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Statutory Institutions/Commissions: National Commission for Women

It is well recognized that Indian women are not treated well even at home or while at work. The matter has all along been stressed inside and outside the parliament by Parliamentarians, by common men, by organizations and societies for the wellbeing of the women. Several, commissions had been setup by the government to look into the matter of states of women in the Indian society.

The norm of gender equality is protected in the Indian Constitution. The Preamble, promotes “Equality of status and of opportunity”; the Fundamental Rights enshrined in Part III of the Indian Constitution and Directive Principles enshrined in Part IV of the Constitution all promote gender equality. The Constitution not only allows equality to women but has also made special provisions for safeguarding equality. Thus, according to the recommendations of the CSWI and in order to sustain the mandate of the Constitution, in January 1992, the National Commission for Women (NCW), was set up as a statutory body under the National Commission for Women Act, 1990 (Act No. 20 of 1990 of Government of India) to perform the mandate set by the Act as well as CSWI.

The National Commission for Women (NCW) is generally concerned with advising the government on all policy matters affecting women. The first head of the commission was Jayanti Patnaik. On 29 September 2014, Lalitha Kumaramangalam was appointed as Chairperson.

The objective of the National Commission for Women is to denote the rights of women in India and to raise voice for their issues and concerns. Major issues of their campaigns have included dowry, politics, religion, equal representation for women in jobs, and the exploitation of women for labour. They have also conversed police abuses against women.

The commission regularly publishes a monthly newsletter, Rashtra Mahila in both Hindi and English.

Significance of Importance of the Commission:

Women are visualized as a weak entity in Indian society. They do not fall in minority group as well as they are not regarded as a backward class. India has conventionally been a male-controlled society and therefore women have always undergone from social handicaps and disabilities. It became necessary to take certain ameliorative steps in order to improve the condition of women in the traditionally male dominated society. The Constitution does not contain any provision precisely made to favour women as such. Though Art. 15 (3), Art. 21 and Art. 14 are in favour of women; they are more general in nature and provide for making any special provisions for women, while they are not in themselves having such provisions. The Supreme Court through interpretive processes has tried to extend some protections to women. Through judgments in cases such as Bodhisattwa Gautam v. Subra Chakraborty ( AIR 1996 SC 922) and the Chairman Rly Board v. Chandrima Das( AIR 2000 SC 988) case, where rape was declared a monstrous crime, as well as the breakthrough judgment in Visakha v. State of Rajasthan, (AIR 1997 SC 3011). The courts have tried to improve the social conditions of Indian women. But these have barely served to improve the position of women in India. Therefore, in these conditions, the Committee on the Status of Woman (India) as well as a number of NGOs, social workers and experts, who were consulted by the Government in 1990, recommended the establishment of an apex body for woman.

The absence of constitutional mechanism, judicial capability and social interest formed the motivation and need for the creation of the National Commission for Women. It is apparent from the prior mentioned conditions and problems that women in India, though in a better position than their ancestors, were handicapped to a great extent in the early 1990s and these handicaps and prejudices against Indian women prompted the Indian Government to establish the first National Commission for Women in 1992.

The Constitution of the Commission:

The National Commission for Women Act, 1990 (Act No. 20 of 1990 of Government of India) established the National Commission for Women as a statutory body. The first commission was founded on 31st January 1992 and appointed Mrs. Jayanti Patnaik as the Chairperson.

The Act of 1990 under Section 3 provides for the constitution of the commission. This section lays down that the commission will have one Chairperson, who is committed to the cause of women, five members from numerous fields and a member secretary who shall be an adept in the fields of management, organizational structure, sociological movement or a, member of the civil service of the Union. All the members of the commission are nominated by the Central Government.

The tenure for each person in office is for a period of five years or till he attains the age of seventy. At least one member each of the Commission must belong to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe. In addition to the aforementioned members of the Commission, the Commission has the power to set up committees with members from outside the Commission.

Table: List of chairpersons in the National Commission for Women

No. Name From To
1 Jayanti Patnaik 3 Feb 1992 30 Jan 1995
2 Dr V Mohini Giri 21 July 1995 20 July 1998
3 Vibha Parthasarathi 18 Jan 1999 17 Jan 2002
4 Dr Poornima Advani 25 Jan 2002 24 Jan 2005
5 Dr Girija Vyas 16 Feb 2005 15 Feb 2008
6 Dr Girija Vyas 9 April 2008 8 April 2011
7 Mamta Sharma 2 Aug 2011 1 Aug 2014
8 Lalitha Kumaramangalam 29 Sept 2014 (Present)

The Mandate of the Commission:

Section 10(1) of the Act of 1990 provides a fourteen-point directive for the National Commission for Women. A general synopsis of the mandate has been provided.

In general, the Commission’s mandate can be divided under four heads

  • Safeguard of rights of women granted by the constitution and laws.
  • Study problems faced by women in the current day and make recommendations to eradicate these problems.
  • Evaluating the status of Indian women from time to time.
  • Funding and fighting cases related to women’s rights violations.

Safeguard Rights of Women:

These are preserved in sub clauses (a) – (e) of Section 10 (1) of the Act. They expect the Commission to scrutinize the protections for women provided by the law and the Constitution. The Commission is to submit reports about these safeguards and make recommendations about the implementation of the same. The Commission is also expected to review these safeguards intermittently to identify and remedy any gaps and inadequacies. The Commission is also empowered to take up cases involving the violation of the cases.

Study of problems faced by women:

These are mainly protected in sub clauses (g) – (i) of Section 10 (1) of the Act. According to these sub clauses, the Commission is to conduct studies for the problems related to discrimination against woman and provide remedies for these problems. As per this part of the mandate, the Commission is also expected to advise the government about the socio- economic development of women based on these studies.

Evaluating status of Indian women:

Sub clauses (j) – (n) of this section of the Act deals with these responsibilities of the Commission. The Commission has the responsibilities to evaluate the status of Indian women under the Union Government and State Governments. It is to review and evaluate the conditions of detention homes and other such facilities in which women may be detained and deal with the appropriate authorities in order to improve the condition of such places. These evaluations are to be submitted to the Government through periodic reports and recommendations. Fighting cases associated with women’s rights violation: certain clauses in the mandate also empower the Commission to take up cases related to discrimination against women, women’s right violation and fund cases which involve the rights of a large number of women. Sub clause (f) of Section 3 of the Act of 1990 authorizes the Commission to take suo moto notice of matters relating to women’s right deprivation, non-implementation of laws enacted to protect women and non-compliance of policies and guidelines for mitigating sufferings of women, in such matters the Commission is authorized to approach the appropriate authorities and try to find cures.

Powers of commission:

The Commission shall, while examining any matter referred to in clause (a) or sub-clause(I) of clause(f) of sub-section (1), have all the powers of a civil court trying a suit and, in particular in respect of the following matters:

  1. Summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person from any part of India and examining him on oath.
  2. Requiring the discovery and production of any document.
  3. Receiving evidence on affidavits.
  4. Requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office.
  5. Issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses and documents.
  6. Any other matter which may be prescribed.

Functions of the Commission:

It is well observed that in Indian society there is increased violence and discrimination against women multi-layered in nature therefore the Commission has adopted a multipronged strategy to fight the problem. This strategy is generally divided into three categories:

  • The counselling
  • The legal
  • The research functions of the Commission

Complaint and Counselling Functions:

The central unit of the Commission is considered to be the Complaint and Counselling Cell and it processes the complaints received oral, written or suo moto under Section 10 of the NCW Act. The complaints received related to domestic violence, harassment, dowry, torture, desertion, bigamy, rape and refusal to register FIR, cruelty by husband, derivation, gender discrimination and sexual harassment at work place. During 1999, the Commission received 4329 complaints related to the above types of crimes against women.

This cell implements a three-point method to deal with above problems:

  • Investigations by the police are expedited and monitored.
  • Family disputes are resolved or compromised through counselling.

In case of grim crimes, the Commission establishes an Inquiry Committee, which makes spot enquiries, examines various witnesses, collects evidence and submits the report with recommendations. Such inquiries help in providing immediate relief and justice to the victims of violence and atrocities. The implementation of the report is watched by the national commission of women. There is a provision for having experts/lawyers on these committees.

Numerous inquiry committees have been set up over many years in order to combat many serious problems.

Legal Functions:

The Commission’s mandate is related to legal research for protections of women, legal interventions, recommendations on bills and similar matters relating to the legal system of India. The legal cell of the Commission was established in order to tackle these functions.

The activities of this cell can be divided into three categories:

  • Legal amendments proposed
  • New laws and bills proposed
  • Court interventions

Legal Amendments: The Commission’s mandate requires that it analyse and advance existing laws from time to time. The Commission has proposed numerous amendments till date. The commission has sought to amend the Indian Penal Code, 1860 in order to curb the sale of minor girls; the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, in order to omit epilepsy as grounds for divorce; the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, in order to bring the problems of Dowry deaths in to the lime light and deal with them properly and the NCW Act, 1990, in order to gain greater autonomy and jurisdiction within the country. Additionally, there are a number of other Acts and Bills, which the Commission has sought to, amend.

News Bills Proposed: In tenure of one decade, the Commission has proposed a total of seven bills and has drafted one convention for SAARC relating to trafficking of women and children. Amongst other bills the Commission proposed the Marriage Bill, 1994; the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 1994 (with reference to child rape); the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 1996 and the Domestic Violence to Women (Prevention) bill, 1994. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Bill was passed in 2005.

Court Intervention: The Commission has intruded in numerous court cases, in order to help women whose rights have been dishonoured. The Commission intervened in Bhateri gang rape case and supported the victim and provided for her protection. In the Maimon Baskari's Nuh case the Commission fought for the right of the victim to marry a person of her own choice and against out dated customs. In the matter of Fakhruddin Mubarak Shaik v. Jaitunbi Mubarak Shaik the Commission intervened to seek maintenance beyond the iddat period for Muslim women. The Commission was also partly responsible the actions taken in the Imrana and Marine Drive rape cases.

According to Section 10 of the National Commission for Women Act, 1990, the National Commission for Women shall perform all or any of the following functions:

  1. Investigation and Examination: Investigate and examine all matters relating to the protections provided for women under the Constitution of India, 1950 and other laws.
  2. Presentation of Reports: Present reports to the Central Government, yearly and at such other times as the Commission may deem fit, reporting upon the working of those safeguards.
  3. Recommendations: Make in such reports recommendations for the effective implementation of those safeguards for improving the status of women by the Union or any State.
  4. Review: With short interval, there is necessity to review the existing provisions of the Constitution of India, 1950 and other laws affecting women and recommend amendments thereto so as to suggest remedial legislative measures to meet any lacunae, inadequacies or shortcomings in such legislations.
  5. Taking up of cases of Violation: Take up the cases of violation of the provisions of the Constitution of India, 1950 and of other laws relating to women with the appropriate authorities.
  6. Suo Motu Notice: Commission looks into complaints, and take suo motu notice of matters relating to women exploitation.
  7. Women's Rights: If there is deprivation of women's rights, commission enact to provide protection to women and also to achieve the objective of equality and development.
  8. Policy Decisions: Commission discuss non-compliance of policy decisions, guidelines or instructions to mitigate hardships and ensuring welfare and providing relief to women and take up the issue emerge from such matters with appropriate authorities.
  9. Special Studies and Investigation: Commission call for special studies or investigation into specific problems or situation arising out of discrimination and atrocities against women and identify the constraints so as to recommend strategies for their removal.
  10. Promotional Research: Undertake promotional research so as to suggest ways of ensuring due representations of women in all spheres and identify factors responsible for impeding their advancement.
  11. Participation in Planning: Commission participate and advise on the planning process of socio-economic development of women.
  12. Evaluation: Commission appraise the progress of the development of women under the Union and any State.
  13. Inspection: Commission inspect or cause to be inspected a jail, remand home women's institution or other place of custody where women are kept as prisoners.

Research Functions:

The research division of the Commission is that organ of the Commission which manages into the evolving problems of Indian women due to discrimination and gender bias. This cell is also accountable for educating women about their rights through a variety of seminars, workshops, conferences and public hearings. This cell has also organized various special studies and establishes expert committees to look into and propose solutions for problems, which have evolved recently. Currently, the cell tackle issues related to Gender and Law Enforcement, Impact of Displacement of Women, Sexual Harassment at Workplace, Issues concerning Prostitution and Political Empowerment of Women.

The organs of the Commission have been reasonably successful in functioning of the mandate which the Commission was given by the Act of 1990. Amongst various cells, it is perhaps the Counselling cell which has been most effective because it is that cell of the Commission which is in direct contact with the people. The other cells, while equally successful, deal more with the different agencies of the Government and are thus not so widely admired.

Accomplishments of the Commission:

Women commission has made numerous achievement and successes since its inception in 1992. The complaints and counselling cell of the Commission is the most successful organ of the organization:

Reports indicated that Ms. Rupali Jain was replaced as a teacher, due to the actions of the Commission, after her services were finished at a school run by a non-governmental organization, without any substantial reasons. In another matter, Smt. Savitri, approached the Commission regarding exploitation of her deaf and dumb daughter, who, along with her child, has been deserted by her husband and in laws, allegedly due to her disabilities. The Commission dealt the matter and the husband was located, counselled and is agreed to rehabilitate with his wife and daughter.

The Commission was triumphant in securing the release of female who was allegedly gang-raped by BSF personnel in early 2002. The victim along with her young daughter was mistakenly detained in Presidency Jail in Kolkata, after the alleged rape. The matter was seriously raised and taken up by the women Commission for the release of rape victim from the jail. The Commission’s actions resulted in the release of Mrs. Das from jail, who was given into safe custody to her brother.

Along with these achievements, the Legal Cell of the Commission has recommended modifications to a number of Acts and has proposed a number of new bills. The Commission has proposed amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 and the Indian Penal Code, 1960. The Commission has also proposed bills such as the Marriage Bill of 1994, the Domestic Violence to Women (Prevention) Bill of 1994 and the Prevention of Barbarous and Beastly cruelty against Women Bill, 1995 amongst others.

Some of these bills, such as the Domestic Violence to Women (Prevention) Bill, have recently been passed. The Commission has also interfered in a number of court cases. The Research Cell of the Commission has performed numerous studies in issues such as social mobilisation, maintenance and divorcee women, women labour under contract, gender bias in judicial decisions, family courts, violence against women, and women access to health and education in slums.

Several inquiry commissions have also been recognized by the Commission, under Section 8 (1) of the Act of 1990, to inspect matters such as Law and legislation, Political empowerment, Custodial justice for women, Social security, Panchayati Raj, Women and media, Development of Scheduled Tribe Women, Development of women of weaker sections, Development of women of minority communities, Transfer of technology in agriculture for development of women. Among other highpoints are included the anti-child marriage agitations in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Public hearings on problems of Muslim women, impact of globalization on women, on land related problems, economic empowerment of tribal women have been efficaciously organized by the Commission all over the country.

Within the short period, the Commission has accomplished various goals and responsibilities laid down in its mandate. The different public hearings, outreach programs, counselling and legal function have definitely enhanced conditions of the Indian woman.

Major drawbacks of commission:

In spite of positive aspects of women commission and great achievements, there are also some shortcomings:

  1. The commission is dependent on the grant from the Union Government.
  2. The commission does not have the power to select own members.
  3. The power is vested with the Union Government.
  4. The commission has no right to concrete legislative power.
  5. It has only to power recommend amendments and submit reports which are not binding on state or Union Government.
  6. The Commission’s Jurisdiction is not operative in Jammu and Kashmir.
  7. Financial assistance is so less that it is difficult make awareness of legal program.
  8. The National Commission for women in India seizes women’s cause only when it is brought to light. Unreported cases of oppression and suppression of women are not attended to.
  9. In rural sector, there is lack of mindfulness education, opportunities and basic facilities for women for economic of empowerment.

To summarize, the National Commission for Women is a statutory organization for women set up in January 1992 by the Indian Government, under the provisions of the Constitution of India, as explained in the 1990 National Commission for Women Act (Act No. 20 of 1990). This was done in order to appraise the constitutional and legal protections for women; recommend remedial legislative measures, facilitate redressal of grievances and advise the Government on all policy matters affecting women. It is assessed that within short span, the Commission has managed to fulfil the directive to a great extent. The Commission initiated various steps to advance the status of women and worked for their economic empowerment. The Commission took great efforts to accomplish giant targets and it is praised for the good work which it is doing for the women of India. Though, there are certain inadequacies in the working of the Commission, which, if rectified, would lead to a more efficient and productive Commission.