A Lawyer’s Women Advocacy Is Creating Institutional Change In Kashmir

Badrul Duja.

In the face of surging crimes against women, a young lawyer from Srinagar has taken it upon himself to move against the tide and put a stop to the rising graph of such heinous cases. His activism has led to the establishment of sexual harassment committees in more than 70 institutions across J&K.

 By Romaan Arora

TALKING to a postman, a young boy in his mid-20s is signing yet another crucial white paper. Once signed, he goes back to his room—only to come out again for another document that arrived in just a span of 20 minutes.

“Though I’m tired of doing all this, but it’s an unending work and I’m steadfast for this cause,” says Badrul Duja, a practicing lawyer, from Hawal locality of Srinagar, who has been on a loop of performing such task since last three and a half months.

Popular in his circle as ‘information warrior’, the 22-year-old man is single-handedly responsible for the establishment of sexual harassment committee in more than 70 government departments.

“This crumbling society is touching new lows day by day,” he says rhetorically with reference to the rise in the cases of sexual harassment against women at the workplace in Kashmir. “Our women need security in such a predatory environment.”

Collecting the results and reports of his second and third RTI, Badrul’s first RTI went effective yet impact-less, which he had filed in December 2019.

“It was 26 December 2019 when I filed my first RTI, and the response came early next year,” he recalls.

The RTI was filed to the General Administrative Department Jammu and Kashmir. The GAD filed a response where it told the information and date seeker that sexual harassment committees were constituted in only 18 government departments. The reply from GAD, however, was dissatisfying.

To his luck, there’s a provision in the RTI Act 2005 that if one is unsatisfied with an RTI report, on a considerable basis, or with a genuine point, he can file an unsatisfied or repeal form. Badrul decided to go for the same.

However, with his exams in January 2020, the young fellow failed to file the repeal and thus the first RTI was somehow ‘impact-less’.

“It didn’t do what it was supposed to do. So I, as a responsible citizen, researched every aspect of the issue I was concerned with and went ahead with the ultimate master plan,” says the young lawyer.

The master plan, as he calls it, referred to the next two RTI he filed and the buzz it subsequently created in every nook and corner of the valley.

The young lawyer’s campaign is already creating a change in government departments. KO Photo by Romaan Arora.

After almost an entire year of research, Badrul went for the second RTI on December 15, 2020. Nonetheless, it wasn’t that much powerful as the law aspirant wasn’t able to track its response. However, it did impact the public departments and set the base for the third and the most powerful RTI of his life.

“I filed third RTI on 21 January 2021, and everything changed miraculously,” he says with a bright smile.

As filed only after 35 days of his previous RTI, the third case not just impacted the entire public institutions of the valley but dented their entire structure. Soon after the 21st of the first month of 2021, Badrul started getting responses more often than what he expected.

“From that day onwards, I’ve been a recipient of more than 100 RTI responses with at least three responses each day,” he says.

“Also,” he continues, amusingly, “I’ve a personal record of receiving more than 15 RTI responses in a single day on February 8, 2021.”

From public departments to higher education institutes in the state, Badrul Duja is getting information of sexual harassment committees established or being established in each of these places.

However, more important than the scores of responses he has been receiving over the RTIs he filed, Badrul has noticed an unusual yet interesting major phenomenon in the responses he got this year.

“Most of the responses show a new sexual harassment committee has been constituted in these institutions in late January such as from 25th or in the month of February and March,” he claims.

The fact that most of these grievance redress committees have been established only after his second and third consecutive RTIs, has instilled self-confidence in the new lawyer and has inspired him to remain steadfast on the social cause he has chosen to fight for.

“In addition to the newly established committees, many old committees have been updated and upgraded to big scale and are functioning in a better state,” he adds.

When the first response came, the legal practitioner expected things to remain concentrated only in Srinagar. “I expected things to remain confined to my district or to Kashmir valley, but it spread out like fire in the entire region. What surprises me the most is that the major developments came from Jammu province,” he recalled.

Badrul’s RTI earlier revealed – Kashmir witnessed more suicides during 2020 in the last decade. KO Photo by Romaan Arora.

From Secretariat to the Railways, every department responded to the plea of Badrul Duja and either updated the old committees or constituted new ones.

Today, thanks to the efforts of the young lawyer, sexual harassment committees have been constituted in many crucial places across the Jammu and Kashmir. Places such as Directorate of Hospitality and Protocol, Jammu and Kashmir Estate Department, State Tax Department, Directorate of Libraries and Research, Directorate of Forensic Science, Directorate General of Prosecution, Jammu and Kashmir Housing Board, and the J&K SC, ST & BC Development corporation, etc have now got a grievance committee each for the timely disposal of any issue if raised.

Apart from these high-ranking government institutes, there have been several government degree colleges in many districts of the erstwhile state that have now established these sexual harassment committees.

“The best part, as an outcome of my query, is that many committees were there that were lying defunct because of the retirement of its member,” Badrul says. “However, with my RTI, the superior authority over these committees got back into action, and have now revised and revamped their existing yet defunct committees.”

The young RTI activist asserts that his activism is still work in progress. KO Photo by Romaan Arora.

This activism is coming at a time when Kashmir is witnessing rise in sexual predator cases. Many districts have witnessed a surge in crime over the last decade. Cases registered under 354-A were 186 in Bandipora, 45 in Srinagar, 38 in Shopian, and 23 in Reasi. While these are the reported case, there’s a general belief that an absolute majority of such cases go unreported in Jammu and Kashmir.

“I’ll be compiling all these responses and will PIL for the same,” Badrul says with firmness.

Already, the practicing lawyer forced the education department to amend laws to reduce the load of school bags for school children, by filing a PIL back then in 2016.

“RTIs are the only way ahead to achieve anything meaningful from a government institution. RTIs like mine compel these public institutions to implement the order of Supreme Court and various governments on the ground level; something they don’t do otherwise,” Badrul says.

“All I want is just a safe and secure workplace for women and it is possible only when sexual harassment committees are established across private and public workplaces all across our state.”

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