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A Symbolic Presence (NCW ,Statuory bodies ,GS paper 2 ,EPW)
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There is reluctance to truly empower the National Commission for Women.
Ever since the National Commission for Women (NCW) came into existence in 1992, its composition and
functioning have been contentious and controversial. It has been accused of being a “talking shop,” of its
chairperson always being a woman who is close to the political party in power and of at least one member being
there by virtue of being a bureaucrat. Women’s groups and civil society organisations often have low expectations
that the NCW would take a stand that is unambiguously in favour of the victims of gender violence and
discrimination, especially when it would go against the views and interests of the ruling dispensation. The various
state women’s commissions are no different, with all of them showing a similar composition and manner of
When the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government took office in 2014, the Union Minister of Women and
Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, had spoken extensively about giving “more teeth” to the NCW and bringing it
on the same footing as the National Commission for Human Rights.
Despite the talk of giving the NCW more powers, the NDA government started like its predecessors when it
appointed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s former national secretary Lalitha Kumaramangalam as the chairperson. A
draft bill to amend the NCW Act 1990 was sent to the law ministry and was to be tabled in the monsoon session of
Parliament. The amendments proposed included giving the NCW the powers of a civil court, powers to
investigate, summon and impose penalties to ensure mandatory attendance and for it to be headed by a retired
judge who would be appointed by a committee chaired by the Prime Minister. Now, media reports suggest that a
Group of Ministers (GoM) examining the bill have reservations about giving the NCW powers to summon, search
and seize documents. The law ministry has opined that such an amendment would impinge on the powers of the
police and the judiciary.
The “toothless” nature of the NCW and the state commissions has for long been cited as the reason for their
overall ineffectiveness. Former chairpersons and members of the commission have time and again enumerated
the problems faced in dealing with complaints filed before them. One is the limited funds allocated to the body. Not
only can the NCW not help a complainant financially (even one in dire need), its budget is too small to be able to
support campaigns of any kind, including publicity. Two, the police are reluctant to take the NCW’s cases seriously
and almost always come back saying they find no merit in the complaint. One chairperson had suggested that
police officers who give such a report should be made to do so under oath. Three, invariably, the person/persons
against whom a complaint has been registered simply refuse to turn up at hearings or provide documents and
papers needed to look into the complaint. It has been pointed out that the National Commission for Protection of
Child Rights has the powers to summon individuals to appear before it but not the NCW. Media reports are aplenty
about demands articulated by women’s commissions but there is very little to show that they have been accepted
or acted upon by the central and state governments, be it in policy matters or on individual cases which have
come up before the commission.
There are of course deeper flaws that the NCW has to contend with. The chairpersons and members who are
appointed are not necessarily experienced in dealing with women’s issues nor do they have a history of close
association with the women’s movements. Gender sensitivity therefore is not a given. There have been instances
when the NCW and state commission members have made embarrassingly patriarchal statements and exposed
regressive attitudes regarding gender and sexuality. Empowering the NCW needs to go hand in hand with the
putting in place of institutional mechanisms which will foster autonomy and safeguard its progressive features. An
NCW with “teeth” but composed of members with regressive ideas will only hound women who are trying to fight
patriarchy and emancipate themselves from all the gender-oppressive customs and traditions of our society. The

has done nothing to change this. It may be futile to expect much from the present dispensation. like other such bodies. The present government. needs to have statutory powers and autonomy from the whims of the political dispensation in power.NCW. As things stand now there seems to be little political will to make the NCW a truly autonomous body or invest it with enough powers to deal with issues affecting women. Subscribe To Our Youtube Channel RELATED ARTICLES : . for all its brave words. but even under the earlier governments the NCW remained only a token nod to the demand for women’s rights and empowerment. big or small. and a fief for political sinecure.