Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Are NGOs above the law in Meghalaya?


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By Patrick Kurbah

A video circulated widely on social media on Wednesday captured KSU members storming inside the Sohra Police Station and arguing with police officers after two of their members were arrested in connection with the murders in Ichamati.
Before this, the NGO also accused the police of carrying out high-handed behaviour because “…the way the police had picked up the two members (it) looks like they belong to a terrorist group”, in essence already taking the liberty to colour the situation before any formal investigation has concluded.
In Meghalaya, a pattern has emerged where NGOs frequently find themselves at the centre of controversies that contradict their foundational missions or what NGOs are supposed to ideally stand for. The recent incidents, as reported, underscore a disturbing trend where activism veers into arenas that challenge the rule of law not as a matter of questioning but through aggression and with a holier-than-thou attitude.
More importantly, it is made to seem like they are upholding the voice of the public by collectively ganging up with other NGOs whenever there is a threat to the integrity of NGOs as a whole.
The issue is not whether the police are carrying out high-handed behaviour and who has committed the murders. That is definitely a matter for investigation and further, a shame for the society as a whole when innocent people are killed unjustly.
But even if an assumption is made that the police in this case finally find the arrested innocent, the general perpetuated notion as of now through the aggressive stance towards the rule of law begs one to question, are NGOs above the law in Meghalaya? Are members of NGOs becoming so powerful in the state that none of them can be questioned or even touched by the rule of law? Are such attempts even at all productive for their service to the public or is it just a personal fight?
In this regard, let us not forget the October 28, 2022, incident where things turned violent during the FKJGP rally and the public were bashed and physically harassed. Has the FKJGP taken any accountability for the incident or learned lessons out of it? When the FKJGP has come out in support of KSU with regards to the recent incident, can they themselves claim a clean history now that they are okay questioning the rule of law?
The recent arrest of the two KSU members and the previously violent FKJGP rally are indicative of a broader issue where NGOs, intended to serve as civil society’s pillars, morph into entities that perpetuate a cycle of violence and disruption of public life. This behaviour not only undermines public trust but also sidelines the pressing needs of the state’s populace. Seldom have we seen such NGO’s addressing the state’s critical issues like unemployment, education, health and infrastructure development.
Despite how vital the role of NGOs should ideally be in any civil society, in Meghalaya’s socio-political landscape, there’s a growing concern that their actions are becoming counterproductive. Instead of fostering a conducive environment for dialogue and development, what is particularly alarming in a state grappling with critical challenges, is the lack of outcry supporting the people.
The expectation from such organizations is to champion constructive change, guiding the youth towards positive engagement and leading initiatives that directly address the state’s socio-economic challenges. However, when these entities get embroiled in activities that seem to prioritize confrontation over constructive dialogue, it raises questions about their role and the direction in which they are steering the society.
It’s imperative for NGOs in Meghalaya to introspect and realign their strategies with their core mission of service to society. This entails prioritizing the state’s long-term welfare over short-term objectives that may lead to discord. Collaboration with the government, other NGOs, and the community at large could pave the way for a more prosperous and peaceful Meghalaya.
In conclusion, it is crucial that the actions of NGOs must consistently reflect the principles of peace, unity, and development. As Meghalaya faces the dual task of preserving its rich cultural heritage and navigating the challenges of modernization, the path forward must be marked by cooperation, understanding, and a steadfast commitment to the common good.
Also, one final and very pertinent question that must be asked — how many are actually students in the students’ unions that we have in our state?
(The author is a legal consultant)


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