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Archives for : Meghalaya

India: Where Women Call The Shots

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By Kamayani Bali-Mahabal

 

MumbaiImagine a wedding, when the groom follows the bride to her home to start a new life together. Imagine a room filled with laughter and joy when a baby girl is born. Imagine a market, where the cash counters are being managed by women. Imagine a household, where the youngest daughter of the family inherits the family property and is considered the custodian and preserver of her clan, family and lineage. … In the northeastern state of Meghalaya, these are scenarios that are not just the product of the imagination of an egalitarian mind. Matriliny, which gives Khasi women the rights of inheritance and succession, has been in practice here for 2,000 years.

 

In his latest 60-minute documentary, ‘Are They Better Off’, screened at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai, recently, multiple award-winning director, Aditya Seth has highlighted these amazing “Meghalayan values” even as he tries to explore the slowly diminishing Khasi culture and challenges the tribe faces today. Elaborating on what drew him to the subject Seth, 50, says, “As we have grown up in an environment where sex selection is rampant so it was intriguing to learn that there is actually a social order where women are dignified and not discriminated against. To me this was very fascinating and I decided to go to Meghalaya and see how things work there.”

 

Under the matrilineal system, the family lineage is passed on through the mother’s clan line, or ‘kur’, and the youngest daughters are the Khatduhs, or the custodians of the ancestral property. “The reason being that they will logically live the longest,” says Seth, who has portrayed the system and its social-political complexities through the lives and experiences of his three female protagonists – 52-year-old Hulda Kynta, 29-year-old Selinda Kharbuki, and 23-year-old Jubelee Kharmujai. “While Hulda, a political science lecturer in Sohra (Cherrapunji), and Selinda, who has shifted base to Bengaluru, have opted to leave their state for better opportunities, Jubelee, who comes from a low income family, is struggling, as she has been denied her inheritance despite being a Khatduh. In fact, all three are Khatduhs although this no longer ensures that their lives and right are secure. Through their voices, I have attempted to understand the intricacies of this system, its traditions, and the gender dynamics,” he adds. Consequently, the film is nuanced and closely looks at what their lives are all about these days. It shows a proud people who don’t look down upon single mothers – “since children take their mother’s name, no single woman will ever have an illegitimate child,” says Kynta. At the same time, it brings out the insecurities of the men – “they live in the fear of being thrown out of the mother’s or sister’s house”.

 

Today, the Khasi community can take immense satisfaction from the fact that they don’t give or take dowry, their women have inheritance rights and they are also comparatively freer than their counterparts in the rest of the country. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are better off. Things are slowly taking a turn on account of education and economic compulsions, among other things, which are creating the conditions for change.

 

Of the different factors that are influencing change in their traditional system, migration is perhaps the most significant. “That’s why I have dealt with this concern and explored the links between migration and culture. Since the youth is moving to the cities for education or in search of more lucrative work opportunities, Khasi grandparents and parents fear that their next generation will not take forward their traditions,” shares Seth, who took two years to make the film. Explaining further, Hulda goes on, “So now the elders prefer that their children remain unmarried rather than marry a non-Khasi, as that often dilutes the Khasi customs and language.”

 

In one of the scenes, amidst the earthy sounds of the beating drums, reminiscent of the Nongkrem dance festival, performed to appease the all-powerful Goddess Ka Blei Synshar for a rich bumper harvest and prosperity of the people, the camera focuses on a Khasi woman who says, poignantly, “When they look at a matrilineal system, the country looks at it through one lens – that the women here are better off, powerful, decision-makers… but they are wrong.” From her, the frame shifts to a Khasi man who says, “We don’t want patriarchy but patriliny just for the Khasi male to shoulder some responsibility.”

 

Clearly, there’s a struggle of mindsets at play now, one that is making the elders uncomfortable. As Seth points out, “In our society, over the years, women have asserted themselves. Similarly slowly and steadily, the men are also asserting themselves in the matrilineal society of Meghalaya. The dissent is already there.”

 

This tussle between the sexes and the roles they play in society is visible on different platforms. Take, for instance, their indigenous governance structures, on the lines of the panchayat, where women have been consciously kept away from the decision-making positions. Indeed, even the nomenclature of the head of the Dorbar – or the village level traditional institution – the Rangbah Shnong, literally means “headman”. Moreover, when it comes to the decisions taken in the family, again, it’s the men who get the upper-hand.

 

‘Are They Better Off’ showcases all this and more as Sethi’s camera captures honest opinions amidst the picturesque locales of Shillong. Of course, had it not been for Kynta this film wouldn’t have been possible because, although Shillong is “very cosmopolitan and there are people from Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Bihar living there, Khasis are generally quite suspicious of the outsiders”. Seth, whose previous documentary dealt with Nepalese labour migration to Mumbai, says, “With Kynta helping me as subject specialist, I didn’t face much hostility during the shooting. However, it wasn’t easy to get them to speak to an outsider like me, and in the villages, especially, it was a tough call.”

 

 

There are many takeaways from the narrative, but, in one way or another, they are connected to this transformative phase that the Khasis are living through. So, where on the one hand, women continue to enjoy greater social mobility and a protected inheritance, they find themselves denied their political rights. The men, too, see themselves as outsiders in the family and are prone to adultery, drug addiction to “deal with this situation”. These, undoubtedly, are complicated times for them.

 

FOR WFS

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#India- Open letter to all MPs from North East India #Vaw #Womenrights

OPEN LETTER TO ALL THE MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT FROM NORTHEAST INDIAN STATES TO BRING IMMEDIATE JUSTICE FOR REIGPHAMY AWUNSHI & OTHER VICTIMS FROM THE NORTHEAST INDIA…

To: Inner and Outer constituency MP of Manipur.
CC: Home Minister; MPs of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim.

Subject: Bring immediate justice to Reigphamy Awunshi and other victims from the NorthEast India.

Respected Sir/ Madam,

We the undersigned would like to bring to your attention some very serious concerns relating to recent tragic death of Reigphamy Awunshi.

We strongly believe that the circumstances that lead to the death of the beautiful daughter of Ukhrul and many insensitive and humiliating incidences following the death are a result of many attitudes and attributes that has been formed through the years.

Sir/ Madam, it is great pain to that many of her loving friends and well wishers have to fight to even register a FIR. Worse is the investigating police officer had total disregard and disrespect even for the death that we were told that we are spa working people and it was reason for such incidences of ‘death’ happens.

We wonder how in the face of such attitude which has strong humiliating and degrading attitude towards the people of NorthEast India, Reignphamy Awungshi can even have a unbiased investigation leave alone justice.

Many of us believe there are very strong evidences of homicidal signs and even possibility of sexual assault leading to the death.

Sir/ Madam, we believe one of most important factor that have lead to these ever increasing of negative attitude towards us, that even disrespect us in death is the absence of voices and solidarity of our own people.

We are deeply hurt and angry that our leaders seem to have left us and ignored us during such challenging and tragic times especially aggravated by a biased investigation and non-coverage by the many institution because of our racial origin.

We wish to request you to please exercise your full responsibility and power bestowed by the people who have elected yourself as leaders and make strong initiatives and actions to bring about justice to Reigamphy Awangshi and take punitive actions against those officials and professionals who have made skewed opinions and decision heavily affected by our racial origin.

We would like you to please take notice of the continuing coverage or wilfully undercoveraged in the national media of many such tragic incidences involving people from our north eastern region, which we believe is because of racial prejudice.

We would like to summarise to please share your words of condolences and help Awungshi and help prevent the fate that poor Awungshi have to experience even in death.

We urge to acknowledge the presence of the dangerous racial stereotyping and prejudice that have not only dehumanise and degraded the life of many but also cause many physical and emotional trauma and even have lead to death.

We would be very grateful to you if you Sir/ Madam could exercise your responsibility and power and held those heinous people accountable and herald a new glorious moment in the history of humanity of Manipur and in NorthEast India in general.

Members of Parliament should make significant steps to bring immediate justice to many victims like Reingamphy awungshi and seriously deal with prejudice that have allowed these crimes to happened and then become a huge obstacles towards justice including even toward registering a FIR and manipulation of forensic study.

Thanking you,

A Justice4Richard Initiative

 

  • #RIP – Mourning Reingamphi Awungshi, 21 year old from Manipur #Rape #Vaw (kractivist.wordpress.com)

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#Meghalaya Gangrape – A cry in the dark #Vaw

Esha Roy : Sun Apr 07 2013,  IE
The Sunday StoryThe victim’s closest friend Rabolin, who was with her when she was attacked
She was gangraped by 16 boys, nine of them juveniles. She was beaten, cut up and her genitals mutilated. She made it to hospital, but was sent home with first-aid. When she survived to fight, she ran into an indifferent administration and influential accused. Schools denied her admission, and others mocked and threatened her.Chances are you haven’t heard this 16-year-old’s story. Three days after the brutal attack on her, the Delhi bus gangrape would happen, and a grieving nation’s conscience would not find time or space for this distant town in remote Meghalaya.***

It was a dark, moonless night on December 13, 2012, in Williamnagar in East Garo Hills district. Most of the houses in the town were empty as people had gathered for the annual winter ‘Simsang’ festival. Like every year, the star attraction was a fashion show-cum-beauty pageant. That evening, among the jostling audience of youngsters were three teenage girls. They were excited, having convinced family members to let them go without male relatives.

Rabolin K Sangma, 16, says it was she who had convinced the other two, her closest friends, to come along. “We weren’t really interested in the festival. But I had to see the fashion show,” she says.

They left at 8.30 pm, before the show had ended. Fog had crept in by then and turned the trees on the isolated stretch they took past the Sacred Heart Church to soft shadows.

They had walked just a short while when they saw a group of boys coming towards them. “They were behaving strangely. I thought, this is not okay… but I didn’t say anything,” says Rabolin. Seconds later, the boys charged at them. “We started running and turned into a narrow lane. We cried for help,” Rabolin says.

One of her friends, also her cousin and neighbour, fell down and got left behind. “She got up but the boys had by then started pelting stones. One hit her and she fell down again. When they got her, they stopped chasing us. We hid inside a garage for hours. We heard her screaming but we were too scared to go back.”

***

Sixteen boys are believed to have proceeded to rape the victim, nine of whom were minors. The victim can’t say as she blacked out. The oldest of the rape accused is 19 years old, the youngest 12. Six are 18.

Defence counsel M L Thangal admits some of them participated directly in the assault, but adds others “just hung around to watch it”. “According to the FIR and the statement of the victim, the leader was 19-year-old Laston Marak, who told the others what to do. Laston was the victim’s brother’s friend but apparently did not recognise her. She was pinned to the ground, kicked and hit. They tore off her T-shirt and started knifing her through her jeans, only later taking it off. The victim remembers the first three boys who raped her, after which she lost consciousness,” says Thangal.

When she stopped responding, the boys stuck a knife into her vagina repeatedly to get her to react.

The victim regained consciousness at some point and realised she was lying naked. Laston allegedly started to rape her again, at which point she called out his name and asked him why he was doing it. “When she said his name, he asked, ‘Who are you?’. She told him and he realised he knew her brother. By then, there was just Laston and another boy there. They helped her put on her jeans and gave her a T-shirt and they dropped her back home,” says Thangal.

Meanwhile, as an eerie quiet fell again over the lane, the victim’s friends came out of hiding and stopped a biker for help. “He took us to the spot but by then she had disappeared and so had the boys. He then dropped us home,” says Rabolin.

***

All 16 accused have since been arrested and booked for rape, “common intention” and criminal conspiracy. On April 3, the trial commenced in a fast-track court with the examination of five witnesses. Interestingly, the police are not showing the FIR to anyone, including the victim’s family.

What has since emerged about the accused’s alleged behaviour has only added to the shock. According to the police, like the girls, the accused were present at Simsang. At the festival, they attacked a schoolteacher (no one knows why) and were carrying him to throw him into the nearby Simsang river when they spotted the victim and her friends. As they got distracted, the teacher fled. He was present at the hospital when the victim’s family brought her there later that night. He told the family about the attackers. The teacher has since disappeared.

The hospital medical report lists injuries on her neck, face and back as well as cigarette burns on her right hand. Her vagina had been mutilated. However, the attending doctor, says the family, just gave the victim an i-pill, eight stitches, some first-aid, a few painkillers, and sent her home.

The next day, a women’s rights activist, Jaynie N Sangma, took the victim back to the hospital. She would remain there for two weeks.

“She hadn’t been eating or drinking and couldn’t pass urine. I asked the doctor why she hadn’t been admitted and she said she had administered first aid. Initially, even the administration took the incident lightly and only after we held protests did they take up the case,” says Jaynie.

When the victim’s mother, who stays in Rongongre village, heard what had happened, she fainted. “I couldn’t recognise my own daughter. Her body was swollen. I asked what had happened to her. She started crying.”

“I expect to get 100 per cent conviction,” says public prosecutor P L Sebastian.

***

The victim has since moved out of Williamnagar. She had left her parents’ home in Rongongre, on the other side of the Simsang river, to attend school in the town, staying with her married older sister and her in-laws. A Class IX student, she had failed her final examinations and was looking to switch schools.

Rabolin prefers that her friend keep away. “One day in February, the two of us had gone to the market and the family of one of the accused started abusing her. Another day, the sister of another of the accused took her photo,” says Rabolin.

“When I realised the danger to her and us, I asked Jaynie to take her to Tura. One of the accused’s father is a surrendered militant and had threatened to take up arms again,” says the victim’s mother.

Jaynie took the girl to her home in Tura. “After several weeks, child protection officers came and took her away,” she says.

***

On March 25, the State Women’s Commission took up the case and took the girl into “protective custody”. Member Gamchi Tamre insists the commission acted for “the girl’s own protection” and to ensure her identity wasn’t exposed. “I couldn’t go the day of the incident, but I went as soon as possible,” Tamre says.

However, even the victim’s mother found it difficult to meet her in the commission’s custody. “I went to the shelter but after I had waited four hours, they told me I couldn’t meet her… I was never allowed to meet her alone,” she says.

The mother also claims that Tamre warned her that should she take the girl out of their custody, the government would not support the family. “I am a vegetable vendor and my husband doesn’t work. What option did we have?” she says.

Women’s groups say the reason for the commission’s actions was that one of the accused—a juvenile—is the nephew of Williamnagar MLA and Cabinet Minister for Social Welfare and Justice in the Meghalaya government Deborah Marak.

Asked who the Women’s Commission reports to, Tamre says, “We are a branch of the National Commission for Women… but we report to the social welfare department.”

***

On March 28, after much pressure, the victim was brought to Tura and allowed a five-minute interaction with a woman activist from Shillong, Agnes Kharsiing, and this journalist. “You can see she’s doing fine,” Women’s Commission member Angela Ingty said, ruling out any questions for the victim. “What is the need for talking?”

The victim was accompanied by three women protection officers. Her head covered with a dupatta, she sat huddled in a chair in a guesthouse in Tura, eyes downcast.

Looking small and frail, she said she was okay. “I like going to school. My favourite subject used to be science and I wanted to grow up to be a doctor,” she added nervously. She only looked up once and broke into a smile when she was told that Kharsiing had come from Shillong to meet her.

However, at least three schools in Tura refused to take her. “The headmaster of the Garo Union School said since she was an undertrial, they could not accept her. How can she be an undertrial when she is the victim?” says Jaynie. The headmaster, Stanley Momen, told The Sunday Express admissions in the school had finished by the time they were approached. “Why is everyone targeting me?” he said. “We are a semi-government school. There are government schools which these people should approach—this is a government matter. There is no question of admission in my school.”

***

After a PIL was filed alleging sloppy handling of the case, the girl was taken out of the protection of the Women’s Commission and handed over to the care of East Garo Hills District Commissioner V K Mantri on March 31. Mantri organised for the victim to attend school in Williamnagar.

The victim’s parents, however, felt she wouldn’t be safe in the town. They handed her over to a women’s group. On April 5, the girl finally got school admission with the help of the Garo Students’ Union. For her safety, it is not being revealed where.

***

At Williamnagar, the lane where the rape occurred remains isolated. Moss-covered walls block it from view of both the huts on the left and the government colony on the right.

At her sister’s home, the mother remembers the things her 16-year-old liked. “She is a good girl. She loved cooking, especially dried fish. In the evenings, she would watch Hindi serials on television. She wouldn’t understand the language but she loved them. She also liked dressing up and would save up to buy new clothes.”

Now, she adds, “I want her to study hard, get a job, become independent. There is no other future for her.”

She demands that the culprits be jailed for life and that Laston be hanged. “I have watched him and another accused grow up. They were my younger son’s friends. My eldest son warned me about them. They were the town goondas… I can’t believe that this is the guy who used to accompany my son on his fishing trips.”

Life has changed for Rabolin too. “I have gone out only a couple of times (since the incident), but I never leave home after sundown,” she says.

Talking about her friend, Rabolin says: “She never talked about it… withdrew into herself. Only once she told me, ‘I should have died on that very spot. I should have died right then and there’.”

At her sister’s home, one part of the victim’s past has already been erased. The bedroom that she used has been converted into a kitchen. Two tables with gleaming steel pitchers and a stove stand where her bed once was.

THE ACCUSED

* The oldest, 19-year-old Laston Marak, is alleged to have been the ringleader, instigating the boys to commit the crime.

* He and co-accused Patrick Sangma, 18, were her brother’s friends.

* Five other accused are 18, including Platon Marak, Chengchow Sangma, Rikrak Sangma, Kisen Marak and Chingkam Marak.

* Of the nine juvenile accused, the youngest is 12.

* The gang was known to get into streetfights and rob truck drivers and shopkeepers.

In 2012,

Meghalaya saw 158 rapes

6 were gangrapes

 

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#Meghalayagangrape- 16 men raped an 18 year old , Yet No Outrage in the Hills #Vaw #India

Gangraped by 16 Men. Yet No Outrage in the Hills

Women are not safe from sexual predators even in Meghalaya’s matrilineal society. And it’s not a poll issue either, says Ratnadip Choudhury
Ratnadip Choudhury

Ratnadip Choudhury

January 31, 2013, Issue 6 Volume 10

Survivor The William Nagar gangrape victim with her parents, Photo: Ujjal Deb

ON THE night of 13 December last year, an 18-year-old girl was gangraped by 16 boys in William Nagar, the headquarters of the East Garo Hills district in Meghalaya, 240 km from Shillong. She was returning from the winter festival in the town along with two friends when the incident happened. “While my friends managed to escape, the boys hit me with stones and I lost consciousness,” says the victim. When she came to her senses, she found that her clothes were torn and the boys were raping her. Nine of the rapists were juveniles, and one a distant relative.

In the past decade, Meghalaya has seen over 800 rape cases, 500 of which are still pending trial in various courts. Contrary to the popular belief that women have greater control over their lives in matrilineal societies such as in Meghalaya, the condition of women seems to be no different here from the rest of the country.

“Our matrilineal society has become mere words on a placard, while the factors contributing to crimes against women in Meghalaya remain the same as in Delhi or Assam,” says Patricia Mukhim, editor of The Shillong Times. “There is little political will to change the situation.” In fact, there was a six-fold rise in cases of rape registered annually in the state between 2001 (26 cases) and 2010 (149 cases). In a state that boasts of women’s empowerment — where women inherit property and are seen at the forefront of domestic and public life — 830 rape cases between 2002 and 2012 should have shaken the conscience of the political parties and the administration, and forced them to act. Instead, the conviction rate remains awfully low, compensation is hardly awarded and there are only three fast track courts dealing with rape cases — one each in the Jaintia Hills, West Khasi Hills and East Khasi Hills districts. In the Garo Hills alone, which does not have a single fast track court, 23 rape cases, including two gangrape cases, have been pending for over a decade.

Though the William Nagar rape victim received a compensation of Rs 25,000 after human rights groups took up her case with the government, she asks, “What will I do with the money when I can no longer lead a normal life?” Her mother alleges that the doctors at the William Nagar Hospital refused to get her daughter admitted even though she was bleeding profusely. “Not only had the boys raped her, they had also mutilated her private parts and perhaps tried to kill her.”

The victim’s father thinks that the alarm bells are ringing for the community to wake up. “Earlier, there was no ‘culture’ of harassing women, but now the youngsters from the community — most of them school dropouts — are becoming violent and girls like my daughter become their victims.”

However, local community leaders and the political parties do not seem to care. “When we organised a public meeting after the William Nagar gangrape, none of them turned up. They only talk about the insurgency,” says Jaynie N Sangma of the Peoples’ Movement for Democratic Rights.

Even as Meghalaya goes to polls on 23 February, no party has raised the issue of sexual violence despite at least 13 women candidates expected to join the fray, including the lone woman in the Meghalaya Assembly, Urban Affairs Minister Ampareen Lyndoh. Also, of the total 14.8 lakh voters, 7.49 lakh are women, clearly outnumbering the 7.32 lakh male voters.

Deborah C Marak, one of the most prominent Congress leaders in William Nagar and the working president of the party in the state, did not even visit the rape victim. She did not respond to TEHELKA’s repeated attempts to contact her. “When she was attacked by militants in November last year, we took out protest rallies. She should also show the political will to fight for women,” says a woman Congress supporter on the condition of anonymity. The MP from Tura constituency in Garo Hills, Agatha Sangma from the NCP, also never took up this issue.

Jaynie has an explanation for this pervasive apathy. “Why would the politicians take up the William Nagar rape victim’s case and risk the wrath of the families of the 16 accused? In Meghalaya, each vote counts. As the community itself is least bothered about the issue, the political parties can afford not to speak out,” she says. Another factor is that women politicians have never had a strong voice in any political party in Meghalaya, as Mukhim points out.

WOMEN ARE unsafe not only in the underdeveloped Garo Hills, but also in the coal-rich Jaintia Hills and the relatively more developed Khasi Hills. In 2007, a 16- year-old girl was raped by her boyfriend and her throat slashed in Nongstoin in West Khasi Hills district. Though the girl survived after a month in hospital, the police passed it off as a “family matter” and the magistrate suggested a “compromise”.

“The entire system is indifferent towards rape victims. And if the accused are related to the powerful coal lobbies, there is huge pressure on the victim’s family to withdraw the case,” says Agnes Kharshiing, president of the Civil Society Women’s Organisation, which has been agitating against improper handling of rape cases.

The report of a committee on crime against women formed by the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly showed gross delays in the investigation of rape cases, but there is little pressure on the candidates of the 23 February poll to raise their voice for the rape victims. As the William Nagar rape victim puts it: “Women voters in the area should collectively decide not to support any political party unless they make crime against women a poll issue, but I guess women in Meghalaya are too weak to take such a bold step.”

[email protected]

*NAMES WITHHELD TO PROTECT IDENTITIES

 

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Mining in rat holes, and a Meghalayan policy

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

Tehelka Blog, Nov 12, 2012

It is said that Meghalaya has a history of no less the 80 years of unregulated and unscientific mining of natural resources, mostly coal and limestone. Due to customary tribal laws and lack of resistance, unregulated mining has turned into a cottage industry of sorts in the hilly state. In fact, though it remains quite unregulated, mining is Meghalaya’s biggest industry.

For instance, you will come across ‘rat hole mining’ in almost every nook and corner, where minors risk their lives to dig out coal. It was after activists rung the alarm bells on child rights abuse in these ‘rat holes’ that the Meghalaya government started to take the matter seriously. Moreover, the presence of large-scale limestone reserves in the state has made way for dozens of cement manufacturing plants, often set up in violation of environmental and forest guidelines. Meanwhile, the state government has drafted the Meghalaya Mineral Policy 2010 and plans to get it approved in the winter session of the State Legislative Assembly – the last time the Assembly would meet before the state goes to polls in early 2014.

The Mukul Sangma government has already started to hard sell the policy, which promises to bring scientific know-how to miners and private investment to the mining sector so that bigger projects can be envisaged, which would also enable infrastructure development. Sources say, since the Congress in Meghalaya is itself divided in opinion about introducing the policy, the government keeps it on hold. There is a desperate attempt to dress up the policy as a holy cow, but it is really going to be that sacrosanct?

All of Meghalaya falls under the Sixth Schedule areas, where, as per the Constitution, the tribals do not need any prior permission to start mining. So there is no need for environmental, forest or pollution clearances, and the industry is tax-free. Many of the tribals in governance and politics are also seen to be involved in unregulated mining. Though labour laws, child rights and safety norms are joke for Meghalaya’s mining industry, Constitutional safeguards for tribal areas in the form of the Sixth Schedule keep the Centre from poking its nose in the matter. Sources claim that all politicians have huge assets in unregulated mining, and the workers in the sector are either migrant poor from other states, or from Nepal and Bangladesh, or they are trafficked minors. So the state government tends to ignore even major mining accidents.
So the policy might have come about because of the pressure the state government came in from the Guwahati High Court on the issue. The HC had imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on Meghalaya for not having a mining policy, and later another Rs 5 lakh for not regulating mining on tribal land.

Ahead of the election, no political party in Meghalaya would dare to speak against illegal and unregulated mining, and after the poll, everyone will forget the issue and the policy will bite the dust. It is time for the tribal chiefs of Meghalaya, who hold enormous powers, to rise beyond clannish thinking and raise their voice for a regulated mining regime that has respect for the environment, and for forest, labour and child rights.

Ratnadip Choudhury Author: Ratnadip Choudhury works as a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka. A young IT professional by training and a journalist by chance, Ratnadip hails from Tripura and has been reporting out of Northeast India for Eight years, as of 2012. He started his career with the Tripura Observer and went on to work with the Northeast Sun, The Northeast Today, News Live, Sahara Time and The Sunday Indian. He has also contributed to BBC, CNN, NatGeo TV, NDTV, CNN-IBN and TIMES NOW. Before joining Tehelka, Ratnadip worked with the national bureau of the television news channel NewsX. He specializes in conflict reporting and has a keen interest in India’s eastern neighbours. He is based in Guwahati.

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#India-Maharashtra food scam: Private companies eat up Rs 1,000cr meant for poor

, TNN | Nov 3, 2012, 01.12AM IST

Maharashtra food scam: Private companies eat up Rs 1,000cr meant for poor
In Maharashtra, private firms floated fronts as ‘mahila mandals‘ and now control rations worth Rs 1,000 crore, the report said. It also specified violations in Karnataka, UP and Meghalaya.
NEW DELHI: Private companies have hijacked the government’s flagship scheme to provide food to poor children and their mothers, the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), with contractors in Maharashtra alone controlling Rs 1,000 crore worth of supplies in contravention of Supreme Court orders, a report of the SC commissioners office has said.The SC orders bar contractors from supplying rations under the scheme. It only permits village communities, self-help groups and mahila mandals to buy grains and prepare food for children.

The commissioners’ report, submitted to the court on Friday, warned that the contractor-corporate lobby had a firm grip over ICDS rations supply business, worth Rs 8,000 crore, in several states. It specifically referred to Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Meghalaya, besides Maharashtra.

Detailing Maharashtra’s case, the report said private companies had floated fronts in the names of ‘mahila mandals’ or women’s organizations to corner the lucrative Rs 1,000 crore annual supply of rations.

The ICDS is India’s primary social welfare scheme to tackle malnutrition and health problems in poor children below 6 years of age and their mothers. It is considered the backbone of government’s efforts to improve the dismal family health indices in India – some of the worst even among developing countries.

The commissioners recommended that an independent investigation be conducted under theapex court’s supervision to investigate the possible nexus “between politicians, bureaucrats and private contractors in the provisioning of rations to ICDS, leading to largescale corruption and leakages”.

The report, prepared by the principle advisor to the commissioners, said the Maharashtra chief minister had been made aware of the scam by the commissioners as well as the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights. They said the fact that the corrupt system continued unchecked showed the “level of influence” the contractors had over the “levers of power in Maharashtra”.

This report lays bare the modus operandi companies used to corner the lucrative contracts in Maharashtra. The state government first changed its rules in 2009 to allow not only community-based organizations but also ‘women’s institutions’ to bid for the supply – a loose enough term to permit any contractor, company or agency with women on board to bid for the contracts.

Only three of these ‘women’s institutions’ got contracts for the entire state’s ration supply which is worth over Rs 1,000 crore annually. None of these three mahila mandals – Venkateshwara Mahila Audhyogic Sahakari Sanstha, Mahalaxmi Mahila Grhaudyog & Balvikas Buddhesiya Audhyogic Sahakari Sanstha and Maharashtra Mahila Sahakari Grahudhyog Sanstha Limited — had any production capacity of their own.

The three mahila mandals each formed sub-committees with select members handling complete control of administration, finances and operations of the organizations. The sub-committees then gained legitimacy by directly contracting with the state government, securing bank guarantees as well as opening separate bank accounts.

The sub-committees went on to contract five companies to supply the rations. But the members on board these sub-committees were all relatives of the owners of the five companies.

In other words, the companies had formed shell agencies to bid for the contracts on the pretext of being community-based women’s organizations.

Venkateshwara formed two sub-committees. One sub-committee farmed out contract to Swapnil Agro Limited owned by Ulhas Pagariya. The sub-committee comprised Pagariya’s wife and two relatives. The second sub-committee gave a contract to Paras Agro Private Limited, with one Satishrao Munde as managing director. Munde’s wife and daughter comprised the sub-committee.

Similarly, Mahalaxmi formed three sub-committees giving out contracts to Indo Allied Protein Foods run by Rajan Shankar Jadhav, Sai Food and Sai Food Products owned by Pradip Auradkar and Sanjay Auradkar and Kota Dal Mill based in Rajasthan.

Maharashtra Mahila Sahkari, which is actually a company and not a society with Rama Agrawal as vice-chairman, gave the contract to Sagar Foods run by her father-in-law Prabhudayala Agarwal.

The principle advisor to the court commissioners, Biraj Patnaik, refused to comment when contacted.

His report said lab reports testing the quality of food grains supplied was also suspect as all three mahila mandals went to the same private lab but government testing found the food lacking. The report said media had earlier highlighted how the ration was of such bad quality that it was at times sold as cattle feed and many times, fungi and termites were found in them. A case on the matter is being heard in the high court as well.

The author added that the report should be seen as a preliminary inquiry and not a comprehensive indictment of the parties. They have asked for court directions for an independent authority carrying out an investigation. The apex court gave the state the opportunity to respond to the report and posted the next hearing for November 23.

 

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