INTERVIEW

Rekha Sharma, Chairperson, National Commission

The major grievances of women are against the police, the judiciary, the administration, the media and finally the societal norms, said Rekha Sharma, Chairperson, National Commission for Women (NCW) in an interview with CSR Times. She went on to say how the NCW coordinates with concerned authorities to resolve problems faced by women.

CSR Times: You have been a very vocal and active chairperson of the National Commission for Women. What has been your seminal contribution to the Commission and the Indian women in particular?

Rekha Sharma: I am privileged to be a part of the National Commission for Women since August 2015, first as a Member and then as a Chairperson since August 2018. The Commission has been involved in various initiatives aimed at empowering women and safeguarding their rights, which include: Creating specific cells in the Commission and strengthening of existing cells to ensure the safety and welfare of women.

The major grievances of women are against the police, the judiciary, the administration, the media and finally the societal norms. Through Mahila Jan Sunwais launched in August 2016, NCW has been conducting hearings at different parts of the country for on the spot disposal of complaints in coordination with District Police and District Legal Service Authority. Inspecting jails, reform homes and psychiatric institutions with a view to take note of the condition of women inmates and the facilities provided to them. In collaboration with TISS, NCW has started a project to respond to women survivors of violence in both public and private life.

The project was initially started in Delhi, has been extended to 22 districts in seven states namely Assam, Meghalaya, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Odisha, and Tamil Nadu. To prevent cyber crimes against women, NCW has partnered with Facebook and Cyber Peace Foundation to launch ‘Digital Literacy Programme’ which initially aims to train around 60,000 women in universities on online safety across major cities in Haryana, Delhi, NCR, Manipur, Meghalaya, Maharashtra, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu. Partnered with the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj to build the capacity of elected women in panchayati raj institutions to enable them to effectively participate in nation building. Reviews various legislations and suggests amendments for effective implementation of women-related laws. Currently, the Commission is reviewing the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act (2013) and Property Rights of Women.

CSR Times: The Commission has been pursuing the concerns of Indian women/ brides deserted by the non-resident Indian (NRI) husbands. What’s been currently done?

Sharma: The Report of the Expert Committee constituted by NCW on Laws Relating to NRI Marriages and Their Impact on Women was sent to the Ministry of Women and Child Development on August 21, 2014. We are looking forward for positive outcome in the Bill on NRI marriages presented by the Ministry of External Affairs to create more accountability and offer more protection against exploitation of Indian women by their NRI spouses.

CSR Times: You recommended several reforms to improve the living conditions of women in prisons. Is there any forward movement on this?

Sharma: Based on the examination of recommendations that emerged during different jail visits and proformas filled by jail authorities, the Commission has prepared a report and has sent it to the Ministry and all state jail authorities.

CSR Times: Child custody in foreign countries has become a problem in the recent times because the foreign governments do not understand the Indian way of living. NCW has taken up this matter with the Indian Government. What has been the outcome of your exercise?

Sharma: NCW in August 2016 held a consultation to discuss the Draft Child Removal and Retention Bill, 2016, proposed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. NCW opposed the Bill as it was not in accordance with other laws and legal principles in the country. The Ministry had constituted a Committee to revisit the Bill, wherein NCW was also a member. The Committee has already submitted its report.

CSR Times: As a premier statutory body playing key advisory role on women’s issues, which are the issues you have taken up on suo motto basis?

Sharma: Recently, the Commission took cognizance of the news item “Bonded workers reveal horror at Karnataka farms”. An Inquiry Committee headed by Chairperson visited Hasan district in Karnataka was formed on January 1, 2019. It was observed that Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation and Bonded Labour had implementation issues. The report with recommendations has been forwarded to the Prime Minister, Home Minister and Minister of Women & Child Development, Minister of Labour & Employment, Minister of Social Justice & Empowerment. On Ludhiana Gang rape case too, the Commission immediately sent its team for on-the-spot inquiry. The flaws in the investigation were highlighted and directions were given to the police authorities for fair investigation to take action against the erring police officer.

CSR Times: NCW has been bringing out some of the important women’s issues through in-depth study such as the report on war widows, widows of Vrindavan, voice of the voiceless — a study on the pathetic condition of Muslim women, etc. Have these studies provided hope and confidence in overall improvement of the present state of affairs?

Sharma: The Commission widely circulates the findings of these studies. These reports bring out existing situations in the respective areas and their dissemination to different stakeholders brings hope.

CSR Times: The NCW has also been focusing on women’s issues in the northeast. What has been your role?

Sharma: The Commission had constituted an Expert Committee on Social, Economic and Political Empowerment of Women in the north-eastern states. The Committee conducted the study to ascertain on social, economic and political status of women in north-east and evaluate Government of India’s schemes where women are beneficiaries through a survey and made policy recommendations for consideration of Central and state governments. The Commission has also initiated outreach programmes for women from north-eastern states living in Delhi. They are apprised about their legal rights and educated on how to invoke law and legal recourse in case they are targeted. As an initiative to empower women from the north-east, the National Commission for Women in collaboration with Airbnb conducted training of women on Home Stay Tourism in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Meghalaya in July 2018.

CSR Times: In October 2018, NCW Delhi chapter has taken up cleanliness programmes in Delhi under Swachh Bharat Mission. What lessons have been learnt in Delhi and the rest of India?

Sharma: The National Commission for Women undertook cleanliness drive at India Gate, Delhi, on October 2, 2018, to carry out the initiative taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi through Swachhata Mission. The drive aimed at changing the mindset of citizens of India. NCW is also carrying forward the initiative by celebrating Swachhta Pakhwada from March 1-15, 2019.