Buoyed by allegations of sexual harassments, the Meghalaya Governor V. Shanmuganathan resigned from his office last Thursday.
Even the much-dignified position of enjoying the highest authority in the state had to bow down before the courageous journalism carried out by a local reporter named Ri Kynti Marwein. Had it not been for her, the shameful acts of authority would have remained suppressed under the pillars of Raj Bhavan in Shillong.
How did the incident unfold?
In October 2016, the Governor’s Secretary, Himalaya Shangpliang (IAS), sought to recruit a Public Relation Officer (PRO) at the Raj Bhavan for which they pulled out a list of the candidates who had applied in 2015.
Despite the presence of two PROs attached to the Governor’s office — Chinmoyee Deka and Riya Barua — the recruitment process took place.
Marwein was one of the shortlisted candidates called for the interview on November 7. She had applied for the post in 2015.
“I applied for the post in 2015 because I had a young son, and this job would give me the opportunity to work while also giving me enough time to spend with my son,” Marwein told The Logical Indian.
After suspicion had grown about the all-female list, five men were also shortlisted and asked to come for the interview on November 8, 2016.
Another round of interviews was held on November 28, 2016, in which a panel of Secretary to Governor shortlisted seven candidates — five women and two men. The selection of these candidates was called an “eyewash” by the staff of Raj Bhavan.
A final round of interview was held for the seven, taken personally by the Governor on December 7, 2016.
One of the candidates, Evelyn (name changed), received a call and was told that she was selected for the job. Even after selecting her, another candidate, Jennifer (name changed), was also called for another interview on December 8 by the Governor himself.
Jennifer who went for the interview at 7 pm saw Evelyn’s name on the entry book at 5.55 pm.
As soon as she finished her interview, she called her friend Marwein, whom she met during the interview process. She told Marwein about the Governor misbehaving with her. He allegedly hugged her, kissed her on the cheeks, asked if she had a boyfriend, and told her she looked like Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone.
“I had heard stories about the Raj Bhavan and the Governor, but I never had any evidence. It was after Jennifer messaged me, I came to know that the Governor makes direct advances like this,” said Marwein to The Logical Indian.
Jennifer also came to know that Evelyn was already chosen for the job. She called Evelyn and shared her experience to which Evelyn also said that the Governor had behaved weirdly with her.
Marwein requested Jennifer and Evelyn to report the incident and expose the Governor. While the victims wanted to forget and move on, Marwein wanted to expose this at any cost. She spoke to her editor at The Highland Post, who wanted more evidence before publishing it, especially because it involved the Governor of the state.
“I contacted every other media outlet in the state, all of them denied to pursue the story as I had only a few pieces of evidence like the chat messages, the interview letter and the entry list at the Raj Bhavan. I also asked Jennifer to come out and share her story as she has been the victim. Since nothing was happening, I consulted my seniors at The Highland Post, and we decided to publish the story with whatever evidence we had,” Marwein said.
Unable to get active support from Jennifer and Evelyn, Marwein moved ahead and published the story “M’Laya Gov accused of molesting job candidate” on 24 January and all hell broke loose in Meghalaya. The next day, The Highland Post, a five-year-old newspaper, carried another report of the Raj Bhavan already having two PROs.
The reports triggered an outbreak as nearly 100 staff members of the Raj Bhavan gave their follow up to the press about several cases of sexual harassment of women in the premises. They claimed that the Governor had allegedly harassed some women staff on earlier occasions and that they had tried to complain to the higher authorities.
On January 25, 98 employees of the Raj Bhavan released a letter to the PM which unveiled the alleged murky affairs inside the institution, blaming Governor Shanmuganathan. They stated that the Governor had turned the Raj Bhavan into a “Young ladies club”.
The allegations that brought Shanmuganathan down
As a defence to the considerable number of complaints, the Governor denied any wrongdoing, claiming to the media that he had only hugged the candidate as he would hug his granddaughter.
According to the stringent Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, any inappropriate touch or suggestive words used by a person in authority in interactions with women is considered to be sexual harassment.
All the allegations, notably the petition by Raj Bhavan staff, had held the Governor culpable and it was no longer possible for him to continue in his office. He bowed down to pressure and resigned on 26 January.
The allegations are yet to be proved in a court of law. Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju told in North East Investment Summit in Shillong, “As of now, there is nothing in the form of documentary evidence against the former Governor to investigate the allegations. Nothing is in our hands.”
There is a possibility that the governor may simply get away with his alleged acts because of his resignation, rather than face prosecution for his offences. Despite bombarding the Prime Minister as well as the President with letters and petitions, they asked just for an explanation from the governor, instead of ordering a probe or filing an FIR against him.
The Governor enjoys certain immunity under the Constitution. However, we have seen during the case of forest guard recruitment scam by Madhya Pradesh Governor, the late Ram Naresh Yadav; the Supreme Court ruled that the immunity enjoyed by the Governor under Article 361 is not absolute and therefore would not come in the way of prosecuting them for committing an alleged cognisable offence.
“I have tried to seek action for the State Women Commission, but they have refused to take any step saying that they don’t have any official order given by the National Women’s Commission,” Marwein said.
The Logical Indian salutes Ri Kynti Marwein and The Highland Post for carrying out this story with great courage and persistence. Stories like these restore our faith in journalism, putting their career on the line to bring out the truth.
We would also like to question the government as to what actions would be taken against Governor Shanmuganathan.
We urge the government to take strict action because no matter how much constitutional immunity a person enjoys, no person is above the law.