Is #Meghalaya turning into a haven for harassers & assaulters?
2017 in Meghalaya had started with news platforms reporting on multiple cases of sexual harassment and abuse in various districts and regions of the state. This week, reports of molestation have come from aspiring women candidates and some contract employee of the Meghalaya Raj Bhavan. As reported, an aspiring candidate of the PRO position declared that she was called for an interview at 7 pm by the Governor and that she was inappropriately ‘hugged and kissed’ by him during the meeting. He allegedly offered her a job as well. Another former woman employee reported saying that she was called inside his room, where she was similarly touched and kissed. The Governor however denied any of these charges and claimed to not have met anyone beyond 7 pm alone and that he treated the candidates like his own grand-daughters.
These allegations against the Meghalaya Governor are chilling reminders of the kind of infestation that resides at the core of public offices in the state, where people occupying positions of power and influence are found to constantly abuse their authority, often taking the form of sexual harassment. Such instances of gender discrimination and sexual assault have become so normalized in the private as well as the public domain in Meghalaya that even a recent case of rape of a minor, allegedly committed by an MLA has still not received adequate State response. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that there has been no establishment of the Sexual Harassment cells and the Internal Complaints Committee in State Government offices, as directed by the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. One cannot help but agree that the absence of such bodies in these public offices and institutions to check and curtail harassment, and provide women workers with legal and investigative aid allows for, if not encourages crimes of harassment to fester and multiply.
In fact, many employees in government offices in the state are unaware about the scope and potential of the Sexual Harassment Act 2013. The culture of ignorance of rights of citizens and workers in Meghalaya has historically made corruption and abuse of power by the political class a very smooth-sailing affair.
Both the recent incidents of sexual assault, whether it is the rape case involving Julius Dorphang, the MLA and the statement in his defense, made by Congress leaders as well as these recent allegations of molestation involving Governor, V. Shanmuganathan reveal the disturbing intimacy between politicians and people occupying public offices and sexual harassment, violence and exploitation. The alleged Governor episode especially underscores a situation whereby an individual of an extremely powerful position may exploit the candidates’ need for livelihood to realize his own sexual aspiration. His interesting declared identification of women candidates as “grand-daughters” which feature in his public statement speaks of unprofessionalism and benevolent sexism, turning his own image from an alleged sexual abuser to a patronizing harmless grandfather.
This avalanche of cases of sexual abuse by public servants in Meghalaya can only be stopped if people demand for a just and efficient mechanism which would address systemic sexism and gender violence. We need to collectively demand for a speedy and thorough investigation into this case, and for the larger implementation of the SH Act in government offices, which would help rectify the fact that public offices have become hotbeds of sexual assault.