Professor of the Law Department of Panjab University and member of Chandigarh Commission for Protection of Child’s Rights, Nishtha Jaswal, shares her views on campus violence, the Snehalaya controversy, and dummy schools in the UT in conversation with Swati Mahajan.
You are an active member of the Chandigarh Commission for Protection of Child Rights (CCPCR). Recently, CCPCR gave a clean chit to the mayor in the Snehalaya controversy. Do you think CCPCR being a body to protect child’s rights has any authority to give a clean chit to the mayor?
One thing I will like to make very clear is that we never gave a clean chit to anyone. Our main concern was the well-being of the child, and to ensure that we conducted an inquiry. We conducted the inquiry for the child and took statements of all those who were present when the whole episode took place. In fact, the lacunae we came across during the inquiry led us to a conclusion. Mayor Asha Jaswal had informed the institute that she will be coming to distribute sweets. The superintendent had informed the director of social welfare (DSW). The DSW then deputed two persons to attend to her. However, it’s not clear who brought the child to the mayor. We can’t presume that the mayor knew the child beforehand. Someone must have brought the child to the mayor. When we questioned this, everyone gave excuses on who brought the child to the mayor. We are not concerned what reactions took place between the staff and mayor, we are just concerned about the rights of the child.
Recently, the CCPCR directed a private school to allow a student (suspended from the school) to enter the school but the school did not abide by the orders. What is your opinion on this?
The issue is that a commission can only make recommendations but for its implementation we are dependent on the state machinery. Unless we have enforcement, we can’t ensure implementation of our recommendations. We did not want the child to be stigmatised and the school also needs to understand the difference between punishment and discipline. We wrote in the recommendations that that kind of punishment (suspending the child) is wrong. Even as per law, we presume innocence of children and it’s in favour of the child in such cases.
The CCPCR had also given a report in which it categorically mentioned names of two schools which it termed “dummy schools”. Can you elaborate on that?
We keep conducting raids at schools in Chandigarh. When we visited The British School and SD School, we saw poor facilities at the school. No attendance register had been maintained at the school, and for a few classes, even classrooms had not been allotted. We sent the recommendations to the education department but no action has been taken against them as yet.
You are also heading the PU committee against sexual harassment. Under what circumstances can a sexual harassment case be filed?
Many things are covered under sexual harassment like, making sexually coloured remarks (you are looking beautiful), physical harassment and showing pornography. Thus, its better not to make any comment on anyone. At times, one comment is sufficient for making such a complaint. Earlier, such offences were covered under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) but now, such offences are booked under the Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment (Prohibition, Prevention and Redressal) Act of 2013.
Has the incidence of child abuse increased over the years?
I don’t think so. Earlier also, there used to be rampant child abuse but no one used to complain. In fact, the awareness has increased now. After the introduction of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, such cases have been reported largely. Media has also played a major role in this and many times we take suo motu cognisance on basis of newspaper clippings. There was the case against Zulfiqar Khan which was immediately reported by the CCPCR to the police. Then in the year 2015, a case of molestation by a bus conductor came to us. After we swung into action, the union of school bus transport went on strike. The accused was later convicted in the court.
There have been a spate of incidents of violence in PU. What is the reason for increased violence in the PU campus?
Actually, violence was there a few years ago and it is still present. Several incidents involve students from the Law Department. The reason being, whosoever is in politics holds a law degree. When I was a student in PU, there used to be violence on campus then as well. However, students have become more aware of their rights over the years and so have the authorities concerned. Now, students have representation in committees, there are students’ grievance committees in each department. There is equal involvement of students in every decision taken by PU and students are consulted before taking any decision.
What measures should be taken to reduce the rising violence in PU campus?
There needs to be awareness that violence is not the way to come to any conclusion. Students need to understand that every issue can be resolved through communication.