|Dedicated to the Women of India|
The National Women’s Commission set up in 1990 by an Act of Parliament is the prime institution in the country dedicated to the cause of women. Since its inception, it has come a long way in its efforts to safeguard the interests of women. Apart from a Chairwoman and a Member Secretary, it has appointed full time members who have expertise in different aspects of the welfare of women. Each of these members is concentrating on their chosen area. Recently I had an opportunity to meet several members of the commission and get an update on its activities.Changing the laws for womenMs Purnima Advani is working on changing the laws pertaining to women. According to her, the Commission has changed the methodology to suggest changes in the laws. Earlier the Commission used to constitute an expert committee and ask it to suggest the changes, but this time it has thought of going to the people of the country and have a wider consultation with them and ask what should be done.
Amending rape laws
In order to amend the rape laws, the Commission has organised eighteen workshops in sixteen states of the country. The suggestions that emerged are:
1. Punishment should be certain.
Apart form rape, the commission is also planning to suggest amendments to the laws regarding prostitution and dowry. Her regret is that even though the NCW has already suggested changes in several laws, due to the frequent fall of parliament, the laws pertaining to women have taken a back seat.
Work for Tribal and Dalit women
Ms Sukeshi Oran, herself a tribal, is working on improving the situation of tribal and Dalit women. According to her even after fifty-two years of independence tribal women suffer from the same problems. Health is their main problem. Since 1992, the Commission has brought out three reports on health, employment and education of tribal women. It has also circulated the recommendation among al the states. The main recommendations pertain to providing education in local and tribal languages and to ensure minimum health care.
According to her, the mentality of male superiority is more predominant in the tribal male and needs to be changed with the help of education. Tribal male does not undertake much work responsibility. He performs lighter tasks like ploughing with the help of bullocks, while the woman performs all other cumbersome agriculture related tasks, in addition to the household work and fetching water and fuel. There is no rest for the tribal woman. Since there is no system of going to the mother’s house for delivering the baby, there is no rest and care during pregnancy as is available to non-tribal women. Often, women deliver while working and they go back to work the next day.
Custodial justice and prison reforms
The Secretary of the Commission Ms. Beenu Sen is deeply involved in obtaining custodial justice for women and reforming the custodial institutions like the prisons and mental hospitals. She organised a workshop during the year 1998 with the help of SCARF (Schizophrenia Care and Research Foundation, India), a Madras-based NGO, with regard to providing justice to mentally sick women. The recommendations have been circulated to the government for bringing about the necessary changes in the law. Another workshop was conducted with Praja, another NGO, for improving the condition of women in custody and for ensuring better rehabilitation for them. The Commission is also conducting ‘gender sensitisation’ workshops for preventing the crime against women.
Getting women into decision-making and the governance
Ms Sayyada Hamid, a senior member of the Commission is concentrating on the issue of involving women in the decision-making process and enhancing their political participation. According to her, the Commission is not exactly going from political party to political party, asking them to give tickets to women. However, it is in touch with the Election Commission trying to make it easier for women to stand as candidates as there is a lot of criminalisation. The Commission is also in touch with all the women’s groups and is mobilising them to demand accountability from their elected members. It issues a weekly newsletter that is an update on women’s aspirations in the political arena. The commission looks at the election manifestoes of all the political parties and checks what they offer to women. It has commissioned a study on the experience of the women panchayat-members, which is nearing completion. It is currently preparing a report on ‘women’s aspirations in politics’ which will have an update up to the 1999 general elections.
Complaint’s cell and prevention of atrocities on women
The joint secretary of the Commission, Ms Leena Mehandali, takes care of the complaint’s cell and the counselling centre. She has computerised the entire data of the complaint’s cell and analyses it every month. According to her, the basic mandate of the Commission is to prevent atrocities on women and make recommendations for amending basic laws. It is an interface between the suffering of women and the society at large. The analyses of the data from the complaint cell is being utilised in two ways; one, to solve the individual problems and the other, to suggest systemic changes. The complaints are classified in twenty odd categories. The major categories are as follows:
Initially the Commission received only 150 complaints per year, but now the number has increased to 1000 a year. It is very alarming to note that during the month of August and September 1999 alone, 30 cases of dowry deaths were reported to the Commission, which meant one death per day. She feels the actual occurrence may be fifty times more than that. Her analyses showed that most of these cases had happened in UP. This helped the Commission to take up the matter with the Home Secretary of UP. In addition it is also taking up the matter with the individual Superintendents of Police and helping them to analyse their dowry death data. It is also planning to prepare sensitization modules for the police.
The Commission has also held several individual inquiries in cases such as:
Recently the Supreme Court has delivered an epoch making judgment in the case of ‘Vaishakha VS State of Rajasthan’, which pertained to the sexual harassment at the work place. The Supreme Court has given direction to the employers to form a complaint’s committee, of which fifty-percent members should be women and one member should be from an outside agency. It is also the responsibility of the employers that no eve teasing takes place. This judgment has strengthened the hands of the Commission. In accordance with this judgement the Central Civil Services rules have been amended.
The Commission has power to summon the people. Many important persons had to appear before the Commission in the past, like GB Patnaik, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr. Gill of Prasad Bharati, to name a few. With this, people have started taking a serious note of the Commission. The Commission is also authorised, under section 10(2), to ask the government to lay its reports before the Parliament. This power has so far been used, but will be certainly utilised in the future. The Counseling Centre is functioning in the office of the Commission, which has both legal and psychological experts to guide its client. The success rate of settling the cases is about fifty percent, which is quite encouraging.
For any case of injustice to women, contact: