“Will recommend Government to include death Penalty for Child Rapist in J&K on lines of national POCSO Act”

Vasundhra Phatak Masoodi, a noted lawyer, was recently appointed as the Chairperson of the State Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights. Masoodi, who has argued several cases relating to discrimination against women including the cases of domestic violence spoke to Greater Kashmir’s SHAFAQ SHAH about the issues pertaining to children and Women in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Will recommend Government to include death Penalty for Child Rapist in J&K on lines of national POCSO Act”

The State Women's Commission, which is now being called as the Women and Child Rights Commission, has been silent about some of the major incidents involving violence against women and girls in the state, the recent example being the Kathua case.  How do you think you are going to bring a change in the working of the commission?

See, I believe whether it is Kathua case or any other case,where a woman or girl or children, since we are also been given theresponsibility of child welfare, I believe the institutions should do justiceto the mandate which is entrusted upon them and they must come forward toaddress those issues very vigorously which are supposed to be done by them inany which capacity.

Since I am not aware as to what commission had done or hadnot done in Kathua case at that particular time, I can speak only for my ownself. What I could do and what I have done in the Kathua case it's all in thepublic domain.

After you joined as the chairperson of the commission you went to Lal Ded and GB Pant hospital.  In the recent past this is the first time a chairperson has done an inspection of the largest maternity and children hospital in Kashmir. What do you have to say about it?

 According to me Ihave not done something which is out of the way, or done something which is toomuch for people. This is just a plain responsibility that I wanted to exercise.I wanted to ascertain as to what women in Lal Ded hospital are going through,because being very closely associated with Jammu and Kashmir and being marriedhere for last 18 years I have always been involved into the happenings and thenews with the regards to the welfare of women and children. I had a notion thatsomewhere the system in Lal Ded is not working properly, so it was on my topmost priority, not only Lal Ded but G B Pant hospital also and when I took overthe charge, in just half an hour i went out of my office, took my staff alongand went for the inspection.

This is something which has been simmering in me for longand when I say this, it means I have given up my practice in the supreme courtjust for the sake of people in the state of J&K, especially women and childrenbecause this is the least I can do for them by being a part of them and bymaking sure that all the benefits of the laws that are in place, welfareschemes, policies that have been formulated for their welfare are duly beingaccessed by them and accessible justice being one of them.

What changes do you think your visit has brought in the hospitals?

I have been informed by someone very recently that after myvisit the superintendent or the management concerned they have issued some kindof directives with regard to the creation of proper toilets, infrastructure,and with the regards to the upkeep of the patients over there. Also, I havebeen told that Government Medical College (GMC), Srinagar has formulated anadvisory and they have mentioned my name as one of the members without eventaking my consent.

The Government of India recently approved changes in POCSO Act, which deals with crime against children, and included death penalty for sexual assault for minors. Would you also pitch for the same changes in the POCSO Act here in J&K?

As you are aware of the fact that there has been amendmentin the POCSO Act and exactly the same we are going to recommend to the GovernorAdministration.

So would you also recommend ban on pellet guns in Kashmir as they have done immense damage to the women and children in J&K?

This is the mandate of Commission to protect Women and ChildRights and anything that is against or violates the basic human rights of womenand children should be banned.

What is the stand of Commission on the harassment of women in offices and public transport?

The Commission will soon be issuing advisory to allgovernment and non-government institutions to implement Vishaka guidelines inletter and spirit, including setting up of Internal Complaint Committee (ICC).The commission strongly believes that government should roll out women onlybuses viz viz ensuring reserved seats for women in existing means of transport.

The cases of harassment against women in public transportsshould be dealt sternly and the license of such vehicles/ transport companiesbe revoked wherein such cases are reported.

Last year there was an amendment in the act and the protection for the rights of children were also included in the Act which was later  renamed as State Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights. How many cases of children have the commission received so far?

See, as of now and as per my latest knowledge not many casesof children have been received by the commission and the problem is lack ofawareness among the people. But, yes we are taking suo-moto cognisances of manycases.

We don't have shelter and observation homes for women and children in J&K and the ones we have are not up-to-mark. How are you going to address this issue?

I went to inspect the orphanages that we have in Shalimar. Ihad a surprise inspection and a close door interaction with the children. I hadrequested the superintendent and the staff to be out for some time, so that Icould have one on one discussion with them. 

I was satisfied with the general upkeep of the childrenthere, for that I congratulate the superintendents of both girls and boys wingof the orphanage. But the building of the orphanage is faulty. It's a 60- year– old building and it has developed cracks. This is an unsafe building for thechildren.

They told me when it rains, the rooms get inundated. This isvery disturbing. There is a dearth of staff in the orphanage; also there is nomedical facility available for the children. 

I have interacted with many NGOs ever since I have takenover. In fact, I am myself reach out by all sorts of means so that they cancome forward. I have asked them to come up with a charter of demands. I havealso requested the superintendent of the orphanage to come up with the charterof demands so that the commission can provide welfare to the kids in ourcapacity it can also make recommendations to the government so that best of thebest facilities can be assured.

What problem do you think women and children in Kashmir are facing?

Some days ago a women came to the commission with arepresentation and said that my case is being running for almost 9 years in theHigh Court and it's stuck up at the final hearing stage and yet there is nofinal hearing. She cried a lot and said that Mam I am at the verge of disaster.The prime time of my life has been spoiled.

I attended to her, despite the fact that we are not mandatedto entertain such applications that are sub judice. I could have straight awaytold her that you case can't be entertained, but I made her sit, made hercomfortable and whatever in my personal capacity I could advise her, I advised.

So mu point is, the problem is not with the women andchildren, there is a huge problem of our culture. Then we do have cases ofdomestic violence here and then there are cases of harassment of women at theirwork places. Recently I got one of these cases and there are some cases whichare lined up and there are some cases from Jammu also which have come to mynotice. I have instructed my staff to start writing to all of them, because thecommission was vacant for last one and half year.

The office of the Commission is not accessible to the people, because it has been shifted from the old Assembly Complex, and people have no knowledge where the office building has been shifted. Have you taken up this matter with the higher ups? 

I have taken up this matter with the Governor administrationand they have told us that they sought this matter out.

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