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Maneka Gandhi: ‘It (women’s entry) is about religion, and I’m not sure the state should intrude’

Another game-changer will be the requirement to have panic buttons on all mobile phone by January 2017.

Written by Shalini Nair | New Delhi |
May 18, 2016 2:03:31 am
 maneka gandhi, Woman and Child Development Minister, maneka gandhi interview, indian express interview, NDA government, National Policy for Women, women safety, safety of women, arun jaitley, indian express news Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi.

Woman and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi speaks with The Indian Express on two years of the NDA government, the journey so far for her ministry, and plans for the future.

Edited excerpts:

As you start off with the third year of your government, what’s high on the agenda?

One is introducing an anti-trafficking legislation, and then there is the National Policy for Women, which is not just about empty jargon but will address specific issues. Another game-changer will be the requirement to have panic buttons on all mobile phone by January 2017.

For now, GPS will alert the police (but) what I also want to do is to link it in such a way that 10 people closest to the victim are immediately alerted. We are also working towards setting up an internal complaints committee to check instances of sexual harassment in every company.

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You sought help from Corporate Affairs Minister Arun Jaitley for ensuring compliance, but that didn’t come through.

We had asked the Corporate Affairs Ministry to make it mandatory for every company to declare in its audits whether it has set up the committees. They (ministry) declined; we are pursuing the matter.

There is a great deal of debate on women’s right to enter places of worship – be it Sabarimala or Haji Ali dargah. What are your views as the WCD minister?

Some things should be left outside the government’s purview. Let the society decide on it. In this particular case, it is about religion and I am not sure the state should intrude. In all democracies, there is a clear demarcation between religion and the state.

The national average of women legislators in assemblies is just 9 per cent. In the Lok Sabha it is 12 per cent. Yet there is complete silence on the Women’s Reservation Bill by the government.

It is not in my hands; it is not a woman’s policy. The entire political system has to take a decision on this. What I can do is train the sarpanches so that more women come into political mainstream. If demand grows, then delivery has to happen sooner or later. Where is the demand at the moment? There are 6 lakh sarpanches in India, of which 2 lakh are women. Until now no woman sarpanch has taken responsibility for anything because her husband takes care of everything. We have started teaching such women how to manage a village, access funds, run schools, and about good governance.

What do you have to say about BJP governments in Haryana and Rajasthan making a certain educational qualification mandatory for those contesting elections for Panchayati Raj bodies?

It is a good decision because this way they are less likely to be bossed over. What happens in Uttar Pradesh is that they choose the weakest women: once she wins the election, she will go back to her ghunghat and her husband will run the show. The maximum amount of unaccounted for expenses is found in these villages. You can’t attack the husband because he hasn’t put his signature anywhere and you can’t arrest the woman because you know she hasn’t got the faintest idea what she is doing.

It is argued that the decision will disqualify a lot of women in rural India and deny them their right to contest elections.

By now the Right to Education Act is in place and hence it would not lead to disqualifying any one. Women should be working towards getting an education. Simply saying that they are not educated, and that it is their right to be the head, doesn’t work. They are going to be taking administrative control over a village. Is it fair to everybody in the village?

The WCD ministry is yet to act on the Justice Verma committee and the high-level Pam Rajput panel’s recommendation for criminalisation of marital rape.

There is already an Act (Protection of Woman from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 ). Women don’t complain about marital rape neither here nor in USA or England unless they want to break up their marriage. What can we do if there are absolutely no complaints? If women complain we will have a body of work which allows us to move forward (with a legislation to criminalise the offence).

It has been four months since the much-debated Juvenile Justice Act came into force. What has been its implications on ground so far?

It has helped catch a lot more juvenile offenders. All those who were slipping through the net are no longer doing so. We are forced to create several more good-quality reform homes and by June, for the first time in 50 years, every single children’s home will be checked. Very few people realise that through the JJ Act, we have become the first country that makes selling cigarettes to minors a jailable offence.

You had proposed to increase maternity leave to 26 weeks. When will it come into effect?

Left to me, it should have come in by now. It is with the Labour Ministry. It was mooted and passed by us (WCD Ministry) more than a year ago. I ring them up every second day and they keep saying, ‘it is going to Cabinet, it is coming…’.

The welfare-based approach of the WCD Ministry has always dealt with issues concerning women and children in isolation instead of engaging with broader gender concerns — say, increased paternity leave that will ensure better redistribution of unpaid work, or repealing Section 377 for decrimilsing gay sex?

The issue of decriminalization comes under the Home Ministry. For everything else, high on my priority list is a review of every law pertaining to women and children across all ministries.

What would you count as strides made by your ministry in the last two years?

Our achievements have been in three areas: women and child safety, nutrition, and economic progress. With regards to safety, the idea to have 33 per cent reservation for women in police force was mooted by us. Also, using Nirbhaya funds, we have created 14 one-stop centres for victims of sexual violence, and the aim is to have 660 across the country.

It has taken us two years to set up the first-of-its-kind mahila e-haats to boost economic advancement of women. This online platform has already allowed 2 lakh women to display their products on the site and we market it aggressively. Today there is FICCI and Assocham but apart from Chanda Kochhar or Naina Kidwai there are have no women representatives. My dream is to have a women’s entrepreneurship council…

And what have you been unable to achieve and hope to tide over in the coming years?

I have been going around the whole country, and (found that) food fed to children and pregnant women is under par (under the government’s supplementary nutrition scheme ICDS). In Himachal Pradesh, they serve only pakoras, I couldn’t even eat the food in Tamil Nadu. In Punjab, they give maida with sugar, which will give one diabetes.
What I have been trying to do is streamline it to ensure standardisation and uniformity in quality but that requires getting all states on board. We are in talks with two or three major suppliers to see whether we can procure food untouched by human hands with all the micro-nutrients in it. This hopefully will happen this year and will conquer malnutrition when it is done

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