The involvement of a powerful politician in the repeated rape of a minor has exposed the thriving sex racket in Meghalaya and embarrassed the government no end
~By Ramesh Menon
The peace and quiet of the picture-postcard hill town of Shillong has been shattered in recent weeks with angry protests by civil society after Julius Dorphang, an independent MLA, allegedly repeatedly raped a 14-year-old girl. It has embarrassed Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma as Dorphang is part of his Congress-led coalition government. That is not all. At the centre of the sex scandal is Marvelene’s Inn, a guest house owned by the son of Home Minister HDR Lyngdoh. As civil society protests mount demanding his resignation, the goings-on in the guest house are also now being investigated.
Agnes Kharshiing, president of Civil Society Women’s Organisation, told India Legal: “The home minister must quit ensuring an independent enquiry. What we have seen is just the tip of the iceberg. Numerous guest houses attract sex workers, encouraging the trafficking of minor girls. It is difficult to crack down as there are political powers that help it thrive. We are determined to fight this as this is the only way to stop the exploitation and violation of young girls by influential people.”
The victim said in her FIR that she was taken to the Inn, situated in a posh area in the state capital, several times to “serve clients”. She said that Dorphang raped her twice. The incidents, she said were at a guest-house in Motinagar in Shillong and at Umiam, a lake resort, on the way to Guwahati from Shillong. Police are now investigating these two places frequented by tourists.
Dorphang is now in judicial custody after he was arrested by a joint police team of Assam and Meghalaya. They traced him to an inter-state bus terminus in Guwahati after he went missing. Incidentally, Dorphang is a former chairman of Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council, an armed rebel group that has been involved innumerous murders, extortions and kidnappings. After he came overground and surrendered in 2007, he entered politics and got elected as an independent MLA in 2013.
Rymbai, the owner of Marvelene’s Inn, claimed that he was unaware of the alleged sex racket, which he said, was known only to a waiter who had brought the girl to the guest house. The girl told the police that she was taken to Marvelene’s Inn in mid-December. She is from a poor family and has studied only till Class III. She was reportedly brought to Shillong by a woman who lured her to the hill town with the promise of a better life. But instead, she was forced to sleep with different men. This went on for a year till she decided to go to the police with the help of two women who agreed to help her.
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Shillong’s Superintendent of Police Vivek Syiem told India Legal that the police is now investigating various leads from places where the minor was sexually assaulted and is determined to get to the bottom of the case. “There is a high level of trafficking of girls in Meghalaya because of rapid urbanization and resulting migration. The racket here involves high-end people. Thanks to an active civil society movement, we often get leads. We have already made arrests and with investigations progressing, many more will be identified before we file a chargesheet by mid-February.”
Lyngdoh initially chose to remain silent on the matter but later told the press that the law would take its course. Protesters along with the opposition are demanding that he quit. Sangma has also preferred not to rake up the issue. All he said was: “Until proven guilty, the law of the land should be allowed to take its course and ensure that there is no angle for any influence into the case.”
According to the Meghalaya police, there were as many as 394 rape cases between 2013 and 2015 and 321 cases of molestation and sexual harassment during the same period. Last year, there were more than 85 rape cases registered. Nearly two dozen of the victims were minors.
Violence against women has been on an increase in Meghalaya for the last few years. It has been a worrisome sociological phenomenon in a state known to practice matriarchy. At a superficial level, it is generally accepted that women are in control and are respected. Anglela Rangad, member of Thma U Ranglijuki, an NGO, said: “Violence against women is increasing at a frightening rate. The number of cases reported is huge. Think of how many are not reported. We have a catastrophe on our hands. There is a huge racket involving powerful political functionaries. Many victims are afraid of speaking about it. We have been able to get this case moving only because we had Meena Kharkongor, chairperson of the Meghalaya State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, filing numerous FIRs after meeting the girl. We will soon see a can of worms opening and some of those involved are important personalities.”
Rangad points out that for long, the state has ignored systematic exploitation of people in its unregulated coal mines and other informal sectors which has created a lot of anger and frustration. “Hopelessness and powerlessness are emotions that have been aggravated as fair play and justice seems to be a far cry for the poor. Meghalaya needs to look at serious sociological and economic problems that are giving rise to law and order situations, including sexual and domestic violence as gender based notions of power fester,” she said.
Lead picture: Violence against women has been on the rise in Meghalaya for the last few years. Photo: UNI