Report in, action awaited

These omissions in an otherwise commendable report do not however absolve the government from addressing them and acting on the report.

The record of governments does not inspire confidence. India has been among the few countries with no specific laws and protocols against child sexual abuse. Following a widespread campaign in the early 1990s, an assurance was made on the floor of Parliament by the Narasimha Rao government. But it took 18 years before the legislation on child sexual abuse was adopted. Again, it took 15 years for the Supreme Court judgment given by a bench headed by Justice Verma on the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace to be translated into a bill still pending in the Rajya Sabha, but which, as the Verma committee points out, has clauses which are against the spirit of the judgment. During the UPA 1 regime, Parliament had discussed the need for a standalone law against so-called honour crimes. Unfortunately, even though women's organisations like AIDWA have given a draft bill to the government, no action has been taken.

The lack of political will on important women's issues is also reflective of a dominant brand of politics which only sees votebanks, not people. Since women, in this perception, do not constitute a votebank, their issues can be safely neglected, in contrast to considerations based on a narrow reading of caste and community. This gets reflected in parliamentary priorities too.

There is an ideological aspect also. Orthodoxy and conservatism on gender issues run deep among many of our parliamentarians, men or women. There are undoubtedly honourable exceptions, but Parliament has abandoned the eloquent defence and promotion of women's rights that marked the early decades of Independence. Not only is it unable to keep up with the assertion of women on freedom from patriarchal controls, but more worryingly it sometimes acts as an obstacle to women's advance, such as on the issue of the women's reservation bill.

... contd.

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