Having taken the first big step towards harsher punishment for juveniles accused of rapes, women & child development minister Maneka Gandhi has turned her attention to empowering women. Gandhi tells HT in an interview that little will change on ground unless women make up for 30% of the police force and politicians stop husbands of women sarpanches from running the show.
Do you think the Juvenile Justice Act, which proposes harsher punishment for juveniles in the 16-18 age bracket and accused of crimes like rape, will succeed in acting as a deterrent?
We are not saying they (juveniles) would be sent to court immediately. It is up to the Juvenile Justice Board to decide that… making a 16-year-old even go through the court process makes me very sad. It’s not that I regard it as a personal achievement; it is simply a response to the need of the hour. Even I agree this would just be 5% of the total rapes. We need to see what we can do about the other 95%.
At a time when rape cases have spiked in India and women have been left feeling vulnerable, how do you plan to empower them?
Make 30% of all police, women. End the vicious practice that has destroyed panchayati raj by making very weak women sarpanches… keeping them in the house in ghoonghat and making their husbands the unofficial bosses. We have even given these husbands a title: pradhanpati. MPs should stop making speeches in Parliament about violence against women and instead remove these pradhanpatis from the system. Get strong women elected as sarpanches.
You have proposed amendments to the National Commission for Women (NCW) Act to make it powerful like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). When are these coming up for cabinet approval?
The proposal is still with the law ministry. We are keen to give it NHRC-like status. I want NCW to be a place of last resort where women can go when their relatives or the police don’t listen to them. We have two lakh women who lodge complaints with the NCW but there must be at least two crore who are sitting because they don’t know what to do.