GIVEN ALL THE advantages of having the National Commission for Women (NCW) and the State Commissions for Women (SCW), what can one make of a news story such as ‘Operation Park’? The SCW Orissa, with cameramen and police in tow, went to a city park in Bhubaneshwar and descended on the boys and girls sitting there. The girls were roundly lectured and told that they should be sitting in class rather than wasting their time. They were also told that they could be victims of ‘cheat-rape’ cases. The news reports also quote the SCW Chairperson as saying she could not imagine how young boys and girls can be involved in such nasty and abhorrent activities in the open. Sounds familiar?
In fact, it is identical to the moral policing by the Shiv Sainik/Bajrang Dal brigade rampaging on Valentines Day and the DPI’s agitation against cinestar Khushboo’s remarks on premarital sex and virginity. The reactions have become so common by groups like this that one almost expects it off them now, but to see a SCW behave in the same fashion is downright scary. Apparently the Bhubaneshwar police too felt the same way and quickly distanced themselves from the incident. Bhubaneshwar Deputy Commissioner of Police Amitabh Thakur even went on record saying “I don’t think when grown up boys and girls meet in parks, there is any problem. There is no joint operation with the SCW.” Talk about role reversal.
The mandate of the NCW is to uphold constitutional and legal rights guaranteed to women, recommend amendments for the same, take up cases of violations of women’s right and take suo moto notice of non implementation of such laws and policies that deprive women’s rights. The Commission was welcomed by NGO’s and other activists as a nodal point within the government machinery which will work towards addressing various women’s issues and upholding our rights. But it is shocking that a Commission set up to uphold the rights of women has indulged in such a blatant and embarrassing display of hypocrisy, ignorance and a warped sense of morality. It would be funny if it were not so serious.
The logic provided by the SCW was that they want to prevent incidents of rape, unwed motherhood and trafficking of girls by increasing awareness amongst girls. The SCW thought the best way to do this was to shock them out of their wits on camera (which the Chairperson benevolently and thankfully decided against airing!). What did they achieve besides embarrassing and frightening a bunch of young people who were made to feel like criminals for no good reason?
Not that there is a lack of issues for the SCW to solve in Orissa. As per the National Crime Records Bureau 2006, Orissa is among the states to have reported the highest number of cases relating to importation of girls (relates to trafficking and prostitution). Witch hunting is a serious problem especially in the tribal regions of the state. Maternal mortality rates in the state continue to be among the highest in the country. These are just a few indicators. The SCW has a whole range of serious concerns that it should be actively pursuing. This is what it has been conceptualised and set up for. It is responsible to the women of the state and needs to step up to its duties immediately.
The SCW’s actions are only symptomatic of a larger problem. There is a lack of will and motivation across most such bodies. This coupled with frequent changes in leadership and political appointments take a lot away from what is expected of them. The Commissions also have their powers limited to only making recommendations. One way of addressing this problem would be to ensure that the leadership within these Commissions is chosen from women who have proven themselves — those who have actively worked on women’s concerns and who come with a strong progressive perspective. There also needs to be a system of accountability within such Commissions to ensure that incidents such as ‘Operation Park’ never occur again. Appointees should also undergo capacity building on gender issues, campaigning and advocacy, among other things.
The potential of the NCW and the SCWs is huge and a good amount of work has been done ranging from ensuring implementation of the new anti domestic violence act, setting up Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalats and the campaign on legislating for the anti sexual harassment at the workplace law. It is quite a shame when bad judgment and lack of perspective brings disrepute to such an institution.