The brutal killing of a 35-year-old mother of five, who resisted rape by six Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) militants on Tuesday night in front of her children has sent a chill down the spine of the administration and citizens. The brutality of the murder was such that the barrage of bullets from the AK-47 at point blank range had almost blown the head of the victim to pieces.
"We came to know about the incident this morning only. It is really shocking. She was an innocent woman who was cruelly murdered. We are really concerned about this incident. We have condemned this gruesome incident. We appeal to the civil society, the NGOs and to everyone to protest against this inhuman crime. We have also urged the government to take immediate step against these perpetrators and establish the rule of law," Meghalaya State Commission for Women, chairperson, Theilin Phanbuh told Firstpost from Shillong.
The tragic incident of Josbina Sangma in the state's South Garo Hills is not an one off incident of crime against women in Meghalaya. In 2013, the state registered 343 incidents of crime against women and girls among which 183 were rape cases. It's worrying that this is not a diminishing trend, if when the last decade is taken into account. From 26 rapes in 2001, Meghalaya has seen a spurt in crime against women every year as the table below shows.
Giving details about the incident over phone to Firstpost from Shillong, Meghalaya Police chief, DGP PJP Hanaman, said, ""We have got the name of the guy who we suspect to have pulled the trigger. His name is Tangton who operates within the Chokpot command of the GNLA in South Garo Hills under a militant leader Janjan. Tangton and few other cadres went to the lady's house yesterday and committed the crime. This is murder after sexual assault."
Making it clear that there would no leniency, he said, "Either GNLA have to stop violence or we go after them. The offer of surrender is for the smaller groups like the UNLA."
The nature of the crime committed allegedly by GNLF militants has even managed to baffle the Meghalaya Police, although a full scale combing operation has been launched to nab the culprits.
"We have launched the operation and we do have certain leads that we do not want to disclose right now as it may hamper the investigation. We are not sure of the motive behind this incident till now. We are on the job but we cannot give a definite time frame to when arrests will be made or the case will be completely solved. We are taking all possible steps to stop the repeat of this sort of crime. I cannot divulge beyond that," said Meghalaya Police, Additional DGP (L&O), YC Modi.
The additional DGP also rejected claims that the deceased woman was in anyway linked to the police.
"She was in no way linked to the police. She was not a police informer as claimed by some," he said.
The rise of crime against women in Meghalaya is ironic as the state has always showcased its matrilineal social system with pride. The Garo Hills in Meghalaya, which comprises of five districts, has remained a hotbed of militancy for long with the GNLA allegedly taking the lead in outlawed activities. The deteriorating law and order situation has also become a political potboiler with the state's opposition and ruling parties often exchanging barbs.
"We have condemned this heinous crime. We have already apprised Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju and submitted a memorandum to him. We have urged the minister to visit Garo Hills and take concrete action. We briefed him about the rising militancy and police mishandling of sensitive cases in the region. In fact last month Garo Hills saw two custodial deaths," Meghalaya Leader of Opposition and National People's Party leader Conrad Sangma told Firstpost from New Delhi. Conrad, accompanied by his sister Agatha Sangma, met the Union minister this afternoon to discuss about the situation in Garo Hills.
In May this year, one Witson Sangma, who allegedly supplied explosives to GNLA, was found dead in a police lockup while another individual Balsan Marak passed away at the Tura Civil Hospital under custody.
"For the people of the region it is a double-edged sword because of the police on one side and the militants on the other. The situation is very serious. The Meghalaya government has totally failed. The Centre must take initiative now to restore some semblance of order," Conrad said.
South Garo Hills falls under the Tura parliamentary constituency represented by Conrad's father and former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno A Sangma.