People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 12

March 25, 2007

AIDWA Memorandum To PM On Gender Just Legislations


AN eight member delegation of the All India Democratic Women’s Association led by MP and AIDWA vice president Brinda Karat, and comprising Subhashini Ali (president), Sudha Sundararaman (general secretary), Kirti Singh (Legal Cell convenor), Ashalata (assistant secretary), Sathi Devi, K S Sujatha and Jyotirmoyee Sikdar (Lok Sabha MPs), met the prime minister on March 14, 2007 and handed over a memorandum demanding swift introduction of long overdue legislations for women, and changes in pending legislations to make them more gender just.


The delegation demanded that the 33 per cent Women’s Reservation Bill should not be further postponed in the guise of consensus, and there should be a concerted attempt to honour the commitment made in the CMP.


The urgent need to bring in a Comprehensive Bill to address Rape and Sexual Assault which has already been redrafted by AIDWA, widely discussed, and sent to the government after consultations by the NCW was emphasised by the members. They pointed out the importance of amendments to the law relating to rape, molestation and eve-teasing, etc. in the IPC, CrPC, and the Indian Evidence Act. The definition of rape has to include oral and anal penetration, as also child sexual abuse of various kinds. Procedural amendments relating to police investigation, medical examination, giving evidence etc have to be incorporated. 


Despite several assurances by the union home minister, Shivraj Patil, the Bill has still not been introduced in parliament. The delegation expressed concern at the rising graph of rape and sexual assault against women and children, which highlights the immediate need for this legislation. 


The Bill for Protection Against Sexual Harassment of Women has not been introduced even ten long years since the passage of the Supreme Court judgement in Vishaka's case (AIR 1997 SC 3011) where sexual harassment was defined. The “Vishakha guidelines” are still being followed in many institutions though often in an arbitrary and superficial manner. In many institutions sexual harassment committees still have to be set up while in others committees have been set up which do not follow the Vishaka guidelines of having at least half women members. It has also been reported that, in clear violation of the law, women complainants are being harassed and victimised. There is therefore a need for a comprehensive law on sexual harassment at the workplace with proper rules and procedures in both public and private institutions and in the organised and unorganised sectors. Though a draft legislation has been formulated by the NCW and the ministry of law and justice, this still has to be formalised and introduced in parliament immediately. 


Even after six decades of independence, Indian wives have no right to the assets acquired by the parties during marriage. At present, a wife only has a right to maintenance/alimony and a right to residence in a situation of domestic violence. The Bill for matrimonial property rights stipulating that they are joint owners of all movable and immovable assets acquired by either party during the time they have lived together is an urgent necessity.


The demand for a comprehensive Bill for unorganised sector workers, and for agricultural workers has been pending before the government for a long while, and in spite of an assurance in the CMP this has not yet been implemented. This inaction has led to denial of support for a large section of poor women who fall within these categories.


Bills requiring redressal


The delegation also pointed out the serious limitations and problems in existing Bills. The Micro Finance Sector Development and Regulation Bill suggests that the profit making corporate institutions be exempted from its purview and the cap on interests be removed, and be linked to the market rates. This is detrimental to the interests of women. 


The Communal Violence Bill fails to make special provision to address the targeting of women, who are subject to rape and sexual violence during communal riots. The procedures have not been modified to make them gender sensitive. 


The delegation demanded the removal of such deficiencies. The delegation also demanded a special new law to address trafficking in women and children, in tune with the international protocols that the government has signed, which will cover all forms of trafficking, not prostitution alone.


The prime minister gave the delegation a patient hearing. He regretted that the 33 per cent Women’s Reservation Bill could not be passed in spite of earlier assurances, but promised that the efforts towards a consensus would continue. He responded to the demands regarding legislations positively, and assured that the respective ministries would be asked to expedite them. (INN)