Meena Kharkongor is the first and two-time chairperson of the SCPCR. Well-known in the state as someone incredibly passionate in her fight for child rights
Garencia Warjri of Team Shillong Mail
Shillong, Feb 27: “Put your ego aside, your personal problems, act fairly, diligently and never give into pressure,” appeals Meena Kharkongor, the outgoing chairperson of Meghalaya State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, to her successor.
Meena Kharkongor is the first and two-time chairperson of the SCPCR. Well-known in the state as someone incredibly passionate in her fight for child rights, undaunted by external factors, dedicated and willing to go to any lengths for all cases before the commission.
She was appointed to the post on 11th March 2014. Even with a staff strength consisting of one peon and a chowkidar, the chairperson took the challenge head on.
“The journey was challenging, when I first joined in 2014. It was the first commission set up by the government, we were new to all this so we didn’t know how to go about but slowly with the coordinated effort of all the departments; especially from the social welfare department.’
A lawyer by profession and also a former member of the state commission for women, she says her love for children was the incentive behind her joining the post. “This is not a profitable chair, it’s a calling,” she enthusiastically told the team from Shillong Mail, coffee in hand. It was late afternoon in her office at Lower Lachumere and despite her busy schedule, she had accepted our request for an interview.
“I love working with children. Because I feel, our children, especially from the rural background are not heard properly, they need a voice they need someone who can really look into the workings of different departments,” she added.
In the first year since its establishment, the commission took on several cases relating to children where the chairperson personally intervened. SCPCR also organised awareness programs, workshops on issues of child rights, child protection, POCSO, JJ Act and more.
The first agenda on the list as she joined the commission was to make the police department more sensitive and proactive while registering cases.
“When I first joined in 2014, during that time even the police department was not proactive in registering cases, sexual assault cases, especially with illiterate, downtrodden people, and through the efforts of the commission we sat together with the police department. And we tried to channelize and bring everything in order. Now with the constant touch with the police, we impart trainings, as of now, I think the police are more proactive and the registration of cases under POCSO Act are also on a regular basis.”
However she laments that there is still a need for more capacity building exercises for police officers when it relates to sexual assault cases of adolescent girls. “Our work as caregivers, as duty bearers is not to judge anyone. We have to follow procedures, and let the court come to a determination whether the accused is to be convicted or acquitted – that is not for us to decide.”
With the law on the tip of her tongue, Meena Kharkongor is unafraid of intervening into any department concerned, “without fear and favour” as the chairperson puts it.
Kharkongor has successfully filed several PILs before the High Court. In September, 2019, Meena Kharkongor took on the state government when she wrote to the High Court on a case wherein compensation was still not made to the family of a child despite the extremely serious nature of the case.
It was later revealed that Rs 50 lakh under the victim compensation fund had already been sanctioned to the state government under the victim compensation scheme. And during the hearing of the PIL, the Advocate general Amit Kumar produced a check for Rs 2 lakh in favour of SCPCR for payment of compensation to the child.
But going against the status quo with a dose of healthy criticism – somehow tends to attract thrash talk in our country. And Meena Kharkongor has definitely seen her share in the 6 years she spent heading the commission.
“As a lawyer, I know without exhausting my options with the parent department or with any other department we cannot just straight away go to the high court. We do our part but there are delays we must take the matter up immediately with priority. Children’s cases can’t be delayed. After being directed by the court, the state government has to sincerely look into it. The matter shouldn’t be buried.”
Meena Kharkongor revealed that up until December 2019, there were over 1000 cases pending for trail, which still are. “There are many courts dealing with only POCSO cases but there are numerous reasons behind cases pending in court from Prosecutors and defence councils taking adjournments, witnesses not appearing in time or witnesses who can’t afford to come for hearings. The commission has urged the court, wrote to police departments, CWC departments to fasten the process.”
Under her leadership, SCPCR has also organised regular awareness programs but Meena Kharkongor stresses that it is high time for the community to come forward and participate. “It’s no longer others’ issues it’s our issues because most sexual assault cases especially towards children, it is happening in our society by our people.”
As one of her last initiatives, Meena Kharkongor revealed that a special team has been formed at the headquarters after a meeting with SSP CID, Aditya Goenka. The team has officials from different departments including Forensic, Police, Social Welfare, CWC and more.
“When a case is registered, information will immediately come to the special cell first, we will then see to the nature of the case and how the investigation is to go forward. I think this will really work in the long run. It is a very good platform. Like-minded people have come into it and if there are any police officers who have dereliction of duty also will come into the radar,” she stated.
And as our interview came to end, she gleefully exclaimed that while with SCPCR – she has been fortunate to receive love from the people. “Families of victims, especially from rural areas, sometimes bring fresh vegetables for us to show gratitude, and I feel warm when I receive such gifts.”
Passionate, humble yet strong-willed, Meena Kharkongor has indeed set the bar high, leaving behind a legacy hard to follow.