On 3 June, it was life as usual in the remote village of Goera Rongat near Chokpot in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills. Ronseng Sangma had just come home after collecting firewood from the jungle. His wife had prepared food.
The village, 80 km from closest town Tura, is remote in every sense. No motorable roads lead up to it, there is no electricity connection and almost no existence of governance. This has made the area a free hunting ground for militants of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) — a dreaded underground outfit, which demands a separate Garoland to be carved out of Meghalaya. At around 5:30 pm, Rongseng, his wife and their four minor children sat for dinner (people in this part usually have an early dinner). An hour later, around 6:30 pm, as the family was relaxing after a hearty meal, five GNLA militants, all armed to the teeth, stormed their hut. What happened after that would raise the hair on anyone’s back.
“They locked me inside and dragged my wife out, claiming she was a police informer,” says Rongseng, breaking down in sobs. “Two of the men molested her and tried to rape her. When she resisted, they pumped her face with bullets. They left her in a pool of blood and warned me not to go to the police. All this happened in front of our children.” The police later pulled six bullets from the woman’s face, which was entirely blown off.
In response to a query from TEHELKA, GNLA political affairs secretary, Bikdot Nikjang Marak, verified that the terror outfit was behind the gruesome killing. “The GNLA has confirmed that the woman was a police source and was responsible for the death of our training instructor Kram. A group of cadres was on a mission to eliminate her, but she ran away. On this fateful day, however, she came back, and was executed. GNLA shall not spare anyone if he or she is responsible for the death of our cadres,” says the written statement.
In the past few months, the Garo Hills region has seen an escalation in the violence. The Opposition has been vehemently demanding a change of guard, blaming Chief Minister Mukul Sangma for the worsening of law and order in the state.
Former Lok Sabha Speaker and Tura MP Purno Agitok Sangma, who was among the first ones to bring the ghastly incident to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attention, said that crimes against women are on the rise in Meghalaya. “I will seek the Centre’s immediate attention on the failure of law and order in the state,” Sangma told TEHELKA. On 4 June, he met MoS (Home), Kiran Rijiju, to brief him about the current situation. “It is very apparent that the state government has been unable to tackle the rising crimes in Garo Hills,” said Rijiju. “The situation is definitely a cause of concern. The state government must wake up to tackle it.”
Asked about the deteriorating law and order, Meghalaya Home Minister Roshan Warjiri called the incident “shocking” and said that a team of senior police officials will be sent to Garo Hills “to take stock of the situation”.
Violence is not a new visitor to Meghalaya. There have been gruesome killings before, although the past few months have been particularly checkered. On 28 May, a suspected GNLA worker, Witson M Sangma, died in police lock-up at Chokpot in South Garo Hills. His death invited sharp censure from the locals, who blamed the police for high-handedness. Several NGOs called for a peaceful demonstration the next day to condemn the custodial death, but it turned ugly. The police did not allow the 3,000-strong crowd to hold the demonstration. An angry mob protested outside the police station, pelted stones at the police and torched three police vehicles.
Earlier, on 20 May, an undertrial, Balsan S Marak, brother of a Meghalaya legislator, Rohpul S Marak, died in a government hospital in Tura. Marak had been arrested on 13 May in connection with a case of torture of 12 women by “activists”, who are on judicial remand.
For the upcoming Assembly session that begins on 6 June, the PA Sangma-led National People’s Party, the main Opposition in Meghalaya, plans to raise the issue of lawlessness. Meanwhile, voices of dissent are growing against CM Mukul Sangma, who has to act fast.
Following close on the heels of the double rape and murder in Badaun, UP, this incident is a wake-up call to the nation that crimes against women are not the preserve of the badlands alone. In acts of heinousness, this really is no country for women.