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Crimes against women
Two incidents-a complaint of alleged sexual impropriety against Meghalaya Governor V. Shanmuganathan this January, and the arrest of independent MLA Julius Kitbok Dorphang on charges of raping a 14-year-old girl in December-have focused attention on the rising incidence of crime in the northeastern hill state.
Although these events could be explained away as aberrations, the National Crime Records Bureau data reveals a sharp rise in serious offenses. From 2001 to 2015, the number of reported crimes against women rose from 66 to 334. In that same period, the number of rapes went up from 26 to 93, and complaints of sexual harassment rose from 25 to 95.
Journalist and author Patricia Mukhim says the belief that women are safer in Meghalaya, given its matrilineal tradition, is a myth. "This is the same society where women are not allowed to hold office in traditional institutions," she says. That rape is a serious problem is also evident from recent reports: on January 1, a 17-year-old girl was gang-raped in Mawryngkneng in East Khasi Hills district, and a 13-year-old was gang-raped in Southwest Khasi Hills district.
Human rights activist Agnes Kharshiing blames poor implementation of the law and a lack of political will. "Most people are scared to report (crimes against women)," she says. Mukhim points to the fact that a fast-track court set up to try cases of sexual violence against women has been defunct for the past seven years because of a paucity of funds. She also questions the judiciary's decision to refer sexual crimes involving tribals to the Autonomous District Councils.