Expert member, National Commission for Women, NewDelhi
The passing of the Nagaland Women Commission Bill on the 25th August2006 by the Nagaland Legislative Assembly heralds the start of a new chapter for women in the state. It is a gigantic step forward in putting women in the state at par with other women from other states in having a Commission to protect their rights. It is also a strong indication that time has come for attitudinal changes in the patriarchal set up of the Naga society. The credit for making the Commission a reality for women goes to the keen attention of His Excellency, Governor of Nagaland, the Chief Minister of the State and the members of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly and we are grateful that finally, voices of women have been heard by policy makers. As per reports of the presentation of the bill in the assembly by the Chief Minister, the bill envisages a wide spectrum of activities and positive changes for women in the state through this long awaited commission. However, there are matters of concern that need to be raised, to sensitize the Government on what women expect through the setting up of the Commission.
Firstly, one needs to understand that the State Women Commission is different from a State Information Commission and should not be equated as such, because the news of the three member Women Commission for Nagaland is a very serious issue. Nowhere in the whole country does any State Women Commission have only three members, because the concept of having a Commission is to bring in committed women from various fields and expertise to work for the upliftment of women in each state. Jammu and Kashmir has the lowest number with only four members- a full time Chairperson, two part time members and a member secretary who is an Add. Secy from the State Government service. And the tragedy of such a small Commission is that it has been ineffective, because of lack of more experts from different fields of women related activities .They have also been unab1e to deal strongly with.the sex rackets that have plunged the state of Jammu and Kashmir, into shame in the recent months.
West Bengal State Commission for Women has the highest number of 11 members with a Chairperson, Vice Chairperson and nine members’ including the member Secretary, who is not less than the rank of a Joint Secy in the state service. Karnataka SCW also has 11 members with a Chairperson and 6 members, a Secy frm the State Govt. service and three ‘ex officio members who are the Secy, Women and Child Development, Director Women and Child Development and Director General of Police. Maharashtra SCW has 8 members with a Chairperson, 6 members and a member .secretary from the state service and the DGP as the ex-officio member. Haryana SCW has 8 members with a Chairperson, 4 members, a member Secretary from the state govt. service and the Director of Women and Child development and the DGP as Ex-officio members. Orissa SCW has 7 members with a Chairperson, 5 members and a member Secretary from the state Govt. service. Goa SCW has 9 members with a Chairperson, six members, one member secretary from the state service and interestingly, one lady member from the Goa Legislative Assembly.
Nearer home, the Assam SCW has 10 members, with a Chairperson, one Vice Chairperson, 7 members, and a member secretary from the state govt. service. Arunachal sew has 8 members with a Chairperson, a Vice Chairperson, member secretary from the state govt. service and 5 members. Mizoram SCW has 6 members with a Chairperson and five members including the member secretary. Tripura SCW has 7 members, with the Chairperson, 5 members and a member secretary from the state Govt. service. Meghalaya SCW has 8 members, with a chairperson, Vice Chairperson, 5 members and a member secretary from the State government service. Manipur is still to set up its commission though the bill has been passed by the Manipur Assembly.
In such a scenario, it is pertinent that the State Government seriously considers expanding the membership of the Commission to make it effective and convince women in the state that they are serious about gender equity. As an Expert Member to the National Commission, New Delhi and being responsible for preparing the first draft of the Nagaland State Commission for Women, at the request of the Department concerned, I am disappointed and perturbed, that the initial suggestion for either nine or eleven members, (taking into consideration the district distribution and adequate representation of tribes )has not been given serious consideration. It must be noted that every Naga tribe can boast of educated and committed women activists who are eligible for membership into the Commission. Therefore, till there is adequate representation, the Commission will become autocratic, which is in direct contrast to the Naga psyche of democracy. Furthermore, there is no reason why the commission cannot go beyond eleven and expand, taking into consideration the different communities in the state. This is not to create a financial liability on the State Government, but to ensure that there is a fair representation of women, as customary practices vary from community to community. The Chairperson and members are paid an honorarium only, in all states in the country, including the National Commission-for Women and not a full fledged salary, because the Commission is seen as an extension of voluntary work for women. As of now, the Chairperson of the National-commission for Women, New Delhi enjoys the protocol status of a Cabinet Minister, and the Chairperson of a State Commission enjoys the protocol equation with a Minister of State in all parts of the country. As they are only paid an honorarium, the question of providing government quarters has not arisen in any state, even for the chairperson. However, this depends on the graciousness of the government and should not be a deterrent for including more members into the Commission, nor should the paucity of funds, to constitute an adequate and proper Women Commission in Nagaland. One misconception that must be cleared is that, Members of the Commission cannot be equated with board members of any autonomous organisation, because the Commission is a statutory and autonomous body with powers of a civil court. Hence, the responsibility of having efficient and knowledgeable members is crucial in a Women Commission.
Every State Commission for Women Act, including the National Commission for Women Act, stipulates that the Chairperson should be an eminent woman committed to the cause of women, with sufficient knowledge and experience in dealing with women’s problems. The Members of the Commission must be women of ability and integrity and standing who have served the cause of women and have sufficient knowledge and experience in legislation or law, administration of matters concerning the advancement of women or leadership of any trade union or voluntary organisation for women for protection, education, upliftment and promotion of common interests of women. The Member Secretary of every Commission is always taken from the State govt. service or the lAS, who is an expert in the field of management, organizational structure of sociological movement, not less than the rank of a Joint Secretary. It would do well if the Government also considers ex-officio members with the Director General of Police and the Secretary/Director of Women Development in the Commission. This has been a success in other states because the presence and support of the Police as well as the Department dealing with women welfare has made a great difference.
The mandate of a Women Commission is to look into laws affecting women and recommend thereto; take up cases of violation of provisions of the Constitution and other laws. To look into complaints and take suo moto notice of matters relating to deprivation of women’s rights, non implementation of laws, non-compliance of policy decisions, guidelines or instructions etc .To call for special studies or investigations into specific problems or situations arising out of discrimination against women. To undertake promotional and educational research so as to suggest ways of ensuring due representation of women in all spheres. To inspect a jail, remand home, women’s institution or other place of custody. To evaluate the progress of the development of women. To participate and advise on the planning process of socio economic development of women and any other matter referred to it by the State Government.
The long demand for a Women Commission by women in the state should not have been in vain. It is expected that the State Government will fully understand the implications and expectations from such a Commission and avoid any undue pressures from any sector. Naga women must also forego the misunderstanding that the Commission is another way... to make money through schemes and projects, otherwise, we would be responsible for the failure of our State Commission for Women.