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NCW can’t be a post office: Amid #MeToo campaign, women’s body pulled up for ‘insincerity’

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The NCW has been criticised by the Central Information Commission for ‘washing hands of’ sexual harassment cases.

New Delhi: At a time when the country is witnessing an upheaval of sorts against sexual crime, the National Commission for Women has been pulled up by the Central Information Commission (CIC) for its alleged insincerity to the cause.

In an order dated 16 October, the CIC noted: “The NCW is not a post office to simply forward the complaints to concerned accused office and wash of hands (sic).”

The NCW is India’s apex body for the protection and promotion of women’s interests.

Also read: Pursuing #MeToo cases legally faces a big hurdle – the law

The commission’s order pertained to a complaint filed against the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), which comes under the Power Ministry, and the NCW for not divulging information about sexual harassment cases filed at the government firm from 2012 to 2016.

The complaint was filed by the husband of a former DVC employee who was allegedly sexually harassed.

However, the NCW, which did not respond to the RTI plea filed by the applicant, told the CIC that the “National Commission for Women is not a monitoring authority of sexual harassment cases”.

“Therefore, the NCW has not received any details of such cases either from the DVC or any other institutions,” it added, saying it had promptly forwarded the application to DVC for a response.

The CIC, however, said the “NCW cannot shirk its responsibility in such cases”.

“We need to examine what happened in this case, where the victim complained, but she was further victimised, then she filed an RTI application to NCW, which was simply forwarded to the organisation which was harassing her with inaction on her complaint,” the CIC said in its order.

“If this is the plight of giving written complaint, how any woman will come forward to complain?” the order noted.

Censured earlier too

This is not the first time the NCW is being pulled up by the CIC.

In July 2017, the CIC had reprimanded the NCW for allegedly failing its duty as a “responsible employer” by not acting on a complaint of sexual harassment filed by an employee against its senior officer V.V.B. Raju, who is now the head of administration at the Central government’s flagship Atal Innovation Mission at the NITI Aayog.

The order was issued by the same commissioner who passed Tuesday’s, Sridhar Acharyulu.

“When the right of a woman is violated and rule of law does not work, she looks to the NCW for support and sympathy,” Acharyulu had said in his 2017 order. “If men violate the rights of a woman in the NCW office itself, and the rule of law does not work, where should she go?”

Acharyulu had also criticised the “anti-RTI” attitude of the NCW.

With the #MeToo movement raging in the country, the V.V.B. Raju case has got fresh media attention and the complainant, along with another former employee of the NCW, has filed a case against the body for allegedly firing the two after they reported sexual harassment within the organisation.

Urges action

At Tuesday’s hearing, the CIC also laid out certain recommendations for how the NCW should ensure sexual harassment complaints reach their logical conclusion.

“The commission strongly recommends the NCW and the ministry of women and child development to study and examine whether systems to receive and inquire into complaints were put in place at various organisations… courts… if not, why,” the CIC said.

Also read: Priya Ramani vs MJ Akbar must not stop public naming & shaming in India’s #Metoo

The CIC also recommended that the NCW take appropriate measures to ensure the “establishment of a functional system in… a big organisation like the DVC to receive and act on complaints of sexual harassment in [a] prescribed timeframe and take necessary action if it fails”.

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  1. If this is not asking for the moon, institutions like the NCW should not be seen as places where party loyalists can be accommodated. Women who have made a name for themselves, empowering women, should be considered. Too many of our public institutions, going all the way up to the Raj Bhavans, are no longer associated with excellence, achievement and sheer calibre. One cannot believe that India suffers from a talent crunch. We should shun mediocrity like the plague.

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