifying the claims of the NGOs. The inspector concerned had not even called the women police or taken the girls to the women’s cell of the police station, but instead, informed the NGOs and handed the girls over to them, which is highly illegal and unfounded,” the commission pointed out.
The failure on the officer’s part had “complicated the whole situation”, it added.
On May 1 evening, during vehicular checks, Marak had reportedly zeroed on two vehicles, one coming from Williamnagar and the other from Tura, the commission said.
The Williamnagar vehicle had four occupants, of whom two of them were girls while the other had six occupants, of whom three were girls, the commission said.
The policeman 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 “torture was made at the house and not at the police station”.
“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 Tura district jail where prisoners could even have access to mobile phones and interact with the outside world.
It also said prisoners were beaten up inside the jail, but the jail authorities have not been serious enough to communicate this to their seniors 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 conducting legal awareness drive and setting up of a shelter home.