World | India

Mamta Sharma: In the line of women’s fire

Head of National Commision for Women clears the air about comments

  • By Nilima Pathak, Correspondent
  • Published: 21:44 October 7, 2012
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Nilima Pathak/Gulf News
  • Mamta Sharma

New Delhi: The National Commission for Women (NCW) headed by Mamta Sharma, has, over the last few months, come under fire. And surprisingly, it is the women activists, who are finding faults with Sharma and want the Commission scrapped, claiming it has failed women.

Sharma has sparked a row over her remarks now and then even as the government is ready with the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2012, to slap life imprisonment terms on people who commit sexual assault and acid attacks on women.

The chairperson says: “I am least bothered about opposition to my work and will remain straightforward in my approach. My mission is to see that we deal with crimes against women with utmost importance and provide results in the shortest possible time.”

She is focusing her energies into seeing that only women police officers investigate rape cases all over the country and they do so with great sensitivity. And whenever a bail matter is listed for a rape accused, the lawyer of the Commission should be informed immediately.

In an exclusive interview to Gulf News, Sharma clears the air.

GULF NEWS:

Of late, why are your remarks drawing criticism from women activists?

MAMTA SHARMA:

All I can say is that unnecessary hue and cry is made by people who have negative thinking. My very simple comments are taken in a wrong context without understanding the meaning behind them. Twisting or misjudging the intent behind the statements solves no purpose. But I am happy that at least the young generation, whom I generally address while making such comments, has a healthy mind and they draw the right conclusion.

 

But you were accused of being insensitive in words and actions by stating that women should take the word ‘sexy’ positively and that girls should “dress carefully” because “incidents of molestation are a result of blindly aping the West”?

 

I think, first of all, it is the well educated who need to understand that with the changing times, meanings of certain words too have changed. Like, at one time the term ‘boss’ was used only for a gangster, but now we do not hesitate to refer to each other as boss. Similarly, the new generation is used to calling a cell phone or a car ‘sexy’ and that’s why I said that in the present times, if any boy were to use that word for a girl, she should take it as a compliment. I was, at that time, addressing a group of college girls and they all appreciated it and clapped in unison. But on the other hand, all hell broke lose with activists. So, it is a matter of perceptions.

When I was talking about ‘dressing carefully’, I had said that we should imbibe good things from the Western culture and not ape them. By saying this, I was not suggesting a dress code for women, but then again people tried to put words in my mouth.

 

What problems and challenges are you facing as NCW chief?

The biggest hurdle comes from women themselves, who instead of co-operating end up finding faults. And even while we drive up against one another, we talk of women’s empowerment and upliftment! It is easy to talk about gender equality, but for that, women activists need to first change their own mindsets.

The Guwahati case, where a teenage girl was molested and groped by people in full public view was an incident, we as a society should have condemned. But just because an NCW member erred in naming the victim (despite the Supreme Court directive against disclosing the identity of a sufferer), the concentration of such a serious happening was diverted and instead NCW became the focus of attention. I am not justifying the mistake of the member, but the controversy was uncalled for.

 

What particular issues regarding women touch you the most?

Cases of rape are of grave concern, but the most heinous is the acid-throwing crime to deface a person. I have come across cases where almost half the bodies of victims have been severely affected, but they neither get any monetary relief nor free treatment in hospitals. And above that, the culprits are freed on bail.

 

Women politicians in India do not take up issues related to women in Parliament. Isn’t this the reason that crimes against women are not taken seriously?

That is correct. From a village head to a Member of Parliament, if women were to take note of the issues pertaining to other women, things would change. If members of the Legislative Assembly and MPs deal with cases related to their constituencies and order the police department to act, the crime ratio will certainly come down. Also, women related matters should go to fast track courts, so that the accused is unable to get away after committing the crime.

 

Do you have regular interaction with politicians on issues concerning women?

Recently, the Minister of State for Women and Child Development, Krishna Tirath had called for a meeting on the issue of domestic violence. Unfortunately, out of the 56 MPs, only eight attended. This itself shows their non-seriousness. Incidentally, the issue of domestic violence has become so grave that NCW has been getting cases from families of the elite and the bureaucrats, even though many of them still hesitate in approaching us or filing an FIR with the police.

 

Women must not wear jeans, they should not use cell phones and they should cover their heads. Where are we heading?

These diktats are coming from panchayats that are not recognised by the government and hence they should be ignored.

 

Mamta Sharma

• Mamta Sharma was born on December 21, 1955, to mother Pushpa and father Dhar Lal in Rajasthan.

• She did her early schooling from Kota in Rajasthan.

• Graduated from Janki Bajaj Devi Girls College, Rajasthan.

• At the age of 20, was married into a family of freedom fighters and politicians.

• She joined active politics in 1985.

• Nominated as executive member of Rajasthan Red Cross Society in 1986.

• General Secretary of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee.

• She has fought four assembly elections and was appointed Parliamentary Secretary in 2001-2003.

• President of the Rajasthan Pradesh Mahila Congress, 2004 – 2010.

• Took charge as Chairperson of the National Commission for Women in 2011.