People came out in droves to relive the horrors of December 16, 2012, and mourn the loss of the young girl who fought the men who raped her in a moving bus in the Capital. On such an occasion, one may be forgiven for having expected the participation of the National Commission for Women (NCW) in remembering the victim. In fact, one would have imagined that when the incident happened in 2012, the NCW would have taken the lead in formulating proposals to amend the law to curb sexual violence against women.
But the NCW’s presence was barely felt. It was the Justice JS Verma Commission which did a magnificent job of changing the gender discourse.
If the NCW cannot come forward and weigh in on the side of women after such a crime, we have to wonder what use it is for women. It is meant to look into unjust laws and force changes for the better on gender issues. But in the past many years, we have seen the NCW headed by political appointees who do not seem to have any great interest in gender justice.
In fact, often the NCW has done more harm than good to women in this country. A former NCW chairperson was vocal against rave parties in Goa on the ground that they were alien to our culture. Another informed us that being called sexy by a man should be taken as a compliment, an astounding piece of advice given the sexual violence against women in the country.
The issues that women confront daily have hardly ever been taken up by the NCW, and if it has done so, it has been largely ineffective. Many women live in fear of early and forced marriages, of abuse within the home, of having to bear children early or have too many children without healthcare, of growing old and being abandoned, of social strictures from khap panchayats, of violence from men on the street, the list goes on.
These are just some of the issues that the NCW should be tackling. It should be run by women who have worked in the field and who are conversant with the problems that women face. Today, the NCW seems to have become a toothless and redundant body, thanks largely to its composition. This is a disservice to the women of India. Today more than ever, they need an effective institutional mechanism to make their voices heard and help them along the path to justice.