Research needed for right diagnosis of problems

The devil is in the detail and Iamonlang Syiem knows it well. The new chairperson of the Meghalaya State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) is an academic who believes in thorough research before taking a step forward and documentation of actions taken. “I want to know the legalities and the loopholes first so that when I start the fight, I don’t look back,” she had once said during a casual conversation. She is equally meticulous when it comes to arranging her table in office and does not like when an object moves away from its correct alignment.
The former sociology professor at St Edmund’s College had worked with various social organisations and NGOs, including North East Network, and loves to interact with people, especially children, to know their stories. She emphasises the need for studying the lives and minds of victims as well as perpetrators to have a “holistic picture of the society we are living in”.
Syiem is a poet too and has already published a collection of what she calls “my scribbles”, titled Of Spirit and Clay. Currently, she is working on two more books. As the conversation meandered through life, love, reality and spirituality, Syiem shared her thoughts about God, survival, the commission and the road ahead.

How was your personal experience this year?
I planned to visit my sister in Chennai but it did not materialise. I retired in February 2019 after 33 years in service and I had many plans to go around the world. I did many things (after retirement), from learning Hindi, dabbling in photography to trying my hands on keyboards… Right now, I am working on two books, Insights that is on life and another on matriliny as a tribute to all mothers. There is so much to do.
Gardening seems to be the new craze post pandemic. I also started gardening, that is a new thing for me. I realised it is therapeutic, to plant a seed and see it grow. I also did a bit of baking.
I am also part of several organisations and we would talk to each other on WhatsApp. We stayed connected. In this context, I do not believe in the word ‘social distance’. It is actually physical distancing. We are social beings and socially we are active.
My greatest source of strength has been my relationship with God. I strongly believe that God is beyond religion. Love is the highest faculty. It gives us wisdom and we feel compassion.
Currently, during the pandemic I started watching Netflix. I am watching documentaries and series based on true stories.

How are you preparing yourself in the new role?
I joined (as chairperson of SCPCR) in September. The first thing I realised after I joined was that I could not go out for awareness programmes. I thought then that the only way to reach out to the kids, who use a lot of mobile and internet, is to go aggressive on the digital platform. So, I wanted to launch the YouTube channel (To the light was launched on December 16) of SCPCR… I am looking around for sources for this because the government has a set budget.

There has been a rise in violence and human trafficking during this pandemic making children most vulnerable. How was the situation in Meghalaya?
Two days after I joined SCPCR, I got in touch with the crime bureau and it shocked me because I thought cases may be less during the pandemic but they had risen. In September itself, there were so many cases.
Socio-economic problems affect children and it is not just rape and violence. We often hear about kids committing suicide.

There are many pending POCSO cases despite the government setting up special courts. How do you intend to address the issue?
First, we are always ready with solutions without properly studying the problem. Imagine a doctor giving you medicines without proper diagnosis. So how do I intend to address an issue when I have not diagnosed everything? My intention first is to apprise myself and to know what is happening on the ground. That is why I believe research is so important… There must be some reason for which some cases are not being taken up or are delayed. To trace something in the process of justice, we must start from the entry point. We have to find out what the police have done, how they investigated. And then comes the court. There is need for more digging and everyone is trying their best. I have to be more focused and consistent as this is a new track.
I hope the state gets a central database that will be accessible to everyone and there will be no inconsistency.

What one big plan do you have for next year, both personally and professionally?
On the personal front, I have one more book to publish.

Make a wish. In 2021, there will be…
I don’t make wishes. But I want to say a prayer — we are all in this together and we will fight it together… Justice is the heart of God and He will ensure that justice is meted out, not in the form of punishment but in the form of healing.