Number of members in Haryana women's commission: ZERO
Haryana has never had the best reputation when it comes to crimes against women. Making matters worse, the Haryana State Commission for Women is more or less non-existent – at present, it has zero members.
The tenure of Kamlesh Panchal as chairperson and Suman Dahiya as vice-chairperson of the commission ended on 21 May and 25 May, respectively. Neither has visited the office since then, a source in the commission office told Catch.
Both were appointed in May 2014, during the previous Congress government in Haryana.
What’s ironic is that the constitution of the commission says that the body must comprise of a “full time Chairperson, one Vice Chairperson and (4) four Non-Official Members to be nominated by the State Government.”
However, according to a source, the terms and conditions of service of the four non-official members were never approved by the new BJP-led state government since 2014. Although the four members joined in May 2014, they have not been functioning members since then, Dahiya confirms.
A deep-rooted malaise
“In a state like Haryana where patriarchy is still deep-rooted in the society, cases of crimes against women are never-ending. It is very problematic that there is no one at the moment to hear cases of crimes against women and provide legal aid to them,” says Dahiya.
Haryana witnessed three gruesome gangrapes last month, one of them in Rohtak and two in the thriving commercial city of Gurugram, part of the National Capital Region.
Dahiya claims that the Commission receives at least 150 complaints on a daily basis - ranging from rapes, domestic violence, family disputes, molestation, dowry and honour crimes. She told Catch that the two women single-handedly dealt with a majority of cases with occasional help from members of the state women and child development department.
Suraj Kaur, who works with the state's women and child development department confirmed that the Commission was running without any member. She, however, says the panel's work has not come to a complete halt.
"All the complaints are being forwarded to the concerned authorities like the police, home department, health department etc. Most of the cases are crimes against women and are being forwarded to the concerned supertindents of police. It is not like the commission has stopped functioning. The members in the women's commission will be replaced soon, within a month," Kaur says.
Jagmati Sangwan of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) slammed the Haryana government for its callousness.
“Haryana women’s commission members haven’t exactly done a great job in the past but the fact that the commission has been defunct for the past 3 years and now has no members, is highly objectionable. You can understand this government’s seriousness about women’s issues by the fact that they have not replaced commission members yet,” she told Catch.
“Beti Bachao Beti Padhao is nothing but a campaign slogan. Not having proper mechanisms in place is a very serious issue because at the end it is the women who are suffering,” she says.
The constitution for the committee clearly lists the functions of the department: "The Commission will monitor the implementation of laws and welfare measures, investigate complaints, demand prosecution in offences committed against women, inspect police station lock ups, sub jails and rescue homes etc., conduct public interest litigation and conduct studies and researches etc."
Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) secretary, feels that Haryana is facing an epidemic of crimes against women, the worst of which are honour crimes. “Haryana of all states needs a pro-active body to oversee whether or not women’s rights are being protected. The women should have somewhere to go where their problems are heard and addressed.”
Krishnan further adds that the Haryana govt is particularly hostile towards women’s issues. “The CM’s statement on women and their freedom of choice is an example of the mindset that the current government has towards women.”
During his election campaign current Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar had said, “If a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way." When he was asked whether young people should have freedom of choice, he replied, “If you want freedom, why don't they just roam around naked? Freedom has to be limited. These short clothes are western influences. Our country's tradition asks girls to dress decently.”
According to Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar, the defunct women's commission is proof of the state government’s inefficiency, insensitivity and inexperience.
“The BJP government intended to remove all Congress appointees in the state women’s welfare bodies. The High Court of Punjab and Haryana refused to let the BJP government remove the State Commission for Women Chairperson and Vice-chairperson until their tenure was over."
The High Court of Punjab and Haryana in May 2016 quashed the BJP government's appeal to remove the Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson of the State Commission of Women appointed by the last Congress administration in Haryana. The two women were reninstated until the completion of their tenure.
Tanwar also added that the government’s insensitivity towards women has to change. “Already the rate of crime against women is high in Haryana. It has the worst sex ratio in the country. These issues should be on the government’s priority which it is currently not.”
Catch repeatedly tried to reach out to the Minister of Women & Child Development of Haryana, Kavita Jain, but received no response.