1. How to Revive a Defunct National Commission for Women
LAST MARCH, when TEHELKA did a cover story on violence against women, National Commission for Women (NCW) chairperson Mamta Sharma told this reporter that what women wear isn’t the primary reason for them being raped but it IS a secondary issue. And that women “need to take their Indian culture along with them when they leave their homes”. While the recent mass outrage has pinned down every politician and religious leader for their misogyny, Sharma’s comments have so far escaped any serious censure even though she heads the watchdog for women’s rights.
The NCW was created in January 1992 out of a clamour from the women’s movements for a national-level advocacy bodycum- watchdog. But over the past two decades, women’s groups say its structure has rendered it practically defunct. Appointments to key positions are political and as gender activist and lawyer Malavika Rajkotia puts it, “even the politicians give it step-sisterly treatment and don’t care about who they appoint”.
Kalpana Vishwanath of the Delhi-based NGO Jagori says a serious review of the NCW is needed to revamp it. Akhila Sivadas, executive director of the Centre for Advocacy Research, remembers a time when the NCW did function as a proactive body that fought for women’s rights. That was 15 years ago when Mohini Giri was its chairperson. Since then, she and many others from the women’s movements believe, it’s only been downhill.
If the NCW engages with women’s movements again, it could be revived, say both Sivadas and Vishwanath. Another suggestion is for the NCW to liaise with government departments such as the home ministry and draw up a list of protocols to pass on to police stations, hospitals and trauma centres for all those involved, from doctors to beat constables, to follow. Now thanks to the public outrage, the NCW is finally developing a ‘Guideline for Rape Manual’.
NCW member Charu Wali Khanna says the commission has a skeletal staff and could do with an investigative cell to probe cases of violence against women. She also says part of the problem is that the NCW is only an advisory body. According to Khanna, the NCW chairperson only has a secretary-level rank whereas other institutional heads are given the status of Cabinet secretaries.
Others argue that this is precisely the problem. Looking for a better place in the hierarchy is equal to placing the NCW right in the middle of the patriarchal set-up it was meant to smash.