The National Commission For Women
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 principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The Preamble, promotes “Equality of status and of opportunity”; the Fundamental Rights enshrined in Part III of the Indian Constitution and Directive Principles enshrined in Part IV of the Constitution all promote gender equality. The Constitution not only grants equality to women but has also made special provisions for ensuring equality Thus, as per the recommendations of the CSWI and in order to uphold the mandate of the Constitution, in January 1992, the National Commission for Women (NCW), was set up as a statutory body under the National Commission for Women Act, 1990 (Act No. 20 of 1990 of Government of India) to carry out the mandate set by the Act as well as CSWI.About The Commission
This chapter aims at informing the reader of the need for a commission such as the National Commission for Women and the impetus for its establishment in 1992. The chapter further examines the relationship between the constitution and the commission, the mandate given by the constitution as well as the basic administrative set up of the commission as per the constitution.
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 ( AIR 1996 SC 922). and the Chairman Rly Board v. Chandrima Das( AIR 2000 SC 988). case, where rape was declared a heinous crime, as well as the landmark judgment in Visakha v. State of Rajasthan, (AIR 1997 SC 3011). 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 lack of constitutional machinery, judicial ability and social interest formed the impetus and need for the formation of the National Commission for Women. It is apparent from the prior mentioned conditions and problems that women in India, though in a better position than their ancestors, were handicapped to a great extent in the early 1990s and these handicaps and injustices against Indian women prompted the Indian Government to constitute the first National Commission for Women in 1992. ”, http://ncw.nic.in/ (Aug. 4, 2007).
The Constitution Of The Commission:
The National Commission for Women Act, 1990 (Act No. 20 of 1990 of Government of India) constituted the National Commission for Women as a statutory body. The first commission was constituted on 31st January 1992 with Mrs. Jayanti Patnaik as the Chairperson.
The Act of 1990 under Section 3 provides for the constitution of the commission. This section lays down that the commission will consist of one Chairperson, who is committed to the cause of women, five members from various fields and a member secretary who shall be an expert in the fields of management, organizational structure, sociological movement or a, member of the civil service of the Union. All the members of the commission are nominated by the Central Government.
Each person holds office for a period of five years or till he attains the age of seventy. At least one member each of the Commission must belong to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe. In addition to the abovementioned members of the Commission, the Commission has the power to set up committees with members from outside the Commission.
The Mandate Of The Commission:
Section 10(1) of the Act of 1990 provides a fourteen-point mandate for the National Commission for Women. A general overview of the mandate has been provided and a few significant clauses have been discussed.
Broadly speaking the Commission’s mandate can be divided under four heads – (a) safeguard of rights of women granted by the constitution and laws, (b) study problems faced by women in the current day and make recommendations to eradicate these problems, (c) evaluating the status of Indian women from time to time and (d) funding and fighting cases related to women’s rights violations.
(a) Safeguard Rights of Women: these are enshrined in sub clauses (a) – (e) of Section 10 (1) of the Act. They expect the Commission to examine the safeguards for women provided by the law and the Constitution. The Commission is to submit reports about these safeguards and make recommendations about the implementation of the same. The Commission is also expected to review these safeguards periodically to identify and remedy any lacunae and inadequacies. The Commission is also empowered to take up cases involving the violation of the cases.
(b) Study of problems faced by women: these are mainly enshrined in sub clauses (g) – (i) of Section 10 (1) of the Act. According to these sub clauses, the Commission is to carry out studies involving the problems arising out of discrimination against woman and provide remedies for these problems. As per this part of the mandate, the Commission is also expected to advise the government about the socio – economic development of women based on these studies.
(c) Evaluating status of Indian women - sub clauses (j) – (n) of the aforementioned section of the Act deals with these responsibilities of the Commission.
The Commission, according to these guidelines, has the responsibilities of the evaluating the status of Indian women under the Union Government and State Governments. It is to inspect and evaluate the conditions of detention homes and other such facilities in which women may be detained and deal with the appropriate authorities in order to improve the condition of such places. These evaluations are to be submitted to the Government through periodic reports and recommendations. Fighting cases related to women’s rights violation: certain clauses in the mandate also empower the Commission to take up cases related to discrimination against women, women’s right violation and fund cases which involve the rights of a large number of women. Sub clause (f) of Section 3 of the Act of 1990 empowers the Commission to take suo moto notice of matters relating to women’s right deprivation, non – implementation of laws enacted to protect women and non – compliance of policies and guidelines for mitigating hardships of women, in such matters the Commission is empowered to approach the appropriate authorities and seek remedies.
Functions Of The Commission
Through this chapter the researcher will briefly outline the methods adopted by the Commission in order to carry out the mandate discussed in 2.3. As violence and discrimination against women is multi – faceted in nature, the Commission has adopted a multi – pronged strategy to combat the problem. This strategy is broadly divided into three categories – the counseling, the legal and the research functions of the 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.
This cell adopts a three-point method to deal with the mentioned problems:
• Investigations by the police are expedited and monitored.
• Family disputes are resolved or compromised through counseling.
• In case of serious crimes, the Commission constitutes an Inquiry Committee, which makes spot enquiries, examines various witnesses, collects evidence and submits the report with recommendations. Such investigations help in providing immediate relief and justice to the victims of violence and atrocities. The implementation of the report is monitored by the NCW. There is a provision for having experts/lawyers on these committees.
A number of such inquiry committees have been set up over fourteen years in order to combat many serious problems. Committees were set up to investigate the alleged police atrocities and misbehavior with girl students of Kurukshetra University the case of rape of a 30 year old woman in Safdarjung Hospital, the case of a gang rape of 15 years old girl at Lucknow and other such serious and heinous crimes against women.
The number of complaints registered with this cell has increased from a total of 4293 in 1999 – 2000 to a total of 5462 in 2003 – 04. This increase may be interpreted as a positive sign and one signaling the success of this wing of the Commission. It also indicates the increasing trust that women are investing in the Commission as a whole.
As mentioned in 2.3, 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.
(a) Legal Amendments: the Commission’s mandate requires that it analyze and improve existing laws from time to time. The Commission has proposed sixteen amendments till date The commission has sought to amend the Indian Penal Code, 1860 in order to curb the sale of minor girls; the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, in order to omit epilepsy as grounds for divorce; the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, in order to bring the problems of Dowry deaths in to the lime light and deal with them appropriately and the NCW Act, 1990, in order to gain greater autonomy and jurisdiction within the country. In addition to these there are a number of other Acts and Bills, which the Commission has sought to, amend but due to the paucity of space the researcher is unable to discuss them here.
(b) News Bills Proposed: in the course of fourteen years the Commission has proposed a total of seven bills and has drafted one convention for SAARC relating to trafficking of women and children. Amongst other bills the Commission proposed the Marriage Bill, 1994; the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 1994 (with reference to child rape); the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 1996 and the Domestic Violence to Women (Prevention) bill, 1994. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Bill was passed in 2005.
(c) Court Intervention: the Commission has intervened in numerous court cases, in order help women whose rights have been violated, of these cases the researcher will only be able to mention few of the more prominent ones. The Commission intervened in Bhateri gang rape case and supported the victim and provided for her protection. In the Maimon Baskari's Nuh case the Commission fought for the right of the victim to marry a person of her own choice and against out dated customs. In the matter of Fakhruddin Mubarak Shaik v. Jaitunbi Mubarak Shaik the Commission intervened to seek maintenance beyond the iddat period for Muslim women. The Commission was also partly responsible the actions taken in the Imrana and Marine Drive rape cases.
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.
The three aforementioned organs of the Commission have been quite successful in carrying out the mandate which the Commission was given by the Act of 1990. Amongst the three cells, it is perhaps the Counseling cell which has been most successful because it is that cell of the Commission which is in direct contact with the people. The other cells, while equally successful, deal more with the different agencies of the Government and are thus not so widely acclaimed.
Achievements Of The Commission
The following chapter will, very briefly, summarize the achievement, highlights and successes of the Commission since its inception in 1992.
The complaints and counseling cell of the Commission is perhaps the most successful organ of the organization, in illustration:
Ms. Rupali Jain was reinstated as a teacher, due to the actions of the Commission, after her services were terminated at a school run by a non – governmental organization, without any substantial reasons. In another matter, Smt. Savitri, approached the Commission regarding exploitation of her deaf and dumb daughter, who, along with her child, hah been deserted by her husband and in laws, allegedly due to her disabilities. The Commission took up the matter and the husband was located, counseled and is currently agreed to rehabilitate with his wife and daughter. The Commission was also successful in securing the release of Mrs. Sudha Bala (name changed) who was allegedly gang-raped by BSF personnel in early 2002. The victim along with her young daughter was wrongly detained in Presidency Jail in Kolkata, after the alleged rape. The matter was taken up by the Commission for the release of rape victim from the jail. The Commission’s actions resulted in the release of Mrs. Das from jail, who was given into safe custody to her brother.
Besides these achievements, the Legal Cell of the Commission has proposed amendments to a number of Acts and has proposed a number of new bills. The Commission has proposed amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 and the Indian Penal Code, 1960. The Commission has also proposed bills such as the Marriage Bill of 1994, the Domestic Violence to Women (Prevention) Bill of 1994 and the Prevention of Barbarous and Beastly cruelty against Women Bill, 1995 amongst others. Some of these bills, such as the Domestic Violence to Women (Prevention) Bill, have recently been passed. The Commission has also intervened in a number of court cases and these have been mentioned in the chapter dealing with the functions of the Commission.The Research Cell of the Commission has carried out a number of studies pertaining to topics such as social mobilisation, maintenance and divorcee women, women labour under contract, gender bias in judicial decisions, family courts, violence against women, women access to health and education in slums and similar topics. A number of inquiry commissions have also been established by the Commission, under Section 8 (1) of the Act of 1990, to look into matters such as Law and legislation, Political empowerment, Custodial justice for women, Social security, Panchayati Raj, Women and media, Development of Scheduled Tribe Women, Development of women of weaker sections, Development of women of minority communities, Transfer of technology in agriculture for development of women. Among other highlights are included the anti child marriage agitations in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Public hearings on problems of Muslim women, impact of globalization on women, on land related problems, economic empowerment of tribal women have been successfully organized by the have been organized by the Commission all over the country. Within the short span of fourteen years, the Commission has fulfilled managed to fulfill most of the responsibilities laid down in its mandate. The different public hearings, out reach programs, counseling and legal function have definitely improved conditions of the Indian woman.
Analysis And Shortcomings:
Analysis: From the previous chapters, it may be said that in the short period of fourteen years the Commission has managed to fulfill the mandate, if not completely then to a great extent. The achievements mentioned in the prior chapter are only a few of many similar achievements and they are proof of the popularity and support the Commission is gaining from the Indian woman. There is no doubt about the effectiveness of the Commission and about the good work which it is doing for the women of India, however, there are certain shortcomings in the working of the Commission, which, if rectified, would lead to a more efficient and productive Commission. The following are the shortcomings
• The Commission has no concrete legislative powers. It only has the powers to recommend amendments and submit reports which are not binding on state or Union Governments.
• The Commission does not have the power to select its own members. This power is vested with the Union Government and in India’s volatile political scenario the Commission may be politicized.
• The Commission is dependent on grants from the Union Government for its financial functioning and this could compromise the independence of the Commission.
• The Commission’s jurisdiction is not operative in Jammu and Kashmir and considering the present political unrest and human rights violations in the region, the Commission’s presence there is vital.
Suggestions And Concluding Statements:
The above mentioned causes have its both positives and negatives but every shortcomings has its own way out. To overcome the aforementioned shortcomings, it may be useful to incorporate the following suggestion:
• The Commission suggested that the chairperson of NCW be given the status of the Union Cabinet Minister and the Members that of Minister of State. This will put more power in the Commission’s hands and thus its recommendations will have a greater degree of force.
• The Commission must be granted the power to select its own members. If needed a separate body, selected from within the Commission, should be constituted in order to carry these functions.
• The Commission must be given allocated funds in the Union as well as the State Budgets in order facilitate smooth functioning. Currently funds are only allocated at the Central level and not the state level.
• The atrocities in Jammu and Kashmir are common knowledge. Taking these acts into account the Commission’s presence in the region is quite vital and should be allowed.
On this context we also have to see that how much the government implements the above mentioned clauses and suggestions. More over its not only the duty of the state but also it’s the duty of the citizens as a whole to look into if such miss conducts in out society is taking place or not. There should me more public awareness and participation for the women oppression so as make the work of the National Commission for Women more justifiable.
The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org