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Congress distances itself from Meghalaya minister's remarks

 SHILLONG, March 9 (IANS) - The Congress leadership has directed its Meghalaya unit to distance itself from state Deputy Chief Minister Bindo M Lanong over his alleged defamatory remarks for calling a group of women "venomous vipers".

"The AICC (All India Congress Committee) has expressed concern over the statement and asked party leaders to distance themselves from the Deputy Chief Minister over his remarks," Meghalaya Congress chief Friday Lyngdoh told reporters.

"We are not responsible for any statement made by a non-Congress party member. The Congress party stands for women's cause and holds women in high esteem," he added.

Lanong, a senior member of United Democratic Party, an ally of the ruling Congress-led Meghalaya United Alliance coalition government, called a group of women "venomous vipers".

"I did not say anything wrong. I stick to my statement. Women are not oppressed in Meghalaya," Lanong told IANS over phone from New Delhi.

"I am not going to apologise for my comment when I have not done anything wrong. Instead, they should (women organisations) apologise to me," he added.

Lanong reacted to an article written by Patricia Mukhim, a local editor of an English daily The Shillong Times, who rubbished his claim that women are not oppressed in Meghalaya because of its matrilineal society.

On Monday members of several women's organisations wore black badges and organised a signature campaign against Lanong. The women's groups are demanding a public apology for the defamatory statement, but Lanong has refused.

The UDP which is supporting the Congress coalition government has refused to comment officially on the matter.

"I would not like to make any comment now, but definitely the party would discuss the issue on March 16 at its central executive council meeting," JD Rymbai, UDP Parliamentary Party leader said.

Friday Lyngdoh, however, said: "If he was a Congress member we would have taken disciplinary action, since he is not we cannot dictate terms."

Lanong's Cabinet colleague M Ampareen Lyngdoh, the lone woman legislator, demanded that he tender an apology for his "defamatory" remarks.

"I feel very saddened by my colleague's statement and its advisable to apologise and the minister should refrain from making such statements," M Ampareen Lyngdoh, Education Minister in the coalition government, said.

Joining the condemnation, Opposition leader from the NCP Conrad Sangma said it is unfortunate that a senior legislator like Lanong passed such a comment against women.

"He should have refrained from making such statements," Sangma said.

Protesting women decided to submit an "eye-opening" memorandum to the government on women's oppression in the State on March 11.

"We would submit a memorandum to the government and provide data and facts on women's oppression in Meghalaya, so that it could be an eye opener," Agnes Kharshiing, a women's rights activists, said.

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