NCW Response to Hathras Rape Registers ‘Slow Death’ of Women Bodies
Open letter to the media
Today it is 30 years since NCW National Commission of Women Act was passed in 1990 and the first Commission was constituted in 1992. Jayanti Patnaik was its first Chairperson.
In the decade of the nineties, NCW was a force to reckon with. Its two point agenda was to make systemic changes in laws and policies to empower women and to fight tooth and nail wherever women were violated, regardless of which political dispensation ruled the centre or states. Its eye was blind to imperatives of power. By law it had power of a Civil Court which it used to the hilt by summoning Ministers, Secretaries, Corporates, without any deference or concession.
In June 1997 then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Mulayam Singh was summoned by the Commission when Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, then in official opposition, complained in writing to the PM and NCW about him using abusive language against her. His words are on record in media archives. Mulayam Singh sent his closest aide Amar Singh to depose before the full Commission. After the hearing was complete, Amar Singh apologised on behalf of the CM which the Commission forwarded to Mayawati Ji.
In 1998, when BJP RSS and Shiv Sena goons assaulted Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das and vandalised the sets of Deepa Mehta's film Fire in Varanasi, NCW took cognisance of their complaint and summoned the hooligans.
In 1996 at a function in Vigyan Bhavan presided over by the PM Deve Gowda Chairperson NCW expressed her anguish at NCW, a statutory body, being dictated by a Ministry of the Government of India. At the time MOS i/c WCD was B S Ramoowalia. Taking out her resignation letter she announced that the entire Commission would resign unless it was given its due dignity as a statutory body. Later the Minister of State apologised and assured the Commission of respecting its legal status.
The Chairman Prasar Bharati was summoned before the Commission on complaint of Doordarshan women News Readers that they were being discriminated against on account of their looks and age. Such anecdotes, numerous as they are, exist on record for anyone to examine.
Today what we are seeing is the slow death of Women's Commissions, bodies which were created by hard work of mentors like Promila Dandvate, Vimla Farooqui, Susheela Gopalan,Geeta Mukerjee, Margret Alva, Vina Mazumdar, Renuka Chowdhary and many others. Recent role or non-role of NCW and SWC in the heinous Hathras incident proves the point.
What did the Chairpersons of NCW do when the girl child was gang raped and killed (like Nirbhaya in 2010) in what is being globally described as the worst incident in recent history of Violence Against Women (VAW)?
Chairperson of NCW, on hearing that Amit Malviya of BJP IT cell had tweeted a photo of the girl, an act punishable by law, declared it "Unfortunate and illegal" adding that she will 'speak to UP CM and take the matter to its logical end'.
Chair of UP SWC called the assault 'Definitely objectionable'.
Their effete statements hang limp in the vitiated air of power corridors. While people from political parties and civil society groups went to condole and offer solidarity to the bereaved family, these apex bodies for women with statutory powers spoke measured words from the comfort of their official houses.
The latest NCRB gives some startling numbers. In India, every 30 hours a woman is gang raped and murdered. Every 2 hours there is attempted or actual rape. Every 6 minutes there is assault with rape intent.
This is India at the end of the second decade of the 21st century. Statutory bodies for women maintain studied silence !
Mohini Giri ia former Chairperson of the National Commission of Women.Padma Seth and Syeda Hameed are former NCW members.