By Bilal Bhat
A mere perusal of the pages of the various government and court orders since the Juvenile Justice (care and protection) Act 2013 was enacted in Jammu and Kashmir will demonstrate how desperately the government has been hunting for a person who will actually run it. From 1997, when the first Act was enacted by the state legislature, justice for our children has been left in cold storage because of bureaucratic apathy to this nagging issue.
The state actually needed a leader heading the new regime of child protection under the newly created Integrated Child Protection Scheme, a department meant to implement the act. A run of the mill bureaucrat would not have driven the mission with passion, expertise and sensitivities that Juveniles demand especially given the context in Kashmir.
With due recognition of my difference(s) with Sajad Lone’s political journey, I understand his move to take away the new department from the clutches of ‘glorified clerks’ and start this new vehicle of administering justice for children with a suitably skilled leader. This has already happened in countries like US and is already visible in new dispensation at New Delhi which is actually run by bright IIM and IIT graduates behind the scenes while the bureaucrat remains the mere face of the program. But, we, in Kashmir remain structurally averse to change- especially of the nature, which can actually bring closure to many nagging issues that we face at multiple levels.
Ironically, the Jammu &Kashmir Government not only approached Hilal Bhat at a personal level but also the Organization (UNICEF) he works for in Delhi to seek his services for the benefit of children in the state. It took a year to break the ice, which was based on the idea(s) of ‘giving-back’ to society. In the end, however, Hilal stands demeaned which will have long-term implications on the present dispensation.
Sajad Gani Lone, known for his rather radical decisions, went to Delhi to meet UNICEF officials in an attempt get Hilal on board. But, unfortunately, he had nothing to offer Hilal except a position where he could bring his expertise to bear on issues at ground zero for comprehensive and holistic change. After playing the card of ‘giving-back’ to society, the expert happily committed to provide the government with support and took the reins of a department, which was created in 2013 but was practically defunct. It may be noted that there had been few more appointments before Hilal was appointed as MD ICPS but their appointments were questioned on account of lack of experience or qualifications. In the case of Hilal, whose credentials and experience were excellent, it was vicious gossip and slander that was taken recourse to. (Someone even went to the extent of telecasting news wherein it was stated that Hilal Bhat was a mere matriculate). This vicious and slanderous rumor flew flat against Hilal’s multiple qualifications- Economics(honors) , a Master’s in Social Work and innumerable professional certificates from many countries including Austria, Geneva, Indonesia , Nepal and so on.
After commencing work with the UNICEF in 2011, Hilal has made strenuous efforts to have Kashmir’s children on the radar of the United Nations Children’s Fund. His efforts bore fruits as he managed to bring back the UNICEF to Kashmir after thirty years of conflict. The UNICEF’s return to Kashmir was not notional; Hilal had convinced the organization to come up with some big projects for the benefit of the children of Jammu and Kashmir. It was a mission for Hilal who actually went from pillar to post to create conditions for successful implementation of the project(s) to help the state’s children. In this regard, he helped sensitize police officers, officials of social welfare, labour, education and health and allied departments.
These efforts rendered positive and even path breaking changes. Prior to Hilal’s interventions, young people under the age of 18 years would be seen in the courts handcuffed and actually locked up and jailed. But after his activism, the conditions changed drastically not because young people have stopped coming in contact or conflict with law but because lawmakers realized their duties and responsibilities. All this accrued from Hilal’s pioneering and strenuous efforts.
One of his big milestones was when the High Court issued an order that non-obstante clause of the Juvenile Justice Act should prevail upon the PSA under which young adults or even children were frequently detained. The High Court thereafter issued clear directions that no child could be booked under the PSA.
Moreover, recently, Hilal organized a conference under the UNICEF banner on Juvenile Justice with the High Court of J&K and Supreme Court of India. This coincided with the visit of Indian Union Home Minister to Srinagar and very next day Rajnath Singh gave a statement that ‘children should not be booked under PSA.’ This was the direct impact of work Hilal has been doing for the children of the state-especially those who are the victims of conflict.
On 27th of Oct 2017, Hilal Bhat joined as Mission Director for ICPS, relinquishing his role at the UNICEF. Immediately, after joining, he began work with great determination and zeal. Within a week’s time, all the 300 newly recruited protection officers were intensely engaged by Bhat as director of the Mission. Hilal conducted programs at the Circuit House Jammu and Srinagar, identified the best skilled professionals and motivated them not behave imperiously like an officer but show compassion and empathy for the children who needed their help. He also attempted simplify the recruitment of District Child Protection Officers, a charge which was given to a KAS officer. He managed to motivate and convince higher officials that, in order to run the program successfully, what was needed was a cadre of protection professionals; not mere administrators.
Sajad Lone was left with no option but to accept new ideas which he, obviously, would have found to be creative and result oriented. It must be stated that Lone welcomed these novel, creative and workable ideas. However, people manning the power corridors felt threatened and viewed Bhat and his creative interventions as a setback for their relatives and workers who the new MD would not countenance simply because they belonged to a certain family, political ideology(party) and may have been banking upon political patronage than merit. Hilal had clearly defined and set his terms of engagement on the premise(s) that if the state really cared for the protection of children , then people heading the District Protection Units should be selected on merit rather than influence. He instinctively knew and understood the fact that the mission for protecting children would not work unless meritorious candidates would head the District offices.
The score card of a civilized society(and polity) is best reflected in the manner it treats its children. But Hilal Bhat’s saga, and tribulations gives a very bad score to the system of governance prevalent in Jammu and Kashmir. The priority should have been care for children more than mere the processes, whims and caprices of some blue eyed officers who chose to vent their unwarranted angst against a genuine, hard working man on social media. In the whole saga, what actually transpired is a paradox: the casualty of this has been the issue of child protection. We could have easily done away with the process of recruitment in this case, holding it to be a special case rather than comparing it with other illegal appointments, if there are any. Unfortunately, however, one of our journalist turned media entrepreneurs does not even know the difference between the member of a committee and that of an employee who is on the government wage board. The name of the game for this media entrepreneur, in his poorly written and factually incorrect piece, is just to appease his bosses in the coalition where his brother is busy in merry making. Nepotism is alive and kicking in our state and we have a long way to go!
—The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org