Politics

Meghalaya CM Refuses to Remove Home Minister for Connection to Sexual Assault Case

The United Democratic Party and the BJP have upped the ante on the Sangma administration to remove H.D.R. Lyngdoh “for an impartial investigation into the case.”

Meghalaya home minister H.D.R. Lyndoh at a public event. Courtesy: DIPR

Meghalaya home minister H.D.R. Lyndoh at a public event. Courtesy: DIPR

New Delhi: Public and political pressure has been building on Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma to remove his home minister H.D.R. Lyngdoh from the post over a case where a 14-year-old-girl was sexually assaulted at his son’s guest house. The demand grew louder after the resignation of Meghalaya governor V. Shanmuganathan over an alleged molestation case.

Shanmuganathan resigned on January 26 after over 80 members of his staff wrote to the president and the prime minister following a verbal complaint by a woman who accused him of molesting her at Raj Bhavan. The employees alleged that the governor brought down the dignity and decorum of the high office by turning it into “a ladies club”.

Both Lyngdoh and Sangma have, however, continuously refused to bow down to political pressure.

“As of now, no. The law doesn’t demand so,” Sangma told reporters in Shillong on January 28.

“Please have faith in the whole system of investigation and judiciary. Our administration of justice is vibrant, insulated from all manipulation. That much I can assure you – as far as our state is concerned no one can tamper in the process of law,” he added.

Lyngdoh has also been consistent with his position since the case was sensationalised across the state towards the end of December, 2016, leading to the arrest of an independent MLA, Julius Kitbok Dorphang, on January 6 in Guwahati. Dorphang, an MLA from Mawhati constituency, supports the Sangma-led Congress government.

“I am not in the wrong. I did not run the guest house. The guest house is run by the management,” Lyngdoh told local media a day after a number of women’s rights organisations held a rally in Shillong on January 11, demanding an independent investigation into the case and Lyngdoh’s resignation, since the police is under the state home ministry.

On January 28, he said, “I have given the police a free hand to investigate the case and find out the truth. If need be, they [the police] can interrogate me too.”

The women’s organisations later handed a joint letter to the chief minister’s office urging him to remove Lyngdoh from office.

“We are steadfast on the demand, particularly so after the resignation of the governor. If he can be asked to resign on moral grounds, why can’t the home minister be asked to do so? We want a free and fair probe. The police is investigating the case which reports to the home minister, there is a moral obligation. The crime happened in his family’s property,” said activist Agnes Kharsiing of the Civil Society Women’s Organisation, one of the signatories to the letter.

Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma. Credit: PTI

Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma. Credit: PTI

Kharsiing and her organisation visited the Marvelene Inn on December 17 – a day after the first FIR was filed by the victim at the Laban police station, alleging that Dorphang had sexually assaulted her in the guest house.

“Now, however much Lyngdoh tries to distance himself from the guest house, he can’t – the manager told us very clearly then that it belonged to him. He also said Lyngdoh visited it just the night before. Also, whenever more than Rs. 10,000 would get collected at the counter, the manager would call the owner to come and pick up the money. So regularly, Lyngdoh’s wife would do so,” she told this correspondent.

“Interestingly, one of the three mobile numbers printed on the manager’s business card belongs to Lyngdoh’s wife,” she added.

“The chief minister says the law will take its course but we ask, why was the case transferred from the Laban police station at once to the Madanrything police station with the argument that it all began from there as one of the accused in the case was staying with the victim at Demthring, under that police station? If that was not a pressure on the police from Lyngdoh, then what was it?” she asked.

The opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) and the BJP among others have also upped the ante on the Sangma administration to remove Lyngdoh “for an impartial investigation into the case.”

Speaking to The Wire from Shillong, Donkupar Roy, head of UDP and leader of opposition, said, “We are very clear about it. We are not demanding that Lyndoh be dropped altogether from the cabinet but asking the chief minister to remove him from the post of home minister at once to ensure people’s faith and confidence in his administration, so that people are convinced that there will be an impartial investigation into the case.”

Roy, a former state chief minister, said, “After all, the police is still under Lyngdoh – it is also a moral question.”

So far, the state police has arrested 16 people in connection with the sexual assault on the juvenile on many occasions at various guest houses including the one run by Lyngdoh’s son Nathaniel Osbert Rymbai in the Rilbong area of Shillong.

Rymbai had also been called by the police for questioning.

“The investigation is on. If required, we will summon the home minister for questioning too,” Mariahom Kharkrang, the district police chief of East Khasi Hills told reporters early this week.

Multiple attempts by The Wire to contact the state director general of police S.B. Singh to learn about the progress of the investigation failed.