AIDWA Welcomes Pro-Women Legislation

AIDWA Welcomes Introduction of Pro-Women Legislation by UPA Govt
4 September, 2005 Sudha Sundararaman
THE current session of parliament has witnessed the introduction of many bills of specific relevance to women. While welcoming the fact that the UPA government has paid at least partial heed to the pro-poor promises made in the National Common Minimum Programme (CMP), it should be noted that this was done with active prompting from the Left and the sustained intervention of democratic organisations like the AIDWA. But there is still a long way to go. It is extremely disappointing that the critical 33 per cent Women's Reservation Bill has once again been pushed to the back burner, with the BJP playing a particularly nefarious role in shifting its stand mid-stream. Moreover, the rights enshrined in our laws reach ordinary people only when the struggle for implementation becomes powerful, and it is indispensable for democratic organisations to launch effective struggles at all levels to access these newly defined entitlements. To prevent exploitation by vested interests, an emphasis on monitoring and public accountability at the point of delivery is essential.
AIDWA's welcomes the two important bills - the National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill and the Protection from Domestic Violence Bill - passed by the parliament and calls for a widespread campaign to ensure their effective implementation.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill moved by the UPA government is an important step forward in the process of safeguarding the survival rights of needy families in rural areas who are in acute distress because of lack of employment. The government has accepted certain crucial amendments suggested by the Left parties to the original bill mooted by the government. The combined efforts of the Left parties and the mass movements, including those organised by AIDWA, around the issue of rural employment guarantee legislation have ensured that the dilutions in the earlier draft have been removed. One instance was the restriction to just below poverty line (BPL) families. Other amendments of the Left which were accepted include a floor-level minimum wage of 60 rupees for every workday; specific priority to be given so as to ensure that one third of the beneficiaries under the scheme are women; the initial coverage of 200 districts, including the FWP districts will be extended to the remaining 400 districts within five years etc. The list of works is now made more flexible and by including the clause of consultation with state governments, space has been provided for the inclusion of more women-friendly tasks. The increased role of panchayats has also been included. The central government has assured that it will address the financial liability of the states towards unemployment allowance if it does not transfer the funds in time. This is an important issue, and it is essential that the central government makes the requisite funds available as otherwise the entire programme will not be implemented.
A concerted struggle is now required to ensure that these legislation are fully implemented. In AIDWA's experience, the rights of women are given the least priority at the ground level. Since there is now a legal provision for inclusion of women in the legislation, AIDWA units in the districts where the scheme will be implemented will have to ensure that women's rights are protected and implemented.
AIDWA welcomes the introduction of the Protection from Domestic Violence Bill, 2005 in parliament as it represents a significant advance in providing women access to legal protection and relief from violence within the home. The bill fulfils a long-pending demand of AIDWA and the women's movement for a civil remedy to address this inadequately recognised, yet rampant form of violence. AIDWA hopes that its swift enactment and proper implementation will contribute to arresting the rising graph of domestic violence.
One of the crucial entitlements assured to the woman under this bill is the right to residence, the right not to be dispossessed of her marital home. The wife will also be entitled to ask for protective orders from acts of domestic violence. The respondent may be debarred from entering home, workplace etc. or prevented from harassing the wife by communicating with her. Provision for financial support, temporary custody of children, and compensation in case of damage or injuries form part of the relief that may be granted. The tremendous injustice of the patriarchal social order which often led to women getting thrown out with no shelter or being forced to return to the parental home is sought to be addressed. It is essential for courts to enforce these important entitlements. The present draft has done away with many of the basic flaws in the draft formulated during the NDA regime, especially the removal of the clause defining violence as a "habitual offence." The definition now includes physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, and economic violence, various forms of dowry related harassment, as also the threat of violence. It ensures a much more comprehensive extension of protection to women. The definition of who can take recourse to legal protection has been enhanced such that it covers the wife, or any woman who has been in a domestic relationship with the respondent. Thus the right of the mother, the sister, or partner, have been brought into the ambit of the aggrieved person.
Another important proviso is that the wife cannot be prosecuted under this law, but the wife can register complaints against the female relatives of the respondent if they too have been perpetrators of violence. While welcoming the positive aspects, AIDWA would like to point out the lacunae that will detract from the effective implementation of the legislation at the ground level. The appointment of the "protection officers" mandated under this bill can prove to be counterproductive. In AIDWA's long experience, appointing intermediaries leads to bureaucratic delays, increases the scope for corruption as well as gender-biased counseling. Hence this should not be made compulsory, but could be left to the discretion of the Magistrate. The restriction on "service providers" having to be registered organisations excludes other committed social organisations, communities or individuals from providing support. This provision is also open to misuse by the police. We urge the government to reconsider and modify these two clauses. The bill should be passed in this session of parliament. AIDWA calls on all sections of society to come forward to support the bill, and more importantly ensure its effective and widespread implementation.