A Long Road To Justice
Even as we bask in the success of one man’s fast unto death to rid our country of corruption, and we take to the streets in solidarity, there are few among us who have been waging a silent war against corrupt officials and a crumbling system without so much as a pat on the back. Women are attacked daily in our country for overstepping the boundaries of expected behavior, or for exercising even a modicum of independence. Public humiliation, tarnishing a woman’s reputation — labelling her amoral, sexual assaults, honour killings, acid attacks are weapons of choice in these acts of gender terrorism.
Agnes Kharshiingh has endured much in her fight for women’s rights in the state of Meghalaya. Her opposers have tried ruining her professional potential, maligned her family’s name, and repeatedly attempted to paint her bravery as brazen acts of a woman on a rampage.
Since assuming the post of president of the Civil Society Women’s Organisation in Shillong, Agnes has gathered many small victories. She is a woman with limited means but with a bottomless reservoir of perseverance and conviction. She is also a member of the Access to Justice Committee formed by the Supreme Court under the National Legal Services Authority Act. Though she rues that the committee is inactive and grossly underutilised.
For three years now, Agnes has been monitoring and pursuing cases dealing with violence against women, defamation, harassment, kidnapping, and human trafficking among others. She’s also raked up an intimidating list of adversaries in the process.
Many of the cases she pursues see big money passing from the hands of politicians to underpaid policemen; turning law enforcers into goons for hire. Contorting laws meant to protect the citizens into tools of suppression and harassment.
Recently, Agnes was assisting a young woman whose spurned lover was circulating a pornographic MMS of the two. Agnes took the woman to file an FIR, and the accused even confessed at the police station. Agnes was hopeful of getting justice for the young woman. But the next day, a counter FIR was filed against her, claiming that she had vandalised the private property of the perpetrator’s family. Agnes’ anticipatory bail was granted on the condition that she present herself at the police station daily for a fortnight. Now, she travels almost a hundred kilometres every day to mark her attendance at the Jowai police station.
“I volunteered for a polygraph and narco test to prove my innocence. My plea fell on deaf ears, they’re not interested in resolving the case, they’re out to teach me a lesson for raising my voice”, she says, unruffled.
She explains that she’s gained the police’s ire due to another case. In 2009, seven undertrials broke out of the Jowai police station. Fullmoon Dhar was one of the escapees. He had been arrested for murdering two young women in their apartment in Shillong. Dhar had sought bail multiple times but thanks to Agnes and other activist his request was denied.
Fullmoon Dhar was soon shot eleven times at point blank range in a police encounter. Villagers who witnessed the execution claim that Dhar wasn’t resisting arrest but was sought and killed in a premeditated manner. Upon investigating further, Agnes discovered that the jail break was an inside job and that Dhar was a killer for hire and had committed the crimes on behalf of a local politician.
Agnes worked tirelessly with other NGOs to build pressure for a full enquiry. The government ordered a judicial inquiry under retired High Court judge, Justice Biswas. But he relinquished his position soon after, citing personal reasons. The case is unresolved but Agnes is undeterred.
This mother of four may not be in the headlines, nor is she the flavour of the week on social networking sites, but she is doing more to pave the road to a just society, than ten thousand people with candles in their hands.