WOMEN’S DAY SPECIAL: INTERVIEW WITH J&K STATE WOMENS’ COMMISSION CHAIRPERSON
- NAYEEMA AHMAD MAAHJOOR
“Justice for exploited, effort on to reach every harassed woman”
In the past over fifteen years since the Jammu and Kashmir State Women’s Commission was set up in the state in 2001, for the first time there has been an increase in the number of women of the state who are coming to the Commission to seek help. Thanks to the efforts of Ms Nayeema Ahmed Mahjoor, Chairperson, J&K State Women Commission who has undertaken massive awareness campaigns with regard to women’s issues and the Commission’s role in all the 22 districts of the state. Gone are the days when women were silent sufferers, not ready to take on their tormentors. Now women are approaching the Commission which has the powers of a civil court in terms of examining matters of rights and security of women within Jammu and Kashmir, for issues ranging from marital discord and infidelity to dowry harassment and property rights. The Commission which works to protect women’s rights and advance the cause of women in the State, itself is independent and functions in a quasi-judicial capacity, having the powers of a civil court in matters relating to evidence.
Things are improving but all the stakeholders need to do a lot for women’s emancipation, says the chairperson of the commission Ms Nayeema Mahjoor, in an exclusive interview with Dr. Kavita Suri. Excerpts:
You have been an internationally acclaimed BBC journalist covering the lives and the politics in both India and Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir, your home state. How do you see your journey from a journalist to a women rights’ activist?
Very challenging….As a journalist I used to highlight issues relating to women and made authorities answerable to these victims so that they can get relief. I have always been at the forefront to grill politicians or officials. Now, I think I am in a position where I can act and get the redressal of the problems pertaining to women. Yet, there are many hurdles and I am trying to cross those hurdles. I don’t want to be an activist on papers but to act, work and make people to understand that woman too is human and treat her problems as human being’s problems.
Jammu and Kashmir is a peculiar state which has been faced with a protracted conflict. Mired in this conflict are the lives of hundreds and thousands of innocent people especially its women and children. How do you see women’s issues in this border state?
There are tremendous issues facing women and children in this conflict zone. Many incidents like rape/ murder/ pellets shots etc have happened that has not only traumatized the women but also given a bad name to institutions. Because of continued political turmoil, violence and crime-related incidents have increased. Many women are suffering from mental depression and they haven’t been able to talk or relate their agony. Women in border districts have issues of safety due to firing from across the border. The irony is these issues have remained non-issues so far. There are health issues in remote villages where facilities are not sufficient. Then the social attitude towards women is least changed due to which women have low confidence levels despite having tremendous potential and capacity to run households and offices.
What work have you undertaken in your tenure?
My first task was to introduce my State Womens’ Commission to the women of state most of whom have no clue about this institution or its work. I covered all the 22 districts and met women all across so that they know about Commission and get the redressal all of their problems. Thank God, we get complaints from remote areas now and women come for counseling or consultation and I feel satisfied about the fact that Commission is open for them 24/7.
What are your priorities as the chairperson of Jammu and Kashmir State Women’s Commission?
Among my top priorities is to ensure justice to all women, especially those who are exploited and are unaware of the assistance the court and the commission can provide them at any point of time. My priority is also to make women heard and respected at home and at office, empower her politically, economically and socially for which we are working closely with other departments of the state government. I want to ensure justice for exploited and my efforts are on to reach every harassed woman.
How important is counseling in the cases that come before the Commission?
Counseling is the best mechanism to get women to open their chest and share their saga with us. Only after counseling, we try to get reconciliation among family members or at office. There are cases where strict action is to be taken and we do it with the help of police or other departments. At times, we find counseling can solve a lot of cases. Most of the cases that come to us are related to marital discord and family problems. Ego hassles and communication gap often create rift between married couples, which leads to divorce or separation. That should be avoided. We try to solve such matters through counseling in which we are successful most of the time.
Do you have Online service in the offing or do you any plans of going online?
We have limited resources with which we try to remain accessible to women all the time. We have our own website and we are on social networks too but we are planning to remain online so that we can give online counseling as well. Hopefully in near future, we will be available 24/7 and there would be help line as well.
Are there sometimes fake cases also which get registered with the commission?
We register every case that comes to the Commission but after proper listening, recording witnesses and thorough investigation, we ascertain their validity. Yes, some women do try to exploit the Commission only to harass men but we do not let it happen.
Do you consider extending help in cases of women exploitation that appear in newspapers?
We have already been doing that.
What are you doing to clear pending cases?
We did start drive to clear backlog last year and this year. We succeeded in clearing it. I do not let cases registered to be kept pending and take action the moment case is registered.
You have recently authored a best seller fiction “Lost in Terror” which has been published by a reputed publishing house Penguin. Please tell us something about it.
The book which is about the political turmoil of early nineties in Kashmir depicts how women of the valley were caught up in this quagmire. Kashmiri woman was at the brunt of all, losing son, husband or brother in this violence yet her pain and agony was neither identified nor shared by anyone. She was silently going through hell due to which she started to lose social fabric also. This is first book on conflict from woman’s perspective and all stories related in it are based on true events. Hopefully, the book has been received well n many readers are realizing the pain Kashmiri women are going through.
What is your message to the women of Jammu and Kashmir on this International Women’s Day?
I am proud to say that women anywhere in the world are brave enough to look after themselves but I want to tell women of every religion, caste or creed, to come forward against the injustice or inhuman treatment. Do not let anybody to exploit you or harass you. Take stand and fight for your dignity and respec