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NGOs oppose bill on Garo customary laws

NGO members during the protest on Wednesday.
Picture by Saidul Khan

Tura, July 23: The introduction of the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council Codification of Garo Customary Law, Bill, 2009, was today stalled by several NGOs in the district council. The council came under severe criticism for the bill which had a “contentious clause” on the definition of Garo tribe.

Of the five clauses, which define Garos under the new bill, three clauses are being opposed.

The clauses are (i) A person born of a Garo mother and a non-Garo father is also recognised as a Garo/A’chik provided Garo matrilineal system; kinship and other customs and traditions are followed by him. (ii) A non-Garo father may be recognised as a Garo provided he adopts any other sub-clan or ma'chong other than his wife’s ma’chong and fully identifies himself with the Garos and is accepted as such by the adopting ma’chong and (iii) A person who is born of a non-Garo mother and a Garo father is recognised as a member of the Garo tribe provided he follows Garo customs and traditions.

The bill was opposed by the Garo Students Union (GSU), Federation of Khasi Jaintia and Garo People (FKJGP) and Association for Democracy and Empowerment (ADE), among others.

The members of the NGOs staged a protest outside the district council for over two hours which prompted chief executive member of the district council Alphonse Sangma call the organisations for a discussion.

After holding consultations with the NGOs, the district council agreed not to go ahead with the introduction of the bill in the current session.

Talking to reporters, Besterfield N. Sangma, an executive member of the district council, said: “We have decided not to go ahead with introduction of the bill. It is a very important bill as the oral customary laws of the Garos will be enacted as an act.”

On the contentious clause, which is being opposed by NGOs, he said: “The customary practices for ages had such a law, so it was incorporated. The bill was drafted by a select committee of experts. Now that there have been oppositions, we have decided to put the bill in public domain to solicit opinions before we once again place it for introduction in the council.”

He also clarified on the allegation of the NGOs that the bill was not discussed in public domain.

“The select committee has been working on the bill for over 10 years. The draft was completed and it has been submitted to governor of Meghalaya for his approval ,” Besterfield said.

He added that the bill was carefully examined before it was sent to the governor. The bill also deals elaborately on laws of marriage, divorce and inheritance among others.

On any timeframe set for the next date of introduction of the bill, Besterfield said: “It will be carefully studied once again; so no timeframe has been fixed. We do not want to take decisions in a hurry.”

“Our discussion with the chief executive member was fruitful. He has assured us that the bill will be put in public domain for examination. Opinions and suggestions from stakeholders will be solicited,” president of ADE Dalseng Momin said.

“At no cost we will allow the contentious clauses to be passed into an act. If required, we may appeal to the apex court on the issue.” Momin asked: “How can a non-Garo be considered a Garo?”

GNLA rebel held

A top cadre of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), Signal Ch. Sangma, was arrested today from Rangdapara village near Gambegre in the West Garo Hills.

He was wanted by police for attacking former Meghalaya minister Saleng Sangma.

Superintendent of police, West Garo Hills, Mukesh Singh, said, “He was arrested from his residence at 4.30pm today. We had inputs about his presence there. He will be produced in court tomorrow.”

In January 2013, Signal, along with another GNLA cadre, Hadeo Mominalias Karak, had planted an IED on the way to Marapgre under Gambegreblock to eliminate the former mini-ster.