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Women's Commission Across Many States in Shocking Turmoil

The Probe Investigation Reveals Women's Commission Across Many States are Virtually Nonexistent Due to Political Interference, Bureaucratic Hurdles, and a Stark Lack of Investment and Will

By Sagnik Majumder and Nihal Kumar
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Women's Commission

A dysfunctional State Commission for Women | Representative image | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

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The National Commission for Women (NCW) is an entity established by the Indian government to promote women's welfare across the country. Charged with the critical task of advocating for women's rights and addressing their concerns, this statutory body represents an essential voice across all Indian states. At the state level, similar state commissions for women are established with mandates to enhance women's status, investigate rights violations, and recommend necessary improvements. While these state commissions operate independently under the respective state governments, they are generally guided by the principles and framework of the national commission. However, an investigation by The Probe has unearthed a troubling reality: Women's commission across many states are essentially non-functional, and, alarmingly, the National Commission for Women appears to have taken scant action to address these deficiencies.

Gujarat SCW: No Chairperson or Members for Two Years

In a conversation with a representative from the Gujarat State Commission for Women, located in Gandhi Nagar, a concerning disclosure was made: "There is no Chairperson here. The position has been vacant for close to two years. The Chairperson has not been recruited yet. Currently, our staff consists only of one Member Secretary and a Legal Officer."

According to the founding documents of the Gujarat State Commission for Women, the Commission should be composed of 14 members, including a Chairperson, five Members, seven Ex-Officio Members, and a Member Secretary. Even the National Commission for Women's website acknowledges the vacancy in the Chairperson's role. Notably, in an interview with the media last March, the Chairperson of the NCW admitted that until it had a Chairperson, the Gujarat State Commission for Women was doing a good job. However, for the past several months, the Commission has had no Chairperson or Members. 

The troubling truth is that many of these crucial Commissions, which play an important role in advancing women's rights, have become largely politicised. This politicisation is starkly apparent in Gujarat. The former Chairperson of the Gujarat State Commission for Women, Leelaben Ankoliya, was reportedly pressured to resign in the wake of a major party reshuffle by the ruling BJP government. The media suggested that Ankoliya's close ties with the former Chief Minister Vijay Rupani was a factor in her resignation. Despite the government assurances that these vacancies would be promptly filled, the position of Chairperson and many other positions in the SCW still remain vacant. This raises a critical question: Why has there been no appointment of a new Chairperson, and what does this inertia signify about the state's commitment to women's rights?

Persistent Vacancies and Political Turmoil Plague MP SCW

The situation in the Madhya Pradesh State Women's Commission mirrors the challenges seen in Gujarat. It once again highlights the broader pattern of political interference in such bodies. The NCW's website explicitly states that the Chairperson's role in the Madhya Pradesh Commission has been pending for an extended period. 

The Commission languished in dysfunction for years; following the end of Lata Wankhede’s tenure in January 2019, the subsequent political regime, led by the Congress party, did not fill the vacancy for over a year. In March 2020, under Kamal Nath's leadership, Shobha Oza was appointed as Chairperson, along with other Commission Members. Yet, before she could assume her role, a change in government led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan resulted in the cancellation of her appointment, and once again, the position was left vacant. On 13 December 2023, BJP named Mohan Yadav, an OBC leader with RSS roots as the next CM. However, the state’s women’s commission’s position continued to remain vacant. 

An official from the Madhya Pradesh State Commission for Women, speaking on condition of anonymity, underscored the gravity of the situation: “We haven't had a Chairperson for a very long time. It’s been more than 4 years now. We have been operating only with a Member Secretary, Tripti Tripathi. Ideally, we should have five members also, but this has not been the case for many years now.” 

Jharkhand: "All Cases Since 2020 Are Pending"

In Jharkhand, the State Commission for Women has been without a Chairperson since June 2020. Roopa Kumari, an employee of the Commission, expressed to The Probe her concerns about the ongoing vacancy: "There is no Chairperson. It’s been more than three years now. The position has not been filled since the term of the last Chairperson, Kalyani Sharma ended on June 7, 2020. Without a leader, the administrative work is virtually at a standstill. We have an Under Secretary who is seldom present, as he is assigned to another project. As a result, no substantial work is being done here. The complaints we receive from distressed women are merely collected and filed without any follow-up action. They don’t even get forwarded. Consequently, all cases since June 2020 remain unresolved. We desperately need a Chairperson to get the process moving again."

The impact of this dysfunction is acutely felt by individuals like Lali Devi, a tribal farmer who was stripped, assaulted and paraded in Ghasilari village in Jharkhand’s Simdega district. Despite seeking justice through multiple channels, including the local police and the Superintendent's office, she found no relief. Her last hope was the Jharkhand State Commission for Women, which, to her dismay, was non-functional. 

Lali Devi shares her frustration: "After failing to obtain justice in Simdega, I went to Ranchi hoping to appeal before the State Commission for Women, only to discover that the office was not operational. A functioning women’s commission could have at least offered some support to victims of violence like me." 

Puducherry Women's Commission: Headless and Understaffed

Amutha Srinivasan, the lone operative as Member Secretary of the Puducherry Commission for Women, highlights the operational void: "There is no Chairperson. There are no Members. I am the only person working, and my designation is Member Secretary. The Chairperson’s position has been vacant for about two years. We have reported to our department and forwarded files to the government, but the post remains unfilled. Since the tenure of the former Chairperson ended, no recruitment has occurred. We are diverting all complaints to the Women and Child Development department. The protection officer there handles these matters. Yet, we have received no responses regarding the forwarded files. I am also handling four or five additional roles, including old age pension. It is not easy to handle multiple positions. Furthermore, when someone retires in the government, their position often remains unfilled, because of which every department in the Union Territory is facing a staff shortage."

The Congress government had appointed Rani Rajan Babu, an active Congress member, as the Chairperson of the Puducherry Commission for Women in 2019. However, Babu’s term ended in 2022 and since then the Commission has been functioning without a team. The Union Territory is currently ruled by the All India N.R. Congress and the BJP alliance. Insiders in the government say that many of the positions in the state are lying vacant as there is a tussle between the BJP and the All India N.R. Congress related to appointments and therefore it’s very difficult to recruit consensus candidates to fill important positions.

The Probe spoke to the former Chairperson, Babu, who said that it is sad that the Commission is headless and this situation is directly impacting women who seek justice and who need reprieve. “I finished my tenure in 2022. I tried to do my best when I was the Chairperson. To many victims, I was able to help them get justice but many cases were in the process and ongoing. I feel sad that many of those cases are still pending and the new cases are piling up in the Commission.”

The Curious Case of Chattisgarh SCW

The situation in Chhattisgarh presents a particularly concerning example of the challenges faced by state women’s commissions in India. The NCW's website, which is supposed to direct people to the Chhattisgarh State Commission for Women, instead links to a domain that is currently up for sale—cgmahilaayog.com.

The NCW's website, which is supposed to direct people to the Chhattisgarh State Commission for Women, 
instead links to a domain that is currently up for sale—cgmahilaayog.com

That apart, the government has mentioned a wrong number related to the Commission. This error has led to a significant mix-up; calls intended for the women’s commission are being mistakenly directed to an engineering company. The person answering these calls shared their frustration, stating, “We are very fed up. Everyday we get calls from women victims thinking this is the number for the Chhattisgarh State Women’s Commission, but we are an engineering company. We deal with harassed and troubled victims daily. I have complained to Airtel about this issue, but it continues. We are so fed up that we will just disconnect our number soon. I don’t think the government will rectify their error.”

Himachal Pradesh: Another SCW that Fell Victim to Politics

In yet another example of administrative lag affecting the functionality of state women's commissions, the situation in Himachal Pradesh underlines the impact of political transitions on these crucial bodies. Since the departure of the previous BJP Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, and with the onset of the new Congress government led by Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu in December 2022, the state's Women's Commission has been left without a Chairperson or Members. The absence of these key figures has led to a complete halt in many of the Commission's functions, including court proceedings. "Because the Chairperson is not there, no court proceedings have also taken place. Most of the work is stopped. All emergency cases are forwarded back to the police," reported an insider within the Commission.

This gap in leadership extends back to the tenure of the former Chairperson, Daisy Thakur, who confirmed, "My term ended in December 2022 when the new government came in, and they have not appointed a new Chairperson for the last one and a half years." 

Leadership Vacuum and Neglect: A Deep Dive into the Dysfunctional State of Women’s Commissions in India

The Uttar Pradesh State Commission for Women exemplifies a troubling trend of inactivity and neglect within state commissions, which are intended to advocate for and protect women's rights. According to the NCW’s website, the chair of the Uttar Pradesh commission has been vacant for an extended period. This vacancy is compounded by the absence of any members within the Commission, leading to a complete operational shutdown.

Neerja Tiwari, a former member of the Commission, confirmed the dire state of affairs: “There is no Chairperson. There are no members in the Commission." Additionally, attempts to contact the Commission have been futile as none of the listed phone numbers are operational. An employee who worked at the Commission until September of the previous year provided further insight: “I no longer work there. I used to work there till last September and am now with another department. None of the numbers work because the Commission doesn’t exist.” He noted that Vimla Batham was the last Chairperson, appointed in 2018, and highlighted that the Chairperson’s position has been unfilled for over two years following the end of her tenure in 2022. On approaching Vimla Batham, she confirmed that the Commission has been headless ever since her term ended.

The situation in many women’s commissions across the country remains dire, if not worsening. A striking example is the reliance on basic Gmail accounts as the primary means for filing victim-complaints, which shows that there is a lack of formal infrastructure. Many of the Commissions do not even have a functional website. For instance, the Goa State Commission for Women, as of now, does not possess its own website. Even the official state government’s website only identifies Upasana Mazgaonkar as the Member Secretary and omits mentioning Ranjita S Pai, who was appointed as the Chairperson in March 2023.

Upasana Mazgaonkar shared with The Probe, “We still don’t have a working website. We are trying to get one.” Furthermore, Ranjita S Pai, the Chairperson of the Commission, explained that although her appointment was in March 2023, she could only begin substantive work in October 2023 after the appointment of the other Members. “The Commission is complete only after the Members are appointed. Only in October were the Members appointed. So, now we are trying to address all pending work. We have conducted 258 hearings, and 60 cases have been disposed off. As for the website, currently, everyone is occupied with the election process. We hope to have a website post-elections.”

The challenges faced by women's commissions extend across various states, each grappling with its own set of difficulties. In Mizoram, too, the State Commission for Women is without a functional website. Zo Nun Par Sailo, the Member Secretary of the Commission, acknowledged this deficiency, stating, "We don’t have a website yet. I know we should be having one. We will request the government soon for a website.” 

The situation is similarly problematic in Assam, where structural and resource-related issues hamper the functionality of the State Commission for Women. Babita Sharma, a Member of the Commission, outlined the operational challenges they face: "We have to travel to various districts, but we don’t even have transportation facilities. The Chairperson and Vice Chairperson have transportation, but other members do not receive this support when we travel. Despite promises of Travel Allowances (TA) and Dearness Allowances (DA), in reality, these are not provided, forcing us to spend from our own pockets. However, we still strive to perform our duties effectively, not letting these challenges affect our work. As far as the website is concerned, we don’t have one. We have a gmail id through which victims can approach us. There is no website because there is no investment to better the infrastructure and facilities of the Commission."

The situation in Manipur once again shows the grave challenges faced by state women’s commissions in times of crisis. The state has been enveloped in violence since May last year, a period marked by particularly horrifying incidents including massive riots where numerous cases of violence against women were reported.  The whole nation was shaken to the core when the video of two naked women being forcibly marched towards a field went viral in Manipur. Amidst this turmoil, the effectiveness of the Manipur State Commission for Women is critically compromised by internal discord.

A member of the commission revealed the extent of the dysfunction, explaining, "There is an ongoing tussle between the members and the Chairperson, and a notable lack of transparency in our interactions. As just a Member, I find that there are many things the Chairperson does not disclose to us. Ironically, we find ourselves struggling for our own rights within an organisation that's supposed to champion women's rights." 

Contrarily, Ulka Salam, the Chairperson of the Commission, denied any issues related to transparency. However, the very existence of such allegations and internal conflict raises serious concerns about the Commission's capacity to effectively advocate for and protect women, especially during ongoing violence. If the body meant to defend women’s rights is mired in internal strife, the ability to provide necessary justice and support for women becomes significantly questionable.

In a country that espouses slogans like "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter), the disheartening state of the state women's commissions starkly contrasts with the national commitment to women's rights. The ongoing struggles of these Commissions—riddled with political interference, bureaucratic stagnation, and a glaring lack of infrastructure—reveal a troubling gap between declared intentions and actual efforts. More fundamentally, the apparent absence of a genuine will to safeguard the interests of women suggests that many of these commissions exist more in name than in reality, offering little real support to the victims they are meant to serve.

Seeking answers and accountability, The Probe reached out with a series of detailed questions to Rekha Sharma, the Chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW), the primary statutory body overseeing women's rights across India. However, despite multiple attempts, our queries have remained unanswered.

We will continue to update this story as new information becomes available, and as we hopefully receive a response from the NCW. 

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