In Kashmir, complainants run pillar-to-post for justice in absence of commission for women and children that was dissolved last August - LiveNow24x7: Latest News, breaking news, 24/7 news,live news

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Friday, 7 February 2020

In Kashmir, complainants run pillar-to-post for justice in absence of commission for women and children that was dissolved last August

Srinagar: When Haleema Jan (name changed), 32, after travelling over 60 kilometres, reached the office the State Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights (SCPWCR) in Srinagar, its gate, to her surprise, was locked.

“The commission has been shut,” a security guard present there informed her. The words were like a ‘thunderburst’ for Jan who was fighting a case in the commission against her ‘absconding’ husband.

The empty Women's Commission office in Srinagar. Photo credit/Quratulain Rehbar

The empty Women's Commission office in Srinagar. Photo credit/Quratulain Rehbar

On 23 October, Kashmir was under continuous lockdown -- streets manned by security forces, public transport off the roads and markets shut. Jan still took the risk to reach Srinagar. She had to walk for 20 kilometres, ask for a lift from strangers in random vehicles. But she was still determined. It was about the fight for justice. For the fourth time her case, now in the final stage, was going be heard before the SCPWCR or commonly referred to as Women’s Commission, the statutory body of the state government (now Union Territory) which would advise the government on policy matters affecting women, children and represent their rights.

Over two months after the Central government stripped Kashmir of its special status under Article 370 and divided the restive state into two Union Territories, the government shut SCPWCR and six other commissions in the erstwhile state.

The other commissions were dealing with human rights, the right to information, the rights of the disabled, and allegations against public functionaries.

Jan is one among the over 250 women who had their hopes linked with the commission.

Now she is hopeless.

Belonging to a poor family, Jan after completing her post-graduate degree was looking for a job when her family married her to a man who was working and settled in a Gulf country.

But her marriage came with a pre-condition from her in-laws, which was she cannot step outside her home for any job. “My family also suggested that our society doesn’t prefer working woman,” Jan said. She agreed thinking that her husband would take her responsibilities and got married.

In 2018, while staying with her husband in the Gulf, she received news of her father’s sudden death. She had to come back home from the Gulf alone for the last rites. “There was a fear that my husband shouldn’t lose the job, so I came back alone,” she said.

Jan started living with her in-laws and was waiting until her husband arranged for her travel tickets. But her husband stopped contacting her. Adding to her woes, her in-laws started misbehaving with her.

“My mother-in-law would taunt me, about dowry. I would take it lightly until I realised that they were going to do worse with me,” Jan sobbed.

Her husband first began ignoring her calls and blocked her in every social media. “I used to text him from different numbers but he used to block them,” she said.

One fateful day her husband suddenly sent her divorce papers and she became frustrated about what went wrong. “We never fought over anything and it came as shock for me," Jan said.

She investigated the matter and found out that her husband cheated on her and had married twice before and was living in the Gulf with one of his wives.

Jan now lives with her brother, a farmer, in south Kashmir’s Anantnag. But due to the economic constraints, her brother couldn’t file a case in any court. “He has his own family responsibilities,” she said.

Left alone and helpless Jan started approaching NGO’s for help and that is where she heard about the commission.

As per a former employee of the commission who wished to be anonymous, the case had come almost to the conclusion as it was going on the fast-track basis. But then the commission was dissolved.

There were 270 such cases of pending in the commission.

“We were supposed to submit whole data to the social welfare department,” said Khurshid Ahmad, a former employee.

Women like Jan would file their cases without paying a single penny. It becomes easy for those women suffering from domestic violence, sexual harassment, dowry issues and other harassments and are not well off to pay for their legal expenses.

Cases of domestic violence were predominantly reported in the commission. Sexual harassment and suicidal cases were also reported by complainants.

“We also took suo motu cognisance with regards to the harassment at workplaces, upkeep women and children in hospitals and (get) investigations (done) in women police stations,” said Vasundhara Pathak Masoodi, the chairperson of the commission.

Vasundhara Pathak Masoodi. Photo credit/Quratulain Rehbar

Vasundhara Pathak Masoodi. Photo credit/Quratulain Rehbar

The commission's authority ceased on 1 November, 2019, after Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019.

Women like Jan are now bewildered. In front of the shut office, she started looking for the address of the commission’s chairperson.

At Masoodi’s residence, Jan found a dozen other desperate women who had travelled from far-flung areas and were seeking answers from her, to which she had hardly any response.

Masoodi said after the women became aware that the commission was no more, she would console wailing women who didn’t know where to go for justice. “I started getting calls from women. I tell that commission will hopefully resume its work because it would sadden me to see them struggling,” she said.

Despite the knowledge that the commission is going to get closed, Masoodi along with other employees worked till its last breath.

The conjoined mechanism of starting an initiative to have women and child commission was recently enacted by former governor Satya Pal Malik, which according to Masoodi was a great initiative.

“Across the national level, the commissions for women and child are separate and statutory laws are separate for both. But I believe this was a very innovative idea in the state of Jammu and Kashmir to introduce the new law and repeal the earlier Women’s Commission Act. The women and child rights commission is extremely important and indispensable to review the constitutional and legal safeguards for women and children,” said Masoodi.

The women commission was a relief for those complaints who were not in a position to hire lawyers and carry on long-drawn legal proceedings, said a complainant from Lal Bazar, who wished to remain anonymous.

It would legally empower the complainants like me who would otherwise have to go to courts and spend money, she added.

As per Masoodi, who is right now in New Delhi, “People need commissions like that.” The economically weaker section of the society is women and children, she said, who are subjected to a violation of their rights in different ways like domestic violence and sexual harassment at workplaces.

Masoodi, who was the last chairperson of the commission, took over in July 2019. The former employees of the commission said the commission started expanding the work in her presence.

“In the short period of time, Masoodi visited major maternity hospitals like Lala Ded Hospital, Srinagar, GB Pant Child Hospital, orphanage homes,” said Lal Chand who was the member secretary of the now-defunct commission.

The employees at the commission and the women whose cases are pending are vehemently demanding its restoration.

A lawyer who wished to be anonymous said that till date, 28 states (including the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir) and most of the Union Territories including Puducherry, Delhi and Lakshadweep established State Commission for Women.

Masoodi felt that legally the commission should work normally but as of now, the government has no plans to do so.

“We have not received any directions in this matter. There is no proposal on the restoration of the commission as of now,” said Jammu and Kashmir law secretary Achal Sethi.

February 07, 2020 at 01:20PM

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