Meghalaya Congress demands strong legislation against social stigma

The opposition Congress on July 31 demanded the Meghalaya government to come up with a strong legislation or promulgate an ordinance to make social stigma a criminal offence.

The demand is significant after a government-run Ganesh Das (maternity) Hospital refused to admit a pregnant woman on July 28 as she had come from a COVID-19 containment zone. She was however admitted into the hospital only after the intervention of NGOs, but unfortunately her child died after delivery.

On July 30, the Meghalaya high court has sought further details on the unfortunate incident from the state advocate general.

During a hearing on the ongoing pandemic, the Meghalaya court has directed the advocate general to get more details on the child’s death and furnish the same before the court.

“This court notes that this incident has in the past few days been widely reported and is indeed very unfortunate to say the least, more so, when the mother of the baby is a resident of a designated containment area wherein strict protocols and SOPs are supposed to be in place,” the court observed.

The issue was brought before the court by the Meghalaya Bar Association, which has filed a PIL on the pandemic. Since the details were furnished orally, the court also asked the petitioners to file an affidavit in this regard.

“The government should come up with a strong legislation or ordinance by making social stigma a criminal offence. It is mandated by law empowering the government then only we can control,” Congress spokesperson, Zenith Sangma said.

While terming the refusal to admit the pregnant woman as “social stigmatization” made by the hospital staffs, Sangma said: “It is the reflection of inefficiency and lack of experience of the leadership of governance. After something goes wrong or after some precious life is lost, they always try to find out the remedy.”

Accusing the government for declaring certain areas as containment zones but without any preparedness, the sitting Congress legislator pointed out: “When certain areas are declared as containment zones, they are curtailing the rights of the residents, not allowing them to come out. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the government to ensure that the residents get proper food and other essential commodities mandated by the Disaster Management Act, 2005.”

He also accused the government of taking decisions without taking the local authorities including headmen on board. “We are lucky that in Shillong, we have the Rangbah Shnongs (headmen) already in place and they are voluntarily working day and night supporting the government. Due to lack of coordination, everything is not going in the right direction. The problem is, we are from the opposition, belonging to the other party. Even if we speak the truth and give constructive suggestions, they will always say that we play politics at this time of crisis,” Sangma stated.

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