Women safety and safeguarding of women’s rights have been a matter of serious concern for a long time. Insomuch as from the pre-colonial period, there were trials by the British administration in making laws that aimed at eliminating various social tyrannies against women. Reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Mahatma Gandhi, etc., opposed the practices of sati, child marriage and considered widow remarriage as evil, but were barely successful in eradicating them. After the Indian Independence, the status quo of women showed no progress and years later the Parliament decided to have a separate committee to take special notice of women rights and safety. The National Commision for Women (“NCW”) works towards enabling women to achieve equality and equal participation in all spheres of life by securing her due rights and entitlements through suitable policy formulation, legislative measures, effective enforcement of laws, implementation of schemes/policies and devising strategies for solution of specific problems/situations arising out of discrimination and atrocities against women.
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Emergence of the NCW
In 1946, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women came into existence which further recommended its Member States to establish similar bodies for women welfare. Under this resolution, came the Committee on the Status of Women in India (CSWI) in the year 1971 which elucidated and disseminated the need of constituting a National Commission for Women. The National Commission for Women came into existence with the patronage of the CSWI, to reckon issues related to women. The Parliament, under National Commission for Women Act, 1990, introduced the National Commission for Women in January 1992 complying with the Constitution of India. The first Commission was constituted with Mrs. Jayanti Patnaik as the chairperson. The Act, in Section 3, provides the guidelines for the Commission of the committee. It provides that the Commission shall be composed of a Chairperson committed to the cause of women and five members from different fields and a member secretary who shall be an expert in the fields of management. The committee was constituted to abolish the age-old practice of patriarchy and bring equality to women in society. It works to facilitate speedy redressal of grievances, to review the Constitutional and legal safeguards, suggesting any necessary amendments, recommending remedial legislative measures and spreading awareness amongst the backward sections of women.
Powers and Functions of the NCW
India is a male-dominated society and hence a woman here witnesses many inequalities and injustices. Women aren’t explicitly termed as a “minority” nor do they fall in the ambit of “backward class”. Despite not being regarded as a minority or backward class, they need special attention in order to truly improve their status in India. The National Commission for Women, hence, functions for safeguarding the interests of women. Section 10(1) of the Act provides with the various functions performed by the National Commission for Women. A few significant mandates are herein under categorised and discussed:
- Safeguarding the rights provided by the Constitution and other laws: The Commission is expected to investigate and examine the rights bestowed upon women by the Constitution or other law and submit reports on the working of the same. It shall also, from time to time, review the existing rights and recommend any required amendments for the effective implementations of the rights. The Commission shall operate under Section 10(1)(a)-(e) to perform such functions.
- Legal interventions and funding: The Commission is allowed to look into and take suo motu notice of various cases relating to deprivation of women’s rights, improper or non-implementation of laws and non-compliance of policies, guidelines or instructions. The very aim of the Commission is to provide women with speedy justice and to ensure that funding or finance shall be no hurdle for such aggrieved women to attain justice. Section 10(1)(f) and (l) provides the National Commission for Women such function.
- Promoting special studies on women issues and rights: This function is provided under clause (g)-(i) of Section 10 the Act. The mandate provides that the Commission shall conduct studies and investigate upon the issues faced by women arising out of discrimination and suggest remedial measure. They shall also propagate the steps taken for the development of women by the Union or any State. The Commission shall also participate and advise the Government on the aspects of socio-economic development plans for women based on their studies.
- Checking on the status of women: S.10 (j), (k), (m) and (n) expects the Commission to keep a check on the status of women in India from time to time. Also, it keeps a check on the conditions in which women are retained in various remand houses, jail or other custodian places.
The National Commission Act also empowers the Commission with various abilities which are discussed as under-
- The Commission is deemed with all the powers of a civil court while investigating any matter or trying any suit relating to summoning, enforcing attendance, examining a person under oath, discovery and production of any kind of documentation and acquiring evidence on affidavits. It can also acquire such powers in matters of requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office, issuing Commissions for the examination of witness and documents and any other matter which may be prescribed
- The Commission has the power to frame rules for the smooth implementations of the Act. Such rules shall, without impairing the fundamentality of the powers, be constructed in matters of salary, allowances and privileges. Rules subject to the forms of annual reports, annual statements, etc shall also be drawn.
- The National Commission for Women has the power to constitute a panel of experts. The special committee can also consist of persons who aren’t a part of the committee but are co-opted for the fulfilment of the said task. The experts provide legal, financial or other assistance to the aggrieved women.
Empowerment and equality for women
“A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get what they want.” quotes Madonna on women empowerment. Women in many regions, even today, are forced to stay quiet. They fear the lack of support and finance which becomes a hurdle in the process of upliftment of women in the society. Until and unless the regime recognizes the issues pertaining to women rights and safety. The National Commission for Women aims to remove the aforesaid fear from the minds of women. Once they realise the need and have the courage to raise their voice, only then can they be truly empowered. In view of the mandates of the Act, the Commission sponsors legal awareness programmes, Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalats and organizes seminar/workshop/consultation and takes up publicity against female foeticide, violence against women, child marriages etc., in order to generate awareness among women about these issues. Availing the power of legal interventions the Commission has made justice for women possible in various cases. A few landmark cases have been listed below:
- Cases relating to the protection of women at workplace– Since the coming up of the Commission, there were a vast number of complaints registered relating to sexual harassment at workplaces. Honourable Supreme Court in the case of Vishaka and Ors. v. State of Rajasthan enumerated the term “sexual harassment”, what are an employer’s duties regarding the prohibition of sexual harassment at workplace and the steps to be taken by an employer when any such case is brought into notice. Another landmark case on the said issue is Apparel Export Promotion Council v. A.K. Chopra.
- Cases relating to rape- The number of rape/attempt to rape cases registered during 2019 was 1,339 whereas the number of cases reported relating to all kinds of atrocity combined was merely 122, in the year 1992. This clearly depicts the success of the Commission in making women empowered so they can speak openly about the issues that they have been facing. The interventions by the Commission has played a crucial role in many landmark judgements like in the case of Dhananjay Chatterjee v. State of West Bengal and Smt. Nanda Rani Majumdaar v. Indian Airlines.
- Cases relating to prostitution- The landmark case of Gaurav Jain v. Union of India, provided the children of prostitutes their share of rights to equality, dignity and opportunity. The Commission had a great role in rehabilitating such children, also preventing young girls from getting trapped in the areas of prostitution.
The Commission also gave rise to various initiatives like “Jago”, “Violence free home- a woman’s right”, “Mahila Adhikar Abhiyan,2011”, etc. They introduced various publications like ‘Chalo Gaon Ki Ore’, ‘Meera Didi Se Poocho’, Sexual Harassment at workplace’, Problems relating to NRI Marriages – Dos and Don’t’s, The Nowhere Brides, Handbook on Laws relating to Dowry and Domestic Violence, Do not Fear – Do not Bear – Do not Admit, Abandoned Indian Women Trapped in NRI Marriage and the Way Out’, ‘Bahut Hua Ab Aur Nahi Sahna’ etc. The Commission was made National Level Nodal Coordinating Agency in 2009 to receive and process complaints made by women who are deserted by their husbands or overseas Indian husbands. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission realised the need of a helpline number so that women could reach them without having to go to the office and hence, a helpline was launched on 10th of April, 2020. The Commission has also, proposed and reviewed various laws, for example, Implementation of the protection of women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, Prohibition of Sexual Harassment of Women as Workplace Bill 2010, Sexual Assault Bill, Domestic Workers Welfare and Social Security Act, 2010 and many more. These measures and laws took up by the Central Government to constitute the National Commission for Women have proved to be a historic step in empowering and developing women of India.
The motive of the National Commission for Women is to make women aware of their rights, the various grievance redressal forums that they can approach, to help them throughout the process and to ensure empowerment of women in all groups of the society. As yet, there has been a rise in the graph of cases dealt by the commission implying that the objectives of the commission are being met, but there are corners of India where the National Commission for Women still has to make a difference in the status quo of women.
 The National Commission for Women Annual Report, available at http://ncw.nic.in/reports/annual-reports (last visited on October 15, 2020).
 The National Commission for Women Act, 1990 (Act No. 20 of 1990), s.10(4).
 AIR 1997 SC 3011.
AIR 1999 SC 625.
 Statistical Overview of Complaints, available at http://ncwapps.nic.in/frmComp_Stat_Overview.aspx (last visited on October 15,2020).
 1994 SCC (2) 220: 1994 SCR (1) 37.
 AIR 1981 Cal 27.
 AIR 1997 SC 3021.
 Jagriti Chandra, “NCW launches domestic violence helpline” The Hindu, Apr. 10, 2020.
BY ANWESHA MISHRA|MADHUSUDAN LAW COLLEGE, CUTTACK, ODISHA