Prominent social activist Agnes Kharshiing was brutally assaulted by a group of unidentified assailants, suspected to be from the coal mafia, in Meghalaya’s coal-rich East Jaintia Hills district while she was apparently checking out reports of illegal mining. Kharshiing, president of the Civil Society Women’s Organization (CSWO) and her friend A Sangma received critical head injuries in the attack which took place at Sohshrieh in Tuber village.
Meghalaya director general of police R Chandranathan told Hindustan Times that he has ordered a case to be registered and investigation to be launched immediately. “I’ve instructed that even if it’s a mob, the culprits must be identified and arrested immediately,” he said. “No one will be spared.”
According to doctors at Jowai Civil Hospital in neighbouring West Jaintia Hills district, Kharshiing suffered cuts on her skull, scalp, and other body parts causing profuse bleeding. Though she was conscious, she was too weak to speak.
Sources that she was in the district to check reports of illegal coal mining. The anti-corruption and women and child rights activist has been raising her voice against illegal coal mining and transportation from the state over several years. She upped her ante after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposed a blanket ban on coal mining in Meghalaya since April 17, 2014.
According to sources privy to the incident, Kharshiing, who came from Shillong to East Jaintia Hills, had stopped at several places to take photos of stocked coal in certain locations.
On her way back, as she stopped at Sohshrieh on seeing coal trucks, a group of 30-40 people blocked her cab, pulled her and Sangma out and started beating them up, the source added.
The cab driver was taken away and told to leave the area immediately. He fled but upon reaching Jowai, informed the first police man he came across, a traffic constable who then sounded the alert.
Sources also point towards coal mafia being involved in the attack as Kharshiing had shared several pictures of trucks ferrying coal illegally and some dumping grounds as well. However, authorities are yet to confirm the identity of the attackers.
Chief minister Conrad K Sangma who is on an overseas trip, condemned the attack “We have issued necessary directions to the police and district administration to investigate the matter and arrest those behind the attack,” he said in an email statement.
Two people were arrested on Friday in connection with the murder attempt on a women’s rights activist and two other persons in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills district, police said. The suspects, Elphon Dkhar and Meklison Siangshai, were arrested in Kongong area in a pre-dawn raid.
Several political and non-governmental organisation leaders have condemned the attack on Ms Kharshiing and her aides.
“I condemn the attack on Kong Agnes Kharshiing and Amita Sangma, the other member of the CSWO, today by criminals in the strongest terms possible and pray for her complete recovery. I urge the authorities to waste no time and ensure the arrest of the criminals and their prosecution as per the law,” Leader of Opposition Mukul Sangma said. Former Meghalaya Home Minister Robert Garnett Lyngdoh said the attack on Ms Kharshiing shows the “seriousness of the illegal mining of coal in Jaintia Hills”.
Civil group Thma U Rangli Juki (TUR) said, “This cowardly attack on one of the leading anti corruption human rights activist of Meghalaya clearly points to the impunity with which mafias are operating in the state under political patronage.” The attack on Ms Kharshiing was the second such incident on a social activist in the district.
On March 19, RTI activist Poipynhun Majaw, who was the president of the Jaintia Youth Federation, was found murdered in Khliehriat, the district headquarters of East Jaintia Hills.