Matrilineal Meghalaya has been rocked by cases of harassment, molestation and sexual assault – one after another. The cases involved bureaucrat, MLA, minister and even the governor. Shamed, the head of the state has already made his way out. The MLA admitted to police of sexually exploiting (rape) a minor girl, multiple times, before being arrested. The girl was rescued following her rape at a guest house registered in the name of the son of the state’s home minister. Despite demand, he refused to resign and promised a ‘fair probe’ in the incident. The case led to the arrest of 17 persons including the MLA. The girl also spoke about being taken to the home of another MLA, who refused to ‘take’ her. And now comes an incident of how the head of a state government department withheld the pay of a woman peon and transferred as she refused to stay in his quarter at night!
This is the situation, amid representatives from the state boasting about matrilineal system in forums outside the state. After all, Khasi-Jaintias and Garos are some of the very few tribes in the world practising matrilineal system. Women are held in ‘high esteem’ here. The prestige is at stake now, especially when high profile names are getting attached with such shameful incidents. Another few incidents, and Meghalaya will soon be known for crimes against women and not for the ‘wettest place on earth’ and the ‘cleanest village’ etc. Many Indians still have not even heard about the names of north-eastern states including Meghalaya. Now, next time if someone from Meghalaya goes out he might be greeted with questions – “Oh, I heard about Meghalaya. Isn’t it the state where the governor converted the Raj Bhavan into a ‘young ladies club’? I also heard about an MLA being arrested for raping a minor there?
It’s time the governor looked at the larger threat of losing its prestige of being a matrilineal society. Looking at the incidents separately will not help solve critical problem. Arrest of the particular criminals, shaming them and putting them behind bars are not the only solutions. It is a policy issue. There is an urgent need to bring necessary changes to government policies, acts etc. The fact that the woman employee in the soil conservation department was not aware of an in-house mechanism to address harassment on women at work place speaks volume of the government sincerity in this regard. The authorities concerned must put their heads together to chalk out a holistic strategy so that Meghalaya continue to be identified with Cherrapunjee (wettest place) and Mawlyngnong (cleanest village).
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 3, 2017)