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We, the People


January 29, 2006

Dry and Dal? No more

IT took a law student and a Public Interest Litigation to get the sparkle back to the waters of Srinagar’s Dal lake. When in July 2002, Sheikh Tahir Iqbal, a law student from Srinagar filed a PIL in the J-K High Court, the lake was in grave danger. ‘‘I think in the ongoing Kashmir situation, only the court can play an effective role to salvage the Dal,’’ Iqbal, who subsequently went to England for further studies, had said then.

Three years on, a proactive pursuit of the case by HC has turned the Dal’s restoration into Kashmir’s most popular issue outside its treacherous politics and spawned a dedicated government-civil society conservation effort.

Not only have the Dal’s banks been cleared of encroachments, around 20,000 trees that had eaten into three km of its watery expanse have been removed.

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This has been the first major instance of Kashmiris seeking their constitutional rights and approaching the Court. And the case has ensured a rare coordination between the judiciary and the executive in the valley, especially after the keen interest shown by Chief Justice Bashir Ahmad Khan.

The Dal has literally been Srinagar’s lungs. Even when guns boomed from its banks during militancy’s most violent days and the wails of mourning wafted across its expanse, its waters symbolised a much-missed serenity. An attraction for the tourists, the lake, however, was used mercilessly by the locals. Shrunk to 12 sq km from its original 72 sq km, it was encroached upon brazenly. And government agencies like the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority did little about it. It was amid this lawlessness that Sheikh Tahir Iqbal had sought a court intervention.

  In 2002
a law student in Srinagar filed a PIL in the High Court to save the Dal. Four years and many court directives later, the lake is cleared of encroachments

It was the first instance of judicial activism in J-K. But far from resenting the court intervention, the state government had welcomed the move. ‘‘Those who love the Dal hail the court’s intervention. It has, for once, put politicians and their vote bank politics away,’’ says Manzoor Ahmad Wangnoo, chairman of the Nageen Lake Conservation Organisation. In 2000, Wangnoo’s NGO launched a 30-day voluntary effort to clean Nageen, an offshoot of Dal lake. ‘‘If we remove the trees, we will win back 25 per cent of the Dal.’’

Wangnoo, however, sounds a note of caution. ‘‘Before going ahead with the demolitions, the government should rehabilitate the Dal dwellers, not dislocate them.’’

In the last four years, the J-K High Court has issued several directives. In an order passed in August 2002, it prohibited construction within 200 metres from the banks of the lake. It banned construction in the Green Belt, the foothills of the mountains girding the Dal and even barred litigation by encroachers.

The order has worked. ‘‘Except for a few aberrations there has been no construction,’’ says chief town planner Naseem Mir.

In 2005, the High Court constituted a committee to see its directions were followed. The three-member committee makes regular inspections of the Lake. When the HC intervened in 2002, the J-K Lakes & Waterways Development Authority, which oversees the restoration on the lake, was mired in several corruption cases. Vigilance probe had held up work and also the release of installments of money from a Rs 270 crore Dal restoration project. ‘‘Since the HC started monitoring the Dal work, there has been no new corruption case against LAWDA,’’ says the High Court’s registrar general.

A House for Mr and Ms Jadhav
Last year Gunshekhar Jadhav acted on a government resolution and made his wife joint owner of their house. Today 80 per cent of 80 villages in Pune’s Purandar taluka have followed his lead


Three months ago when Gunshekhar Jadhav was persuaded to stand for elections as upsarpanch in his Parinche village in the Purandar taluka of Pune district, the 41-year-old was stunned at the landslide victory that came his way. The reason: every woman in the village voted for him.

The support was spurred by a simple move that Jadhav had effected in his own home earlier that year, which triggered a tectonic shift in the status and position of every woman in his village.

Jadhav made his wife Asha the joint owner of their house in March 2005. ‘‘The thought came after I read about a Government Resolution (GR) that had been passed in November 2003, that directed all gram panchayats to ensure joint registration of property in their villages. No one seemed to have done anything about it, but I thought it made a lot of sense,’’ says the farmer-cum-social worker who thus became the first man in his village to give property rights on paper to his wife, moving her to tears of joy.

Today, 10 months later, 80 per cent of houses in the 80 villages that make up Purandar taluka are jointly registered in the names of both the husband and wife, thanks to Jadhav and a campaign undertaken by the Pune-based Mahila Sarwjanik Utkaran Mandal (MASUM).

Out of these, nine have recorded a 95 per cent joint registration rate. ‘‘But we take it as 100 per cent because the rest five per cent comprise cases where there’s a technical problem or the owners do not live in the village,’’ says Manisha Gupta, convener, MASUM, who decided to take Jadhav’s example into every home of the taluka.

‘‘We formed a core group of 25 workers in the taluka, trained young boys in colleges, armed them all with a copy of the GR and pamphlets endorsing the move—and sent them on a door-to-door campaign,’’ adds Ramesh Awasthi, co-convenor of the NGO. Assisting them in the effort were the gram panchayat and the sarpanch, with Block Development Officer Sanjay Chilla backing the initiative completely.

The result has been the dawn of a new era in the lives of the women of the villages. ‘‘For the first time I felt a huge sense of security when I saw my name on the house registration document. I felt my husband can never tell me to get out of my house now,’’ smiles 40-year old Suganda Baban Kadam of Parinche village.

Pushpa Ratikant Jadahav of the same village not just ensured that her own registration document changed, but spearheaded a campaign personally of making every woman in the bachatgat of the village aware of the new right given to her by the government.

‘‘There were far too many cases of men tiring of their first wives and sending them off to their parents and then remarrying. We knew this would put an end to such practices now,’’ says Alka Jayant Hansraj of Harbude village, which boasts of 100 per cent joint registration.

In some cases, where the house happened to be in the name of the father-in-law, daughters-in-law took the initiative of getting their mother-in-law’s name on the documents. ‘‘It brought us women closer,’’ says Sulabha Jadhav, who got her mother-in-law’s name put on the registration papers.

According to 30-year-old Neeta Virsingh Jadhav, the move would also solve the problem that often arose due to the untimely death of a husband, whereby his wife was invariably thrown back to her parents’ home by the in-laws. ‘‘With 50 per cent of the home belonging to the wife, such things will not be possible anymore,’’ she asserts.

Interestingly, contrary to popular thought, few men resisted the joint registration. ‘‘Mainly because it was a GR—they were bound to do it. The doubts that arose bordered on the fear that joint ownership meant the wife could throw them out if they wanted. Once we allayed these fears, they agreed quite readily,’’ says Baby Raghunath Takawale of Harbude village. ‘‘Only the very old men thought it was not a progressive step, but luckily their sons or daughters drowned those doubts by raising their voices in support of the move,’’ adds Meenakshi Suresh Jadhav, another housewife.

This one-year campaign ends in March 2006, by which time MASUM hopes to ensure 95-100 per cent joint registration in the taluka. ‘‘We are using these last two months to find out the problems that plague the cases where joint registration has not been carried out yet,’’ explains Awasthi.

Smiles Gunshekhar Jadhav, ‘‘I didn’t realise the power of one simple good deed till now.’’

Eighty-year-old Shardbai, though, has the last word: ‘‘I was born in my father’s house, lived all my life in my husband’s. Thank God I will die in my own house.’’

Status Conscious
After a decade-old struggle, migrants from Doda and Poonch are to get the same relief as Kashmiri migrants. But the High Court order is yet to be implemented


THERE is little in this uninspiring crowded patch of makeshift tents that can remind 72-year-old Hazra Begum of her home in Tank Targam village in Doda district. A home she left 10 years ago when militants killed her husband.

But there is a need to remember. So, she has tilled a small neighbouring field, growing wheat and tending to an old buffalo. ‘‘This small field is not for livelihood but to keep alive old memories,’’ says Hazra Begum, a Gujjar.

Hazra is not the only one trying to keep her past and present intact. About 288 families from militant-hit Jammu districts in this refugee camp on the banks of river Tawi are together in their ordeal. Militancy pushed them out from Doda, Poonch and Rajouri districts. And the establishment has pushed them further into the depths of despair.

They have become migrants but have been denied the compensations due to migrants. There is no medicare or school in this camp. Many of the camp residents don’t even have migrant status that guarantees them full government relief. What they do get is 9 kg rice, 2 kg flour and 1 kg sugar per head/per month.

‘‘The government didn’t provide us tents. But not only have they provided cash relief to the Kashmiri migrants but have also have constructed rooms for them,’’ alleges Koushal Sharma, chairman of the migrants committee.

Though it’s far from over, the Jammu migrants’ struggle for relief at par with Kashmiri migrants is finally anticipating success. On November 28, 2005, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court directed the state government to treat the Doda/Poonch migrants at par with Kashmiri migrants. But the order is yet to be implemented.

‘‘If the court orders are implemented many families will get cash relief which they don’t get now,’’ says Rajinder Singh Chauhan, leader of the Doda Migrant Welfare Committee.

But says Divisional Commissioner, Jammu, B R Sharma: ‘‘As for the court orders to provide them relief at par with the Kashmiri migrants, we have not yet received any instructions from the government.’’

The relief issue has been a long-drawn one. ‘‘On November 25, 2002, the Supreme Court had also issued instructions in this regard. However, the state government had gone to the SC against this order,’’ says Jammu and Kashmir Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh, who had filed a petition in the court over this issue.

‘‘The relief which is given to these migrants by the government comes from the Centre. It is the responsibility of the government to follow the instructions of the court,’’ says Singh.

‘‘We have become old and will die soon. But the future of our children is dark,’’ said Dina Nath of Sunar.

The court decision may soon bring some light into their dismal camps.

Wedded to the cause
A farming community in Maharashtra’s Shahada taluka follows the Dowry Prohibition Act in spirit. It uses the money saved in nurturing the local college instead


LAST weekend, 21-year-old Madhuri Patil tied the knot in Amlad Village, in the heart of Maharashtra’s tribal Nandurbar district. It was a quiet two day affair. A simple haldi function at home, followed by a ‘‘minimalistic wedding’’. And then the grand announcement. Sugarcane farmer and grandfather of the bride, Pulakhi Shambu Patil made his way to the centre of the hall and proudly declared that on the ‘‘auspicious occasion we are donating Rs 11,000 to the Sane Guruji college’’. The gathering nodded in approval and the wedding was solemnised.

Welcome to the ‘‘100 per cent zero dowry zone’’. Far from flamboyant farm house weddings and multi-cuisine receptions, a farming community around Shahada taluka is doing away with all marriage fanfare, slashing their wedding expenses by 50 per cent. Instead, all the money they save on dowry and the wedding is donated to a local college.

‘‘We give for the future of our children’s children,’’ says proud Pingare village resident T R Patil. ‘‘Traditionally each member of the groom’s family was given something. There were lots of fights, financial situation of the community was deteriorating and there was so much social tension.’’

But over the last 20 years, one wedding at a time, the entire Gurjar community (it migrated from Kheda in Gujarat to Nandurbar) has slowly transformed its weddings into an educational enterprise.

The first change came in the invitation cards, which specifically state: ‘‘No gifts please’’. Then, the engagement ceremony was made a family affair. ‘‘The only thing permitted during the engagement is biscuit and tea,’’ says the community rule book. Engagement lunches and dinners are banned.

And on D-day, a registered marriage or a simple ceremony is encouraged. The guidelines are strict. Only one sweet is allowed to be served. No utensils are to be given to the bride and the only time money is brought up is when the donation is announced. The money is subsequently deposited in a bank as per the agriculture schedule and availability of money with the farmer.

Donating anything between Rs 500 to acres of agricultural land, the farmers have given the college everything it needs. Property worth Rs 50 crore, buildings, laboratory equipment and the recent addition — an entire horticulture faculty.

‘‘We like to give our students all the options in the world,’’ says principal Dr Ashok Patil. ‘‘Earlier students travelled to Pune, Mumbai to complete their higher education. Now they save all that money by enrolling here. And we ensure that they get the best education possible.’’

The Sane Guruji Vidya Prasarak Mandal has been in business since 1969. The college has 5,300 students, an ever-expanding faculty and facilities better than most institutions in far-flung areas like Shahada.

Being a non-grant college, most of the facilities on the campus are built from donations. ‘‘The fees is not sufficient to run this place efficiently. But we accept money only from farmers of the area,’’ explains Ashok Patil. ‘‘No businessman or industrialist can contribute. We want this college to be specifically for our farmers.’’

It started out in a small way. President of the All India Leva Patidar Gurjar Samaj and former Shahada MLA P K Anna Patil began the anti dowry campaign way back in the early ’80s. It was around the time that radio was being replaced by televisions on the dowry list, along with cupboards, scooters and the popular gold.

‘‘During a wedding, the groom’s side always say that goddess Lakshmi is coming home, but in the bargain, the bride’s father goes bankrupt,’’ says the veteran Anna Patil. ‘‘It has taken us quite a while, but despite initial resistance, today dowry has completely been weeded out.’’

The rules are even stricter for the faculty teaching at the institution. ‘‘We have already dismissed a professor for giving dowry,’’ says a firm Anna Patil. ‘‘Slowly self-discipline is coming in.’’

‘‘I am happy my father didn’t have to worry too much about my wedding expenses,’’ says newly wed Madhuri. ‘‘Knowing that a wedding doesn’t need so much money makes the entire thing so much more enjoyable.’’

Mother Courage
She first heard of the Protection from Domestic Violence Bill on a TV programme. Now Lucknow’s 77-year-old Mahmuda Khan is using the Act to fight her son


MAHMUDA Khan had many dreams for her eldest son, but she never imagined she would be fighting him in court.

The 77-year-old has filed a case against her son, Brigadier Iqbal Ali Khan, under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005). ‘‘When he was a child I was afraid to let him go lest he got hurt—and today I am using the law against him,’’ says Mahmuda, alternately apprehending and looking forward to the next hearing of the case on January 31.

As happens so often, the root cause of trouble was property. When potential buyers started queuing up at the family house last March, she was completely taken aback. ‘‘When I told them I have no desire to sell it, they told me the registry was in the name of my elder son and he wanted to sell it. It was the saddest day of my life,’’ says Mahmuda.

She tried to talk Iqbal out of it. ‘‘He was not ready to listen to me and pushed me away physically. After that day, such incidents continued. He would come to the house only to torture me,’’ says Mahmuda who is also battling Parkinson’s, diabetes and a host of age-related diseases.

She tried various ways to get justice, including writing to senior army officials and even filing an FIR, but to no effect. But she was not ready to give up.

Then one day, while surfing television channels, she saw a report on the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005) on a news channel. This, she thought to herself, could be the answer to her problems.

The Act came into force on September 14, 2005, and even lawyers were only beginning to get acquainted with it when Mahmuda decided to use it. But once her lawyer M M Abbas got his hands on a copy of the Act and gave it a thorough reading, things were ready to roll. A case was filed on October 20, 2005.

Section 4 (iii) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act-2005 under which the case is filed, provides for the rights of women to secure housing. It also provides for the right of woman to reside in her matrimonial home or shared house, whether or not she has any title or rights in such home or household.

Initially, though, Abbas was sceptical. ‘‘Mahmuda approached me through a common friend. At first I was a bit hesitant since it was mother-versus-son case. But one day, when her son came to the house took out his father’s name plate and broke it to pieces, she came to me and said her son was dead for her and she has made up her mind to fight for her rights. I couldn’t refuse her.’’

Mahmuda may have never got a college education but she says she knows enough to fight for her rights. ‘‘The law is made for people like us who have nothing else for support. My son might have forgotten that I am his mother and how to treat me but even at this age I remember how to preserve my self-respect,’’ says Mahmuda.

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