Two significant parallel happenings have caught public attention off late. Even as the UPA Government is basking in the euphoria of having tabled the Women'sReservation Bill, the bizarre honour killing of a six months pregnant woman in a village in Karnal district in Haryana is a strong pointer at the dismal social backwardness of a very large section of women in our country. Will the Women'sReservation Bill stop the deaths of that ilk of Roop Kanwar the 18 year old widow who committed sati in Rajasthan? Will it give justice to the dalit women raped and killed in the Khairlanji tragedy? Of what use then is such a Bill? When the I.K. Gujral government tried to introduce the contentious Women'sReservation Bill in the Lok Sabha, a decade ago, the Janata Dal President, Sharad Yadav opposed the quota Bill on the grounds that it will benefit only Par Katti Mahilayen, i.e., (women with bobbed hair). Needless to say the Women'sReservation Bill being elitist in nature will benefit only the elite ladies of the society. The illiterate, poverty stricken women in backward rural India who even after more than 50 years of Independence have to walk miles just to get a few pots of water, do these women even know of the Women'sReservation Bill much less benefit from it?
The UPA Government wants to show that it is doing positive things for women'swelfare which is why it has ostensibly brought in the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act in 2006 and now it is the much hyped Women'sReservation Bill. The Act against domestic violence in practice is a miserable failure and going by it as a precedent one fears that the Women'sReservation Bill will also follow the same fate.
Here'sa true story unfolding to prove how dysfunctional the Act against domestic violence is. Rukmini is my maid servant. She is a Dalit. She is a victim of domestic violence?abused physically and emotionally by her ruffian son who would constantly demand money from her for his drinking binge. Rukmani lodged a police complaint against her son at the Pant Nagar police station- Mumbai. The police did not take any cognizance of her complaint. According to the State Women'sCommission Chairperson Rajani Satav, ?most policemen did not have enough knowledge of the Act against Domestic Violence?. So it is not surprising that Rukmini'scase was dealt casually by the police. One day Rukmini came to work with red, swollen eyes. I thought that it was Conjunctivitis. ?No? she cried, ?My son tried to pour spirit into my eyes and he has thrown me out of the house ? I have nowhere to go now.? Though the Koli (shanty) was in Rukmani'sname she was rendered homeless. It was then that I decided to help Rukmani. I thought of what use is my education if I could not help the underprivileged like Rukmani in society.
It was around this time that I came across an article published in The Times of India, which stated that the state government had appointed Protection Officers to help victims of domestic violence. The Protection Officer in charge of Rukmini'sarea had his office at the Mulund Tehsildar office in Mumbai. I approached him along with Rukmini. Even after taking prior appointment he was not available at his office when we went there. After much persuasion Rukmini'scase was taken down and forwarded to the Vikroli court in Mumbai. Later Rukmini told me that the Protection Officer had sent a man from the Tehsildar'soffice to accompany her to the Vikhroli Court to submit her case papers. Although the man was an employee of the Tehsildar'soffice which meant that he was a state government worker, he told Rukmini that he would have to submit her papers to the Pant Nagar Police Station to summon her son to the court so he needed Karcha Pani to go to the Pant Nagar Police Station. He demanded Rs100 from Rukmani. Rukmani told him that she had only Rs 35 with her. He took the money from her. With no money left Rukmani walked all the way from Vikroli Court to her shanty in Kamraj Nagar. This is how the state government employees who are appointed to handle the cases of Domestic Violence function. When it comes to extracting bribes even the maid servants are not spared.
Protection Officers are required under Law to lodge the victim'scomplaint with the Magistrate and then pursue the case on behalf of the victim. This never happened in Rukmini'scase. Whenever Rukmini'scase came up for hearing the Protection Officer was never present in the court. When Rukmini'scase went on being adjourned, I realised that Protection Officers were of no use and that the Act against domestic violence was a mere sham. It was then that I approached the NGO Majlis. What a difference it was! The Majlis which takes up the cases of distressed women is a committed NGO doing wonderful work for victims of Domestic Violence?a far cry from the dysfunctional Protection Officers appointed by the state government. Nausheen the young budding lawyer from Majlis took up Rukmini'scase with gusto. She took pains to prepare Rukmini'scase and would be present in the Vikrohli Court even before Rukmini'sarrival. When the case came up for hearing Nausheen argued brilliantly and the Judge gave the order in Rukmini'sfavour. The Judge ordered that Rukmini should be reinstated in her Koli and that no violence should be inflicted on her. Rukmini is now happy that she has got back her Koli and her son scared of the court order do not harass her now.
This story of Rukmani proves the lacuna in the Act against domestic violence which is making it difficult for distressed women like her to get justice and relief. The state government is making do with an inadequate existing staff, whereas it has to train and employ fresh candidates to handle cases of domestic violence. The Protection Officers are burdened with additional tasks which make it difficult for them to give the required time and commitment to victims of domestic violence. When it comes to violence within the four walls of the home even educated and affluent women are reduced to victim status not very different from women who are not so well provided for. The controversial IPS officer Deepak Pandey who has been accused by his wife Nidhi?an IAS officer of extreme violence and dowry demands?this case is a pointer of high profile domestic violence.
Since I have personally handled Rukmini'scase, I am convinced that the Government is not doing anything worthwhile for the protection of underprivileged women. Women need security more than reservations. Merely passing a Law or tabling a Bill is not enough to protect women from abuse and physical violence. Apart from security, what women need most for empowerment is education, awareness and financial independence, this neither the dysfunctional Act against domestic violence nor the Women'sReservation Bill provides women with. Meghnad Desai in his article, Time to give women their due, published in the DNA on May 11, mentions that the Women'sReservation Bill will be dropped, as the so-called secularist will issue a veto. Congress lacks the guts to stand up to any opposition be it from current allies or future possible friends. For the discerning public it is easy to see that the Act against domestic violence and the Women'sReservation Bill are nothing but political gimmicks aimed at vote bank sympathy.
(English Department, S.K.. Somaiya College.)