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Revisiting Women’s Commissions: Challenges and Opportunities

An analysis of the efficacy and potential improvements in the functioning of women’s commissions in India.

The Purpose and Expectations

Women’s commissions in India were established with the aim of addressing women’s issues at the national and state levels. However, a critical evaluation of their working and responses to women’s concerns is overdue. The recent cases of molestation and rape in Manipur have brought the effectiveness of these commissions into focus, highlighting the need for a similar review of Human Rights Commissions.

The Role of Women’s Commissions

The National Commission for Women, established in 1992, and state commissions are expected to consist of individuals with expertise in various fields, committed to women’s development and protection. They are mandated to investigate and examine all matters related to women’s safeguards under the Constitution and other laws, and address complaints and non-implementation of laws for women’s protection.

The Manipur Saga: A Cruel Disregard

The handling of complaints in Manipur raises concerns about the efficiency of women’s commissions. The large number of forwarded complaints and lack of timely action point to potential shortcomings.

Field Visits: Balancing Workload and Impact

While field visits can be burdensome for law enforcement agencies, they play a crucial role in understanding ground realities and empathizing with citizens’ suffering. A purposeful visit can have a positive impact on providing aid to women in distress.

The Issue of Toothless Tigers

Women’s commissions have faced criticism for being overly focused on paperwork and lacking adequate field visits. This raises questions about their effectiveness and their ability to prioritize real-life situations over administrative work.

Political Appointments: A Challenge to Independence

Political appointments in women’s commissions can lead to a lack of independence, making them cautious about criticizing the government and overenthusiastic about issues in states ruled by the Opposition. Such appointments compromise their effectiveness and mandate.

Towards Purposeful Appointments

To enhance the efficacy of women’s commissions, advertising posts of chairpersons and members and selecting them through a committee consisting of representatives from the Opposition, Supreme Court judges, civil society organizations, and the ruling party can help in making unbiased and competent appointments.

Promoting Accountability through Social Audit

Regular social audits conducted by external agencies can provide citizens with insights into the functioning of women’s commissions, ensuring transparency, and accountability in their operations.

Embracing Reality: Empathy for Women in Distress

Women’s commission members need to move beyond their air-conditioned chambers and engage with the realities of India, understanding the challenges faced by women on the ground.

Conclusion: Answering the Call

In the context of sexual assault cases in Manipur, women’s commission members are urged to reflect on the powerful words of poet Amrita Pritam, adapting her words to their context:

“Ajj aakhan Waris Shah nu, kitthon kabraan wicchon bol/

Te ajj kitab-e-ishq da, koi agla varka phol/

Ik roi si dhi Punjab di, tu likh-likh mare vain/

Ajj lakhan dhiyan rondiyan, tainu waris shah nu kain ‘uth’…

Today I say to Waris Shah, speak from your grave, and open a new page of the book of love. You had written the whole saga on the crying of only one daughter (Heer) of Punjab. See, today, millions of crying daughters of Punjab are calling you, ‘rise’!”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What is the role of women’s commissions in India? Women’s commissions are responsible for addressing women’s issues at the national and state levels, investigating matters related to women’s safeguards, and responding to complaints.
  2. What are the challenges faced by women’s commissions? Women’s commissions face challenges such as excessive paperwork, limited field visits, and political appointments that may compromise their independence.
  3. How can the effectiveness of women’s commissions be improved? Improving field visits, promoting unbiased and competent appointments, and conducting regular social audits can enhance the effectiveness and accountability of women’s commissions.
  4. What is the impact of political appointments in women’s commissions? Political appointments may lead to cautiousness in criticizing the government and overenthusiasm in issues related to Opposition-ruled states, affecting the commissions’ independence and mandate.
  5. How can women’s commission members empathize with women in distress? By engaging with the realities of India and understanding the challenges faced by women on the ground, women’s commission members can better empathize with those in distress.
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