By Ibankyntiew Mawrie, Shillong News | December 23, 2017:
An empowered and well-informed citizen will not become a mute spectator if his/her rights are being taken away or violated, even if it means getting portrayed as a villain or an obstacle to development.
Exercising their rights are a handful of ‘odd’ villagers who have been tagged as ‘obstacles’ in the path of development and deprived of their rights compelling them to associate themselves with the neighbouring village.
This is a story of 11 villagers from Umsumbah village under Rambrai Syiemship in West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya, who chose to exercise their rights only to be humiliated, ignored by the local dorbar and entangled in a legal case.
HOW DID IT ALL START?
It was in the year 2008 when the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) was implemented in the village. When the scheme was rolled, some villagers were unsatisfied with the management and demanded an audit report of some of the projects implemented from the Sordar (headman), Kliarshon Marthong. But their demand was turned down forcing the villagers to file an RTI on the same year with the office of the Block Divisional Officer (BDO) office Nongstoin.
The unpleasant atmosphere in the village over the move to file an RTI had then forced the BDO to intervene asking both parties (RTI applicants and Sordar Shnong) to come to some sort of a compromise in 2014.
THE PRICE FOR GOING AGAINST THE AUTHORITY
They might have come to some sort of an understanding but that did not last long as in the same year, when the Dorbar (gathering) was held, it had adopted various resolutions whereby under resolution number 4, it was clearly stated that the Sordar will examine the process of providing residential certificates while the village is undergoing difficult times, especially to those whose names appeared in the RTI list.
“It became so difficult for us to send our children to school because they want residential certificate which we don’t have, because we have been blacklisted by the Sordar for filing an RTI,” said one of the RTI applicants Jylliewsing Marwein.
Marwein further alleged they were also deprived of the 100 days scheme or NREGS with an excuse that the validity of their job cards had expired. “They forcefully cancelled our job cards when the fact remains that we have already renewed our job cards in 2013, the validity of which will last till 2018,” Marwein said.
THE BATTLE BEGINS
After being deprived of their rights, the RTI applicants were compelled to associate themselves with the neighbouring village – Ramsngiwar only for the sake of availing residential certificates. “We had no other option but to seek the help of the sordar of Ramsngiwar because we don’t want our children to be deprived of education for lack of a residential certificate,” said the young man.
“We were born and brought up in Umsumbah. The village is our home but we feel like outsiders in our own abode,” Marwein said.
The indifferent attitude of the local authority persists till date and recently, it was informed that the aggrieved villagers had sought the help of Chieftains of Rambrai and Myriaw of their problems. “The chiefs responded to our call on September 2017 and conducted an enquiry. But all they did was certify Kliarshon Marthong as the sordar of Umsumbah leaving our problems aside,” he said.
After seeing that their efforts to get what they are owed bore no fruits, the aggrieved villagers later issued a complaint to the Deputy Commissioner of WKH, Arunkumar Kembhavi on October 21 2017 stating that they have been deprived of their rights. Acting swiftly, the DC immediately ordered an enquiry into the matter. “They had come to me with their problems and I had asked for an enquiry to be conducted,” Kembhavi, who is currently on leave, spoke to this scribe over the phone.
“The DC has asked the BDO to conduct an enquiry but the block office was sitting on the order. It was only after we decided to hold a rally that they came to the village to conduct a spot enquiry,” Marwein claimed.
The team from the block office arrived at the village on December 5, 2017 and spoke to a cross section of people. “We told them of our problems and showed them our expired and renewed job cards as well,” said the aggrieved villagers.
When asked about the progress of the enquiry report, the DC said “I was told that the enquiry had been made and the report was submitted on December 22. But I don’t have access to the same since I am out of town.”
It was only recently, when the Sordar of Umsumbah Kliarshon Marthong came out in the open and in his defence slapped a defamation case against 11 villagers in the District Council Court while alleging that the individuals had dragged his name in the mud by accusing him misappropriation of funds and enforcing ‘dictatorial’ governance in the village.
In a report issued by a vernacular paper — U Mawphor, the Sordar brushed aside all allegations while stating that the complainants are residents of another village and are trying to forcefully intervene into the Lumsumbah’s affairs and in the process accused him of several misdoings like cancelling job cards, certificates and misappropriating fund amounting to Rs 7 lakh from the NREG Scheme.
“I thought that after they received the RTI copy, they will either demand for an arrest or file a case but instead, they went out in the open to defame me and leveled allegations against me. The persons involved are none other than members of the same family,” Kliarshon Marthong said.
CAUGHT IN LEGAL ENTANGLEMENT
Responding to the legal case, the villagers said “We will not back down because we are the ones who suffered and we know that we are on the right track. Justice will prevail at the end of the day.”
Stating that the legal case was a ‘scare’ tactic, Marwein said “If they think we will be scared, they are mistaken. We will continue to fight this battle until our rights are respected.”
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