Current General Studies Magazine: "General Studies - I (Social Issue Based Article)" August 2014

Current General Studies Magazine (August 2014)

Social Issue based

The response of the National Commission for Women (ncw) to the public molestation of a young girl in Guwahati on 12 July 2012 left women organisations and activists all over the country enraged over the manner of functioning of the ncw as well as the role of persons occupying impor­tant positions within the commission. The case once again brought to the centre stage the issues of composition and functioning of an apex institution like the ncw that is expected to address the issues of gender inequities and injustices and stand strongly by women victims of state and non-state violence.

It is also expected that while demanding redressal for women, the commission takes cognisance of substantive issues at hand, thereby asking questions of accountability in such cases of vio­lence. Many women activists and organisations have written to the chairperson of United Progressive Alliance (upa) govern­ment in the context of the conduct of the commission over suc­cessive years, highlighting the manner in which the ncw has ob­scured systemic injustices to women, trivialised their violations, and reduced the dignity of the institution indicating an institu­tional collapse of this national body. Citing many cases, the women’s organisations have asked in their letter to safeguard the political autonomy of this nodal women’s “rights institution by replacing the current nomination system with a transparent, democratic and non-partisan selection process for members and chairperson of the commission, undertake a comprehensive review of the performance of the commission and replace it with an immediate effect the current chairperson of the ncw.1

The issues that the Guwahati case has thrown up and the subsequent demands made by the women’s groups have been the core areas of tension between the women’s organisations and the central government both before and after the ncw came into being. The issues mainly relate to the composition, autonomy and functioning of the commission as an apex body entrusted with the tasks of monitoring the state and its agen­cies on women’s issues and investigating and redressing the complaints of women.

The need for an autonomous watchdog institution was first voiced in the Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India (cswi) 1974 that raised the issue of continued subordi­nation of women in society resulting from the working of state institutions, laws and development policies. It noted that the processes of development had adversely affected women by leaving them out of “both the discourse and practice”, result­ing in their decreased work participation rates and share of employment, along with evidence of gender gaps in virtually every sector.2 The report also raised issues of inadequate and biased redressal mechanisms in cases of widespread though unrecognised and invisible violence against women in both private and public spheres. It recommended creating apex bodies at the national and state levels to collect information from different government agencies, evaluate existing policies, programmes and laws and recommend to Parliament or the state legislature new laws, policies and programmes and also intervene in cases of actual violations of laws. The report asked for two things: one that the state set-up follow-up mechanisms and processes that incorporated women’s perspectives and con­cerns in its policies and structures, and two, the establishment of a single agency, a statutory and autonomous commission that could coordinate and examine these measures, provide expert advice on methods of implementation and monitor state institutions to ensure equality between women and men and full integration of women in all sections of life.

As a follow-up to the cswi recommendations, the state created a number of new mechanisms to look into issues con­cerning women like the Women’s Welfare and Development Bureau (1976) and a National Committee on Women with the prime minister as the chairperson and similar committees at the level of states. In 1985, a separate Department of Women and Child Development (dwcd) was established (upgraded to ministry since 2005) followed by a number of special structures for women such as a women’s division in the National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (nipccd), cells in various ministries, women’s directorates in states, and sepa­rate institutions for economic advancement of women (like the women’s development corporations, Rashtriya Mahila Kosh). The creation of a national commission for women was not taken up.
Over time, experience with these new initiatives by the state pointed showed that the institutional autonomy and the ability of this new machinery to function in a collective, coordinated and cohesive manner continued to be areas of tension and an uneasy relationship existed between women’s movements and the state over the issue of their performance.3 In 1988, the Re­port of the National Commission on Self-Employed Women and Women in the Informal Sector, which made a comprehensive study of the working conditions of women in the self-employed and informal sector in the country pointed out the extremely vulnerable position of women labour and the repressive nature of the state in its day-to-day dealings with poor women.


  1. Do you think that NCW is empowered enough to tackle and promote women empowerment?

  2. Guwahati case is a living example of our society’s attitude towards women, elucidate.

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