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75 Years Of India's Independence

We The People: A Kashmiri RTI Activist's Campaign To Improve The Lives Of Women And Children

Badrul Duja’s RTI query led to setting up of sexual harassment committees in more than 70 government departments across Jammu and Kashmir.

Badrul Duja, RTI Activist
Badrul Duja, RTI Activist

What began as a simple Right to Information (RTI) query for Badrul Duja ended up pulling the rug from under the feet of dozens of public offices across the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Duja’s RTI query was single-handedly responsible for the establishment of sexual harassment committees in more than 70 government departments across J&K. Concerned over the rising incidents of sexual harassment and molestation at workplaces, Duja one day thought: “Why is this rampant?” This question snowballed into a series of other questions, which ultimately led Duja to file an RTI appeal, seeking information about sexual harassment committees at workplaces, especially government ones, in J&K.

“I filed my first RTI on December 26, 2019, and received a response at the start of the next year,” Duja tells Outlook. To his surprise, the answer revealed that sexual harassment committees were present in only 18 government departments. Duja was not satisfied. He went on to file two more RTIs in late 2020 and early 2021. The third RTI created ripples across public institutions of the Valley. While receiving responses for the third filing, Duja noticed a pattern. “Several responses showed sexual harassment committees were freshly constituted in several institutions in late January, such as from 25th or in the month of February and March,” observes the RTI activist. Some departments, says Duja, just updated already existing committees. At least 70 offices, including the government’s premier institutions and several degree colleges, responded to Duja’s plea and either updated the old committees or constituted new ones. “I feel content, but there’s a long way to go,” says the 26-year-old artist, who wants each and every workplace to be safe and secure for women.

This is not the first time Duja’s efforts have borne fruit. Filing a PIL back in 2016, Duja pressed the government of J&K to amend the Jammu and Kashmir School Education Act, 2002, to reduce the weight of school bags. The journey for Duja began when in 2016, he realised that on an average, children’s school bags in Kashmir often weighed between 6-8 kg. It took Duja nearly half a decade to fight and win the legal battle. “RTI is an effective way of achieving anything meaningful from a government institution,” Duja says. Currently, he is pursuing a few more cases, including how the administration is encroaching on the premises of some old-age homes in Srinagar and running other offices from there. “This kind of injustice on older persons is due to routine bureaucratic abuse of power and lax behaviour on the part of related departments.” Duja, known as the ‘information warrior’ and ‘RTI man of Kashmir,’ believes his activism is not only aimed at changing things, but also at creating awareness among people as to “how legal instruments can be used for making radical changes in the system”.

(This appeared in the print edition as "Questions & Answers")

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