The Shiv Sena, well-known for its democratic traditions like breaking up courting couples on Valentine’s Day and attacking shops selling romantic accoutrements, now has a worthy rival. And it comes in the Victorian form of the Orissa State Women’s Commission (SWC) chairperson Namita Panda. The dear lady has found a novel way of celebrating International Wome-n’s Day on March 8. She has been selflessly prowling around parks in Bhubaneswar with the noble intention of conveying her concerns for the safety of girls who are ‘deceived by boyfriends’. She is disturbed by the fact that incidents of rape, unwed motherhood and trafficking of girls have increased in the state. And her answer is an attack on courting couples. Interestingly, Ms Panda’s crusading efforts are captured for posterity by the camera crew which accompanies her, also no doubt with the purpose of documenting aberrations in Indian culture and tradition.
Ms Panda’s antics bring to mind similar missions undertaken in the past by a chairperson of the National Women’s Commission (NCW). So worried was this repository of Indian samskara that she would pop up incognito at rave parties on Goa’s beaches and berate any unfortunate Indian girl who happened to be there. Her zeal extended to haranguing state officials who she felt were permitting this degradation of Indian values, never mind that the girls in question were there on their own volition. We can only assume from all this that the august women’s rights bodies have solved the various forms of discrimination against women in Indian society. Take the case of female foeticide that has now reached alarming proportions in many northern states. Do we see our women’s commission worthies berating the guilty in quite so vocal terms that they do hapless romantics? To their credit, they do document offences against women from time to time. But, as a former NCW member put it, such reports are filed away by the department concerned never to see the light of day again.
The fact that a body set up solely to look into women’s issues carries so little weight with successive governments should be a cause of concern for it and its counterparts in the states. The NCW should make a far greater fuss when its legitimate grievances on behalf of women are ignored. Human relationships, unless they are abusive in nature, do not fall within the jurisdiction of women’s commissions. They should stick to their role as the custodians of women’s rights, not of women’s morals.