National women’s commission
It is said that the best way to know about society, a civilization and a culture, try to know as much possible about the women. In India, women have come a long way from the rare women scholars and sages of the Vedic age to the women in different sectors of society and civilization today, such as the armed forces, arts, information technology, politics and a number of similar sectors which have traditionally been male dominated, while simultaneously balancing the roles of wife, mother and daughter. While Indian women have fought against the patriarchal Indian society and triumphed at many levels, cases of rape, dowry deaths, female infanticide, sexual harassment at workplaces, female illiteracy, and similar problems are still rampant in Indian society. It was in this backdrop that the Committee on the Status of Women in India (CSWI) the establishment of the National Commission for Women to fulfill the surveillance functions and to facilitate redressal of grievances and to accelerate the socio-economic development of women.
The National Commission for Women was set up as statutory body in January 1992 under the National Commission for Women Act, 1990 ( Act No. 20 of 1990 of Govt.of India) to review the Constitutional and legal safeguards for women; recommend remedial legislative measures, facilitate redressal of grievances and advise the Government on all policy matters affecting women.
Importance of The Commission
Women as a class neither belong to a minority group nor are they regarded as a backward class. India has traditionally been a patriarchal society and therefore women have always suffered from social handicaps and disabilities. It thus became necessary to take certain ameliorative steps in order to improve the condition of women in the traditionally male dominated society.The Constitution does not contain any provision specifically made to favor women as such. Though Art. 15 (3), Art. 21 and Art. 14 are in favor of women; they are more general in nature and provide for making any special provisions for women, while they are not in themselves such provisions. The Supreme Court through interpretive processes has tried to extend some safeguards to women. Through judgments in cases such as Bodhisattwa Gautam v. Subra Chakraborty . and the Chairman Rly Board v. Chandrima Das case, where rape was declared a heinous crime, as well as the landmark judgment in Visakha v. State of Rajasthan. the courts have tried to improve the social conditions of Indian women. But these have hardly sufficed to improve the position of women in India. Thus, in light of these conditions, the Committee on the Status of Woman (India) as well as a number of NGOs, social workers and experts, who were consulted by the Government in 1990, recommended the establishment of a apex body for woman.
The Mandate of the Commission
Broadly speaking the Commission’s mandate can be divided under four heads:
- safeguard of rights of women granted by the constitution and laws,
- study problems faced by women in the current day and make recommendations to eradicate these problems,
- evaluating the status of Indian women from time to time and
- funding and fighting cases related to women’s rights violations.
Functions of commission
Complaint And Counseling Functions: The “core” unit of the Commission is considered to be the Complaint and Counseling Cell and it processes the complaints received oral, written or suo moto under Section 10 of the NCW Act. The complaints received relate to domestic violence, harassment, dowry, torture, desertion, bigamy, rape and refusal to register FIR, cruelty by husband, derivation, gender discrimination and sexual harassment at work place. During 1999, the Commission received 4329 complaints related to the above types of crimes against women.
Legal functions: A large part of the Commission’s mandate is related to legal research for safeguards of women, legal interventions, recommendations on bills and similar matters relating to the legal system of India. The legal cell of the Commission was set up in order to deal with these functions. The activities of this cell can be divided into three categories: (a) legal amendments proposed (b) new laws and bills proposed and (c) court interventions.
Research Functions: The research cell of the Commission is that organ of the Commission that looks into the emerging problems of Indian women due to discrimination and gender bias. This cell is also responsible for educating women about their rights through a variety of seminars, workshops, conferences and public hearings. This cell has also organized various special studies and set up expert committees to look into and suggest remedies for problems, which have evolved recently. Currently the cell is dealing with issues related to Gender and Law Enforcement, Impact of Displacement of Women, Sexual Harassment at Workplace, Issues concerning Prostitution and Political Empowerment of Women.
Controversies: Critical analysis
Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code
In December 2006 and January 2007, the NCW found itself at the center of a minor controversy over its insistence that Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code not be changed to make adulterous wives equally prosecutable by their husbands. But the grounds on which Chairperson of commission resists the logic of making this a criminal offence — particularly for women, as often recommended — are not as encouraging. She is averse to holding the adulterous woman equally culpable as the adulterous man because women, she believes, are never offenders. They are always the victims. The NCW has demanded that women should not be punished for adultery, as a woman is “the victim and not an offender” in such cases. They have also advocated the amendment of Section 198 of the CrPC to allow women to file complaints against unfaithful husbands and prosecute them for their promiscuous behaviour. This was in response to “loopholes” in the Indian Penal Code that allowed men to file adultery charges against other men who have engaged in illicit relations but did not allow women to file charges against their husbands.
Mangalore pub attack controversy
The NCW came under sharp criticism for their response to the attack by forty male members of the Hindu right-wing Sri Ram Sena on eight women in a bar in Mangalore in late January 2009. Video from the attack shows the women were punched, pulled by their hair, and thrown out of the pub. NCW member Smt Nirmala Venkatesh was sent to assess the situation, and said in an interview that the pub did not have adequate security and that the women should have protected themselves. Venkatesh said, “If the girls feel they were not doing anything wrong why are they afraid to come forward and give a statement?” On 6 February, the NCW said they decided not to accept Venkatesh’s report but would not be sending a new team to Mangalore. On 27 February, the Prime Minister’s Office approved the removal of Nirmala Venkatesh on disciplinary grounds.