Rajyasree Sen used to run the restaurant Brown Sahib in New Delhi and is a foodie. Much of her time is devoted to writing on pop culture and TV. She also maintains a blog foodforthoughtindia. blogspot.com, where you can order some delicious food from her catering outfit. And we can’t believe we’re plugging her catering business on a news site. Who approved this copy?
National Commission For Women
You think it’s an extreme statement to say that women and girl children aren’t safe in India? Well India’s far from the safest country for women on the globe, but our government in its wisdom and after assessing the lay of the land did set up the National Commission of Women in 1992. So, the government does make the right noises about trying to protect women. Always trooping in the NCW when any crime against women catches the media glare.
Hmmm, so what does this National Commission of Women do? It’s a statutory body which is supposed 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. Basically give a voice to women’s issues.
That sounds like a lot of jargon and high falutin hot air. Anything concrete that they’ve done till now? According to its website, the NCW’s received a large number of complaints and acted suo moto in several cases to provide speedy justice. It’s taken up the issue of child marriage, sponsored legal awareness programmes, Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalats and reviewed laws such as Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, PNDT Act 1994, Indian Penal Code 1860 and the National Commission for Women Act, 1990 to make them more stringent and effective. It also organises workshops/consultations and sets up expert committees on various women’s issues.
So they’re basically the protectors of the fairer sex in India? We’d like to think so, but more often than not, the NCW seems to have put their foot in it and made matters worse for women.
See, the biggest problem with the NCW is that it’s an organisation run by politicians. Rumour has it that if you haven’t managed to really show your political chops but have done the time, then the NCW post is handed to you on a silver platter. Much like a wooden spoon. The bottom-line being that you don’t need to have any special qualifications to head the NCW. The last three chairpersons have all been members of the Congress. Alka Lamba was General Secretary of Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) and is still listed as secretary of the AICC http://aicc.org.in/new/alka-lamba.php. Mamta Sharma, the current chairperson of NCW, was an active politician with the Congress.
None of them have any training in urban or rural health, or family and child welfare, or gender studies. Nothing relevant to the position they hold. They were simply in the right party at the right time. And now they’re in. Ready to save India and its women from all its ills.
That’s a little harsh. I’m sure they’ve done some good work. Well, if you go by their website the only things they seem to have been busy with are attending seminars, or getting international groups to attend their seminars. (http://ncw.nic.in/frmHighlightsNEW.aspx) And also instead of tabling reports, they prefer organising press conferences to announce their findings during investigations. Which makes you wonder why they don’t stick to their core strength of organising seminars and press conferences, instead of adding to the woes of the women they’re sent in to protect.
Woah, what’s with the venom? Well, maybe it’s because last week during one of the few moments when the NCW had stepped out in full force, Alka Lamba, the NCW representative (who immediately backtracked and claimed that she was actually only part of the investigating team – as if that makes any difference) announced the name of the Guwahati molestation victim at a press conference.
Isn’t that illegal? It certainly is. There’s a Supreme Court directive against naming victims of crimes against women. But maybe the NCW is above or unaware of the law, much like the people they’re supposedly protecting these women from.
So what did this Alka Lamba have to say for herself? Nothing, other than that she wasn’t sorry and that she had only mentioned the name because it was anyway out in the public domain. With protectors like this, who needs enemies?
After there was much hue and cry over her ridiculous behaviour, she was removed from the NCW panel on July 16th. Not surprisingly, she still remains a member of the NCW.
Talk about a subdued reaction to an absolutely unpardonable action.
So the NCW must be quite unnerved by this sudden controversy they find themselves in? Far from it. Not to be left behind by Alka Lamba, the NCW chairperson Mamta Sharma decided to put her misogynistic leanings on display by making a statement that women should be “careful about the way they dress because such incidents are a result of blindly aping the West. Aping the West blindly is eroding our culture and causing such crimes to happen”.
After all, why try and address the issue, when you can just fob off all blame on the victim.
What? Don’t be surprised. This is actually par for the course for the NCW. They’ve specialised in insulting women over the years.
In December 2006, the NCW insisted that adulterous wives must not be equally prosecutable by their husbands – as was intended under the revision of section 497 of the IPC.
Well, that’s standing up for women. Don’t be flippant. If you want to live in an equal world, you have to be judged by equal measures. And how can it help to portray women as perpetual victims. One of the four grounds on which the NCW rejected the revision was that “women should not be punished for adultery as she is the victim and not an offender in such cases.” Explain that to the husband who’s been cuckolded.
So that’s one occasion and it can’t really be counted as an example of NCW’s insensitivity to women. It’s actually misplaced logic which, agreed, makes women sound pathetic. Yes it’s not the brightest comment, but then they seem to specialise in these foot-in-mouth moments. The 2006 incident was not the last.
Really? In January 2009, there was an attack by 40 members of the Sri Ram Sena Hindu on eight women in a Mangalore pub. The women were brutally attacked, hit, punched and thrown out of the pub. All this for acting “immorally”.
Once again, the NCW forces trooped in to assess the situation, this time led by NCW member Nirmala Venkatesh. Who then gave an interview that while the pub did not have adequate security, the women should have protected themselves. Nirmala Venkatesh even went on to say, “If the girls feel they were not doing anything wrong why are they afraid to come forward and give a statement?”
Then after some public outrage, on February 6, 2009 the NCW said they would not accept Venkatesh’s report and would send a new team to Mangalore. The PMO then approved her removal on disciplinary grounds.
So the NCW basically steps in when these kinds of crimes take place against women? Oh no, they make their presence felt and display their propensity for verbal diarrhoea at other moments as well.
In fact, this year in February, the NCW chairperson Mamta Sharma at a function in Jaipur – for no rational reason – said that the word “sexy” should not be taken in a negative context because “boys pass comments on girls terming them sexy but sexy means beautiful and charming. We should not see it in negative sense”. A little less focus on lingo and a little more on getting the NWC in shape would have held her in better stead.
As usual, the NCW’s words deviated attention from the issue – which was the objectification of women. As Brinda Karat rightly said, “Focus on a particular word is misplaced. Any word that is unsolicited or unwanted, which is about, on or to a woman, is an offence. That is the real issue, not just the word”. http://www.indianexpress.com/news/ncw-chief-slammed-for-sexy-remark-activists-demand-she-quit/916953/
So getting back to Alka Lamba, will the same fate as Nirmala Venkatesh await her? Seems so. But that’s hardly a solution to the lack of sensitivity, competence and seemingly low IQ displayed by those the NCW chooses to lead their investigation teams. Everyone will forget about the victim whose privacy has been repeatedly violated – by the molesters, then by the media and now by the NCW.
And much like the sacked Venkatesh, once the dust settles, maybe BJP will ask Alka Lamba to join them too.
Don’t ask: The NCW any questions. As you’ve seen, the NCW should not be encouraged to speak.
Do ask: For an investigation into how qualified each and every member of the NCW is, and what funds go into the NCW and what work actually takes place. For once, the nation really deserves to know.
Image Source: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/ronipothead/4383416653/]