A woman has been treated like a goddess, used in wars and treaties, owned as a property, as an object, but was considered as a human being, a being who has inherent rights, a being who is equal to others. We have moved forward, but the patriarchal marks of the old times are still present in society. To safeguard women, their rights, their interests against the patriarchal society which treats unjustly, there are different provisions and laws, NGOs and Commissions.
In the present article we shall look into:
- in what cases/ circumstances a woman can approach the Women’s Commission, and
- the functions of Women Commission
- Online complaint filing in National Commission for Women
National Commission for Women
In 1971, the Committee on Status of Women in India was constituted by the Ministry of Education and Social Welfare which recommended the establishment of Women’s Commission to provide redressal of grievances and improve the socio-economic development of women. Later, various committees and commissions, including the National Perspective Plan for Women recommended the constitution of the commission. National Commission for Women Bill was passed and received Presidential assent in 1990 and the first Commission was constituted in 1992.
Subordinate to National Commission, there are State Commission for women working on the same lines.
In what circumstances can you approach the Commission
Complaints falling under any of the following 19 categories are taken into consideration by the Commission:
Polygamy is a practice or customs where a husband has more than one wife. The practice of polygamy is a penal offence and Section 494, IPC prohibits the practice of polygamy and polyandry. However, the practice of polygamy is not an offence under Muslim law.
Essentials of polygamy (in light of section 494) are:
- Marriage by husband
- When his first wife is living
- Such second marriage shall be void
2. Cyber Crime against women:
With the increase and widespread of IT sector, cybercrimes are on increase. Cyberstalking, cyber pornography, hacking, trolling has increased. Under the Information Technology Act, 2000, complaints against cyberstalkers and cybercriminals can be filed under section 67, 66A, 66B, 66C etc.
3. Dowry harassment/dowry death:
Section 2, Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 defines dowry:
- any property or valuable security is given or agreed to be given
- directly or indirectly
- by one party of the marriage to another.
The underlying notion of dowry is that the man is superior to women, and upon this notion, the woman has been harassed for ages for dowry. The punishment for the offence of dowry exchange is imprisonment of not less than 5 years and with fine not fewer Rs. 15,000 or with a fine which is equal to the value of the dowry.
In 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act, was passed. Section 304B, IPC penalizes the act of dowry death.
- Free legal aid for women: Article 39A of the Constitution provides that it is the duty of the State to provide free legal aid. Section 12, Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 ensures free legal aid to women.
- Gender discrimination including equal right to education & work: Article 14 of the Constitution ensures right to equality and Article 15 clearly says that any discrimination by the State on the basis of gender or sex is prohibited, but in spite of this, women have to undergo discrimination on daily basis. There were no specific laws to safeguard women against the harassment and unsafe environment at the workplace until 2013.
Equal right to education: In 2002, Article 21A was inserted which made Right to education till the age of 14 years as the fundamental right.
- Indecent representation of women: Section 2, Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 defines indecent representation as:
- depiction in any manner
- of the figure of a woman;
- her form or body or
- any part of her body
- which is indecent, or derogatory to, or denigrating to women, or
- likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals
However, the definition is very subjective in nature and can be molded accordingly.
- Outraging modesty of women: Section 354 penalizes any act of assault or criminal force to outrage a woman’s modesty, which shall be punishable with imprisonment of a term not less than one year, which may extend to 5 years and also with a fine.
Section 509 also prohibits the use of any gesture, word or act intended to outrage a woman’s modesty. But none of the section defines what does modesty mean? Supreme court in Ramkripal s/o Shyamlal Charmakar vs State Of Madhya Pradesh said, “the essence of a woman’s modesty is her sex. The culpable intention of the accused is the crux of the matter. The reaction of the woman is very relevant, but its absence is not always decisive.”
- Police apathy against women: The complaints of police apathy has seen a steep rise. In 2018, there were 1670 police apathy complaints registered with NCW. It is important police receive women positively, as it is crucial for further legal recourse.
- Violation of the privacy of women and related rights
- Reproductive health rights of women: Supreme court in Devika Biswas v Union of India, held that a woman’s right to health and reproductive rights are part of Article 21 (Right to Life and Personal Liberty).
- Right to exercise choice in marriage
- Right to live with dignity (Cruelty, Domestic Violence, Harassment): Supreme court in Francis Coralie v. Union of Territory of Delhi said that right to life is not just about the animal existence. It does not limit itself to protection of limb and life; it is much more than this. It also means right to live with human dignity. Right to live with human dignity is the most basic element of right to life under article 21. There are legislations and provisions, like Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, Section 354A etc.
- Sex Selective abortion/ Female foeticide/ amniocentesis: The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Amendment Rules, 2003 prohibits female feticide.
- Sexual harassment including sexual harassment at workplace: Vishakha guidelines: Judiciary in Vishaka v State of Rajasthan, for the first time intervened in the issue of harassment faced by women at workplace and laid down certain guideline in absence of any legislation for the same.
Supreme court defined sexual harassment as:
- physical contact and advances;
- a demand or request for sexual favours;
- sexually coloured remarks;
- showing pornography;
- any other unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
The Supreme court further gave directions/ guidelines for the prevention of harassment and eliminating an unsafe work environment.
Vishaka guidelines worked as the law of land because till 2013 there was no legislation in force for the same. In 2013 The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act was passed.
- Stalking/Voyeurism: Section 354D, IPC states the act of stalking as, any man who:
- Follows, or
- contacts, or
- attempts to contact a woman
- to foster personal interaction repeatedly
- despite a clear disinterest by such woman, or
- monitors her using internet or electronic communication
The offence of stalking is punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine
On a subsequent conviction of stalking, the person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to fine.
- Traditional practices derogatory to women rights i.e. Sati pratha, devdasi pratha, witch hunting
- Trafficking/ Prostitution of Women: Women trafficking, inducing women into prostitution, managing and running brothel is prohibited under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956.
Section 366A and 372, IPC penalizes the act of kidnapping and selling of the minors into prostitution respectively.
- Violence Against Women ( Rape, Attempt to Rape, Acid Attack, Sexual Assault): Section 375(Rape), 326A( Acid attack), 326B (Attempt to acid attack), 354A (Sexual Harassment).
- Women’s right of custody of children in the event of divorce.
However, any complaint which is-
- Illegible, vague or is anonymous;
- Relates to civil dispute between parties;
- Relates to service matter or labour/ industrial dispute, not involving deprivation of women rights;
- Pending under any court, tribunal or state commission, shall not be taken up by the Commission.
Functions of the Commission
The main objective of the Commission is to ensure a legal, socio-economic environment which do not produces any hurdle in the progress of women.
Section 10 of the National Commission for Women Act lays down the functions and powers of the Commission. The functions and powers of the Commission can broadly be classified into four following categories:
1)Investigate and Examine
- Commission takes up the cases and complaints where there is a violation of the provisions of the Constitution or other laws and takes up such cases to the appropriate authority. The commission can take up such cases suo motu. The cases (taken up upon complaint or suo motu) involves:
- deprivation of women’s rights
- non-implementation of laws enacted to provide protection to women
- to achieve the objective of equality and development
- non-compliance of policy decisions, guidelines or instructions aimed at mitigating hardships and ensuring the welfare and providing relief to women
- It investigates into the cases, situations arising out of discrimination and unruly treatment against women and identify the constraints so as to recommend strategies for their removal.
- Commission in its suo moto capacity has power to inspect a jail, remand home, women’s institution or other place of custody where women are kept as prisoners or otherwise and if certain issue is found then can it take up with the concerned authorities for remedial action.
- It funds litigation involving issues affecting a large body of women
- Commission while investigating cases involving deprivation of women’s rights or violation of any safeguards given in the Constitution or any law shall have the powers of a civil court with respect to:
- Summoning and enforcing any individual’s presence and examining him on oath, from any part of India
- Summoning any production of document
- Receiving evidence on affidavits
- requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office
- issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses and documents
- Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalat: The National Commission for Women (NCW) has brought the concept of Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalat which provides for speedy redressal and disposal of the matters pending in various courts related to marriage and family affairs.
3)Supervising, reviewing and reporting
- Commission investigates and reviews the legal and constitutional provisions for women, and present annually, or as and when it is necessary, a report to the Central government regarding recommendations, any amendment, if required and scope of improvement of those safeguarding provisions.
- The report also focuses upon effective implementation of those safeguards for improving the conditions of women by the Union or any State.
- It evaluates the conditions of women, any progress or any problems faced by women and reports the same.
- It advises the government on the planning of any socio-economic development scheme or law for women
The Commission, other than performing above mentioned functions, takes and has taken various initiatives.
- Commission undertakes the initiative of conducting promotional and educational research so as to ensure equal representation and presence of women in all spheres and identify the factors which are being hurdles in their progress.
- Commission organizes workshops and seminars to spread awareness regarding women’s rights and redressal mechanisms.
- Any other matter which may be referred to it by the Central Government.
How to file an online complaint?
If you wish to file a complaint with the Commission, you can do so through online medium.
Step 1: Open Commission’s site: http://ncw.nic.in/
Step 2: On the left side of the web page, click on Register Complaint, under Online Complaint section
Step 3: Click on “Online Complaint Registration”
Step 4: At the bottom of the webpage, click on “Click here for registration of complaint”
Step 5: Fill the form and at the bottom of the page, click submit
Helpline number: 011-26944880, 26944883
One can also reach out to National or State Commission in working days between 9.00 AM – 5.30 PM.
The time is over, when women silently let the society subject them to unjust and unfair norms. Today, women are aware of their rights and entitlements. The recent #MeToo movement showed the strength and solidarity of women. Indeed the woman has struggled, fought and has come a long, but it is not over yet. There are miles to cover, and the journey is a little easier with the provisions and laws safeguarding her against unruly environment, Women Commissions, NGOs and support and love of others.
- National Commission for Women, accessed from http://ncw.nic.in/frmRTICnIFAQs.aspx
- Section 494, Indian Penal Code, 1860, accessed from http://ncw.nic.in/acts/theindianpenalcode1860.pdf
- Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, accessed from: https://nalsa.gov.in/acts
- The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 accessed from: http://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/Sexual-Harassment-at-Workplace-Act.pdf
- Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, accessed from: http://www.wcd.nic.in/act/indecent-representation-women
- Ramkripal s/o Shyamlal Charmakar vs State Of Madhya Pradesh, 2007 (11) SCC 265
- Chethan Kumar, In India, 1 woman complains of police apathy every 2 hours, Nov 2, 2018, accessed from: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/in-india-1-woman-complains-of-police-apathy-every-2-hours/articleshow/66471290.cms
- Francis Coralie v. Union of Territory of Delhi, 1981 AIR SC 746
- Rule 18(x), The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Amendment Rules, 2003, accessed from: http://chdslsa.gov.in/right_menu/act/pdf/PNDT.pdf
- Vishaka v State of Rajasthan, AIR 1997 SC 3011
- Supra 4
- Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, accessed from: https://indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/1661/1/1956104.pdf
- The National Commission for Women Act, 1990, accessed from: http://www.ncw.nic.in/PDFFiles/ncwact.pdf
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