Current Public Administration Magazine (June - 2016) - Women Empowerment: Sensitisation of Police, Judiciary and General Public

Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine

Social Development

Women Empowerment: Sensitisation of Police, Judiciary and General Public

The Preamble of the Constitution and guaranteed Fundamental Rights establish an egalitarian society with equal rights to all its citizens including women in all spheres. Many of the Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in the Constitution have direct bearing on the empowerment of women – considered fundamental in the governance of the country and the State is expected to apply these principles in making laws. Further, it is the Fundamental Duty of every citizen to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women. Fundamental Duties are, however, not enforceable, but provide beacon of light to the society. The Supreme Court has been interpreting constitutional provisions liberally in favour of women and have delivered many judgements to root out evils affecting the lives of women adversely. A landmark judgement of the Supreme Court has been in the Vishaka case.The sum and substance of the judgement is prevention of sexual harassment of women at government, public and private sector workplaces; proper enquiry into any such complaint and follow up action. Noticing tardy response and rather lackadaisical approach of the governments in the implementation of these guidelines, the Supreme Court further delivered judgements to reaffirm their earlier orders, ensure wide publicity and compliance. The Supreme Court also struck down provisions of Section 30 of the Punjab Excise Act, 1914 to ensure gender equality in matter of employment. In pursuance of the orders passed by the Supreme Court in the Vishaka case, the government has enacted The Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

The government has made the required changes in the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Evidence Act, by The Criminal Amendment Act, 2013, in accordance with the recommendations of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee. This Committee was constituted after the nation-wide furore over the gang rape, brutalisation and fatal injuries caused to a young woman in a moving bus in south Delhi in the evening of December 11, 2012. The Commission recommended amendments to the criminal law so as to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for the offenders accused of committing sexual assault against women. It made recommendations on laws related to rape, sexual harassment, trafficking, child abuse, medical examination of victims, police and educational reforms. Similarly, several other important laws have been framed/amended to protect the women from harassment, torture during married life and dowry deaths; prevention of domestic violence, commission of Sati, female infanticide, immoral traffic in women, child marriage, to give them maternity benefits and equal share in property.

The ground realities, however, show that discrimination and atrocities against women continue to be committed in their homes, workplaces and by the society, in general, due to the regressive mindset of a large majority of people—particularly in the rural areas and males with that kind of attitude migrating to urban areas. Dr. Kadambri Sharma mentions in her book that “a very strong gender bias is entrenched in the cultural heritage of Indian society. It is a society which idolizes sons, who are considered ritually and economically desirable. … The Indian women have been traditionally cast in the role of self sacrificer”. It is indeed puzzling and an enigma that on the one hand many women braving all the discriminations and other odds have succeeded in reaching top levels in political, administrative, medical, academic, corporate/ banking, sports and, to some extent, judicial fields. Mayawati and Mamta Banerjee are classical examples of this phenomenon. Both of them came from very humble background, and starting at the grassroots level became undisputed leaders of their political parties and chief ministers of large and important states. On the other hand, we are stunned to read reports of sexual exploitation of young girls by those at the highest echelons of their profession—including two retired judges of the Supreme Court, (earlier a Delhi High Court Judge, who had to resign on charges of sexual misdemeanour and corrupt practices in 2003) – the latest being the reported resignation of an additional district judge, Gwalior, because of her alleged sexual harassment by the administrative judge of the Jabalpur High Court; a minister each from Haryana and Rajasthan; former Director Generals of Police, Haryana (molestation of a 13 year-old-girl) and Punjab (misbehavior with a senior IAS woman officer having sexual overtones) – the latest being the alleged sexual exploitation of a female model in Mumbai by a DIG of Police; an all-powerful editor-in-chief of a well-known media channel, known for sting operations exposing high and mighty; a selfproclaimed septuagenarian godman with lakhs of followers and another self-proclaimed young godman operating in south India. It is indeed shocking to read gory details of –

(a) Rapes (including gang rapes), brutalisation (including acid throwing and mutilation of their private parts and even murder in some cases) of females of all age groups from two to over 80;
(b) Kidnapping/sale of young girls from Jharkhand and Assam; and their resale in U.P and Haryana through placement agencies;9
(c) Beating, torture and even keeping hungry many young girls working as domestic servants and at other workplaces like brick kilns;
(d) Pregnant women not being attended to even in government hospitals and delivering children at the doorsteps of these hospitals;
(e) Young girls being tortured and murdered by family members and others of ‘Khap Panchayat’ mentality for having married men of their choice; and
(f) Dowry deaths and torture of daughter-in-laws.

The Indian society is still riddled with evils, enumerated below, in large parts of the country – particularly rural areas and tribal areas in central and northern India (except hill areas):

(i) Female infanticide skewing gender ratio adversely;
(ii) Discrimination in –
(a) upbringing and education of sons and daughters;
(b) in employment, at workplaces and in payment of lower wages;
(iii) Inferior status assigned to women at home – particularly widows and daughter-in-laws and, sometimes, even elderly women;
(iv) Child marriage;
(v) Malnutrition – particularly of female infants and expectant and nursing mothers;
(vi) Misbehaviour and maltreatment at the hands of law enforcement agencies of the women and their failure to get justice;
(vii) Resistance of political class – particularly male leaders of regional political parties of U.P and Bihar against reservation of seats for women for election to the legislatures;
(viii) Poor representation of women in Parliament and state legislatures;
(ix) Hurdles in their election to Panchayati Raj Institutions (after 73rd amendment of the Constitution giving them 33 per cent reservation), and if elected, not being allowed to function – their power and authority being usurped by their male relatives or dominant members of higher castes – case studies given below; and
(x) Inherited regressive attitudes, values, institutions and practices of males towards women.

There is no doubt that there has been fall in morals, ethics and character in all walks of life. The policemen and members of the judiciary come from the same society and, many of them, carry the burden of these traits to their workplaces. The circumstances, which lead to deterioration need to be analysed properly and remedial steps taken to bring some order in our society – particularly with regard to treatment of women. We may refer to some of the important factors that lead to the abovementioned phenomenon. There is rapid urbanisation with migrant workmen of very young age (14-25) from the rural/semi-urban areas. They are neither properly educated nor do they have any skill for fruitful employment in cities. They are cut off from their moorings. Most of them are not married or not having their wives living with them. They are exposed to sexually explicit advertisements, pulp serials on television and equally abominable films and have easy access to porn material on their mobile phones. Such characters tend to give expression to their repressed sexual feelings at the first available opportunity. Such deleterious influences are affecting minds of young boys and girls in semi-urban areas and villages also—thanks to easy availability of mobile phones and television. These harmful influences affect the minds of growing children all the more—particularly in nuclear families, where parents are working. There is no family member to look after the children and inculcate moral values and ethics in them and they easily fall prey to evil influences. The pathetic state of atmosphere in most of the educational institutions – particularly outside big towns is well known.

The inherited regressive attitudes, values, institutions and practices of males towards women do play a very important role in keeping the women down – particularly in rural/semi-urban areas and males having that kind of mind set. This problem was examined by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution and has been dealt with: “Yet, one still waits for a cultural revolution that would uproot inherited attitudes, values, institutions, practices and postures, replacing them with values and attitudes relevant to modern, egalitarian society. Education has still to perform the role of dissolving the encrusted debris of birth sanctioned superiority and birth-based discrimination, deprivation and exploitation”. Speaking on the theme of creating a gender sensitive parliamentary environment, Barbara Prammer, Speaker of the National Council of the Republic of Austria, mentioned that “stereotyping of women has such deeply embedded religious, cultural and environmental roots, which is not a problem that can be eliminated overnight.Does the situation not sound similar to the root cause of the problem in our country?

Meira Kumar, the then Speaker, Lok Sabha observed: “global figures point to gross underrepresentation of women in politics. She, therefore, drew attention to the pressing need for affirmative action like reservation and gender quotas for facilitating women’s access to the decision-making bodies”. There are hardly 11 per cent women in the present Parliament. It was indeed a great step forward in empowering women when 33 per cent of the seats of the PRIs were reserved for them by the 73rd amendment to the Constitution in the year 1992. Commenting on the state of women elected to the PRIs, Prof. Anuradha Biswas observes that, “…there is need for appropriate training and education relating to different aspects in functioning of panchayats to make women conscious enough about their effective role and representation in the Panchayat Samiti … at the district or block level immediately following election … women representatives can play a vital role in the formulation and implementation of various women and child development programmes. … the women representatives and gram panchayat should have sufficient control over the primary education, primary health care and running the public distribution system”. Studies conducted about dalit women’s right to political participation (in PRIs) in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, a dalit leader observed: “being the majority, the dominant castes could not accept the idea of being under a low caste Dalit leader. So for namesake, they made me, a Dalit, the President. The dominant caste Vice-President and other dominant members took away all power and responsibilities ... Even the government officials do not care for us”.

Further, 37 per cent of the women presidents, reported direct obstructions while undertaking their panchayat responsibilities, driven primarily from dominant caste men… (there were) significant number of proxy presidents … whose role was entirely appropriated by others. The obstructions referred to by the women included: Being silenced or ignored; caste and sexually-based abuse; having bribes demanded of her: … harassment, threats, and assaults on the women or their family members. … Overall, the Indian law enforcement machinery and district administration repeatedly failed … to prevent and respond to obstructions … leaving dominant caste and male representatives free from accountability”. Kadambri Sharma has narrated almost similar experience in the working of PRIs in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. She refers to the blatant male chauvinism and the subjugation of a senior woman bureaucrat (Secretary to the Government who tried to be fair to the women’s cause – facing hostility and non-cooperation of a male secretary of another department) and that it “was a reflection of the gender oppression in the government machinery”.

While narrating post-training gains, she mentions that the process of selection (of beneficiaries) is more just and fair than before, and the programmes (anti-poverty) are run more effectively. Similarly, the delivery of basic services by the government has also improved. She also recounts experience of ASMIT, a resource centre based in Hyderabad, gained by running a field project in two slums in Hyderabad. “This Project had two-fold rationale. One was to organise and strengthen the women who constantly approached us for help in accessing resources like ration cards, pattas, caste certificates and school or hostel seats. They were unable to bear the violence in the family and harassment by the police, employers, etc. … As the circle grew, it seemed logical to build a Sangha and support the women in solving their own problems. … training includes a political awareness and voter education component that helps women assert their rights and make demands of the state and local bodies … health component, which makes women more aware of their rights vis-à-vis health care system … We hope we can wean them (adolescent girls) from the romantic pulp that is churned out in the media and prepare them for reality of life. ... Impact of training: … they started intervening in cases of wifebattering and helping each other with problems. They started reacting as a group and going to police station and other government offices…

They are questioning the corruption of leaders and goondas of their basti. …considering the resilience and resurgence of patriarchies we need to time our interventions so that they are not rejected outright”. She also narrates experience of Adhithi (NGO) about gender relations in inland fisheries in Bihar: … “To address gender specific constraints, a workshop was organised with fisherwomen and fishermen. The objective of the workshop was to raise awareness amongst the male as well as the women leaders themselves. Given that most of the participants were nonliterate – pictorial methodology was adopted... All the fishermen wanted to be born again as male and around 40 per cent of the fisherwomen openly said that they also wanted to be reborn male … both stated male/gender specific advantages for their male preference”. It is clear that change in the attitude of society towards women is going to be a long drawn out affair. It is however possible to change the scenario slowly by some concrete steps being taken by the society including political leaders, administrators, educationists, law enforcement agencies and the judiciary. The parents have got to give their quality time in the upbringing of their children and to keep them away from evil influences. The teaching of basic morals and ethics will have to be given due attention in the educational institutions. The women must be treated equally, given proper education to attain their potential and be made economically independent.

The household work done by women must be accorded due value. Ways and means should be found to ensure that women are able to contest election to the PRIs without any hindrance and, if elected, are allowed to discharge their responsibilities in a peaceful and dignified manner. This would be possible only if the district magistrates and other concerned officers keep a strict eye on the panchayat secretaries and other government functionaries. The women must be involved in the decision making process in all fields. The long pending Bill for reservation of 33 per cent seats in the legislatures must be passed without any further delay. An integrated media campaign projecting a positive image of both women and the girl child through electronic, print and films with the help of popular icons could be an important strategy.

The social activists could also play an important role in this regard. The deviant characters, who see women only as sex symbols, must be dealt with a heavy hand by the law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and the society, in general. The author had the occasion to examine and implement various initiatives for sensitisation of policemen with some authority – having served in the Indian Police Service for over 34 years including as chief of district police (SP/SSP) in six important districts in U.P and as chief of the state police in U.P and Manipur (DGP) for over five years. In this behalf, a detailed study of the problem was undertaken while serving as Chairman, Police Reforms Commission, U.P and recorded with views and facts for reforms in his book.

The general public including women come in contact with the policemen primarily at the police station and lower levels. Generally speaking, the main problems faced by the women are indifferent and rude behaviour of the policemen, their unhelpful attitude and reluctance to register crime on their complaints and lack of any promptitude on their part to redress their grievances. Most of them even demand bribe for taking any action. There are also large scale complaints of molestation of women by the policemen. In order to improve atmosphere at the police stations, the author had been able to persuade the government to sanction Mahila police stations at the headquarters of all the (then 14 Range headquarters.) to begin with – the first having been inaugurated by the Governor in Lucknow on August 15, 1993, in the presence of a large gathering of members of the judiciary, advocates, administrative service officers, women activists, educationists, school and college girls, journalists and policemen. Special cells to deal with the problems of women were to be started in the remaining districts. A special cell to oversee these arrangements was established at the headquarters of the state CID under the charge of an able woman SP. The main idea of starting these police stations was to provide a friendly place, where women, in distress, could lodge their complaints freely. Specialists for legal, psychological and medical help to such women were to be associated with these police stations. The police stations were to be manned entirely by specially selected policewomen, who were trained by the specialists and senior police officers to handle the women in distress sympathetically and to attend to their problems expeditiously.

The main causes of this sorry state of affairs are the colonial mind-set of most of the policemen; their corrupt practices; almost complete stranglehold of the political leaders over the functioning of the police; nexus between the policemen, criminals and the unscrupulous politicians; and lack of proper supervision and control by the supervisory officers. It is well known that political leaders are not prepared to loosen their grip over the police despite recommendations of various Commissions and even orders of the Supreme Court. There can be no improvement unless the police is allowed to function in an objective manner (of course with accountability) and the command and control of the supervisory officers is restored. The supervisory officers should ensure that the policemen perform their basic functions of having rapport with the community, collection of intelligence from the grassroots level, effective measures to prevent commission of crime, registration of crime, prompt response and reaction and to shed their colonial mindset of using strong arm methods with all and sundry.

There has to be a separate wing for the investigation of crimes and manned by well-educated and properly trained officers—equipped with the modern gadgets. The judiciary is the last resort of members of society including women, in distress, for redressal of their grievances. There is no doubt that the judiciary has acquitted itself creditably in providing succour to the distressed persons. The manner in which the Supreme Court has been enforcing and expanding rights of the women is indeed commendable. Certain aberrations like involvement of some top most members of the judiciary in alleged sexual molestation of women have been mentioned above. There appears to be need for an effective in-house mechanism in the judiciary to prevent such incidents, and, in case of any such report, for prompt enquiry and action. There have been instances when insensitive remarks were made in the judgements about the character and background of victims of rape and other sexual crimes and rather misplaced lenience shown for the accused. The Supreme Court has taken due note of many such instances, but there is need to eliminate such objectionable remarks.

Questions have been raised by top most jurists, political leaders and some other high ranking people about the manner of appointment of judges to the High Courts and the Supreme Court by the collegium system.
They have advocated change on the ground of the present system being opaque and many undeserving persons having been made judges. It appears essential to ensure that only judges and advocates of proven ability, integrity and character are appointed to the highest judiciary in a transparent manner. The Lok Sabha has passed Bill to establish a National Judicial Appointments Committee (NJAC) to replace the collegium system on August 13, 2014. The House also passed the Constitutional Amendment Bill to give constitutional status to the NJAC on the same day. There is further need to establish effective system to ensure accountability of Judges of these courts.

Long delays in the present system need continuous attention to make delivery of justice quicker. Kadambari Sharma brings out that the modern educated woman wants to work because she is no longer satisfied with her role as housewife. There can be no dispute about this proposition. K. Vijaya, however, rightly draws attention to “immutable biological factors such as pregnancy, birth, inability to pursue arduous physical tasks … a clear-cut division of labour comes into existence … In some cases women themselves accept the housework as their most important duty and give lesser priorities to their career orientation”. Kadambari Sharma rightly says “that the status of woman is closely linked to their participation in decision making … For improving the status of women, girls should be educated and trained to fight against atrocities, harassment and murderous attempts rather than accepting these quietly.” In this regard, the popular UNESCO slogan: “educate a man and you educate an individual; educate a woman and you educate a family” sounds appropriate. We must create conditions to ensure economic independence of the women and generate awareness amongst them about their rights. Women’s organisations can help in improving the status of women.

The society must help them to attain their potential in all walks of life and to lead life with dignity and self-respect in their homes, educational institutions, workplaces and other public places including public transport. By ensuring this, future of the young children, who primarily need their care and nurturing, will also be secured. It has to be emphasised that unless the deep-rooted gender bias is removed from our society, social problems will continue to adversely affect women.

(Source- V.P. KAPUR @ IIPA Journal)

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