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Crime against women on the rise, no tough action

Exploitation of women

In Karnataka, a state with 6.11 crore people spread out over 30 districts, the responsibility of safeguarding women’s rights is with the Karnataka State Commission for Women (KSCW), a government-appointed body housed in Cauvery Bhavan in Bengaluru.  

One feature that distinguishes KSCW from other government bodies is the long line of supplicants present outside the office, spilling out onto the staircases and into the streets. The people who arrive at the office of the Commission are from all over the state, right from the outskirts of Bengaluru to places like Raichur, Kalaburagi and Belagavi.

For Nagalakshmi Bai, the current chairperson of KSCW, the large number of people waiting outside her chambers is a sign of the trust people have reposed in her office. 

Not everyone agrees with this view.

“The women’s commission, compared to any other commission of its kind, is approachable, but I don’t think that they have the human resources to handle the cases. So, most of the people have to wait from morning to evening, without any remedies or redressal,” K S Vimala of Janavaadi Mahila Sanghatane
told DH.

The KSCW office is currently staffed by 12 members. Most of them are employed on a contractual basis. The KSCW, funded by the Department of Women and Child Development, faces a persistent lack of resources, besides the perennial shortage of staff. The lack of a dedicated vehicle to carry out everyday work and the lack of funds to set up and run a dedicated helpline are some of the problems that stop the Commission from addressing the cases effectively. 

Provided with the right personnel, Nagalakshmi Bai claims, her office can do wonders, but no such assistance is forthcoming from the government.

There is also a problem with the redressal mechanism of the KSCW. Currently, people either present their cases through email, write letters or turn up in person, hoping for some resolution.

The sheer volume of petitions though, is also a problem. “Even when we give a complaint, it goes unanswered. It is as if it (KSCW) is non-existent,” said Sharada Gopal, a grassroots women’s activist in Dharwad.

The location of the KSCW office poses a problem to people from certain parts of the state. “They don’t consider North Karnataka a part of the state,” Sharada told DH. For grassroots activists like her, far from the centres of political power, the district administration becomes the only arbiter, a less than ideal situation when it comes to women’s rights.

Mamatha Yajaman, a women’s activist, said that she has no faith in the KSCW after it took two months to act on a complaint she filed on behalf of a victim from Yadgir.

“Whenever we call the chairperson, she is not in station. In this case, the victim could not come from Yadgir to Bengaluru as she was in a bad condition. The chairperson could have contacted the protection officers and given some support to her. I took a complaint and went personally to meet the KSCW chairperson and the member secretary. Then she took initiative and called the victim. I requested them to call Yadgir officials. They just sent a letter. After the victim sent the complaint copy, it took two months to take action.”

Mamatha feels that the KSCW should be proactive. “If the case involves a celebrity, they take it up seriously. It is difficult for common people to get speedy justice from the KSCW.”  She also feels that accessibility is a problem for rural women. “They cannot use email, the best they can do is use a mobile or send through the post.”

Then there is also the way that the KSCW was constituted. The body has no provision to take up effective action. Currently, the KSCW can direct police officers to register an FIR or initiate action but it has no provisions that make these directives binding.

Just a counselling centre

“Like any other Commission, KSCW has got the functioning of an advisory. You cannot expect much from it. The government should invite legal luminaries, social workers and activists, for their opinion [about the KSCW]. For instance, they visit women’s jails and say the condition of the women inmates must be improved. It is only a suggestion. But they cannot take action against any officer. The KSCW has not been able to take any action so far. They are functioning just like a counselling centre,” Banu Mushtaq, a writer and advocate, told DH.

In practical terms, this amounts to the chairperson picking up the phone and giving the police officer a sound tongue-lashing, or marshalling the forces of the media and threatening the officials with public opprobrium to get things moving.  

“We have been demanding more statutory powers to the KSCW so that action can be taken. If they had some statutory powers, the aggrieved person will get more confidence and the person committing the crime will have some fear that he or she will get punished,” says Vimala.

While individual action and public confrontation of ineptitude makes for a good story, the challenge of setting up a system to address the complaints submitted to the KSCW remains.

Ideally, the office of the KSCW is supposed to work in tandem with civil society organisations, consulting with lawyers and activists to suggest changes. One charge levelled against the KSCW is that it is becoming more personality-driven.

There is a governing body of the KSCW that oversees the cases in Bengaluru, which convenes once in every three months or whenever there is an emergency issue. Malathi R Nayak of Koppal, a KSCW member, says, “We need more members from different areas. People here [in Koppal] came to know about the KSCW only after I became a member. As far as I know, there are a lot of members from the Bengaluru-Mysuru region but things are slowly changing.” 

Decentralisation remains a challenge for bodies like the KSCW. There are proposals to diversify the membership of the KSCW, Malathi says.  

“When it is a ‘one-person’ show, there is a possibility that the KSCW functions according to the whims and fancy of one person,” says Vimala. Without strengthening the office of the KSCW, its effectiveness is dependent on the personality of the chairperson, which is detrimental in the long run.  

 

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