Annual Report 2014-2015
Every year, since its inception, the Foundation invites an eminent person to deliver a lecture on the subject of women and human rights. Last year, President Pranab Mukherjee delivered the twentieth Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture on "Women as Agents of Change" on November 12, 2014 at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi. Shri Mukherjee paid glowing tributes to late Justice Sunanda Bhandare, who believed that women should be empowered to be the architects of their own destiny.
In his lecture, the President gave examples of how women are becoming agents of change and the problems that hinder the empowerment of women. "In the 20th century, two world wars saw the emergence of 'human rights' campaign, where all human beings are born free and equal in dignity. Based on the three pillars of equality, dignity and safety, there is increasingly a global focus on the empowerment of women. However, women continue to battle stereotypes and prejudices.
We are today living in a knowledge society, where women have competed with men to show that they are equally gifted. Women have excelled in various professions – be it medicine, administration, teaching or banking. We have seen how a knowledge-driven society is creating opportunities for women to excel, to rise in positions of power, and overcome hurdles to becoming icons in society.
Our Constitution, through its provisions, seeks to create an egalitarian society guaranteeing equality to women and men. It also exhorts the state to take positive action in this direction. Through policies, programmes and legislations, we have laid emphasis on bringing about all-round development of women. Our country has ratified various international conventions, accepting the obligation to secure equal rights for women.
However, violence against women takes ugly forms like foeticide and infanticide, molestation and rape, sexual harassment, acid attack and even murder. The cooperation of all stakeholders is necessary to tackle violence against women. A society which cannot respect women, cannot be called a civilized society.
The Indian Judiciary has been pro-active in protecting the rights of women by promoting gender justice. The Vishaka guidelines to counter sexual harassment at the workplace, the right of a mother to be regarded as the natural guardian of her child, the right of minority women to adopt children, and the regulation of sale of acid are instances of judicial intervention.
We need more women in decision-making structures, Shri Mukherjee said. While 33 percent reservation for women at the panchayat level has been done, their representation at other tiers of the government is unfortunately poor.
Women have become Ministers, Governors and Judges but their representation is not enough for them to play the role of change agents. To bridge the gap, we require positive intervention in areas such as education, economic empowerment and governance. We have to strengthen the systems and processes that facilitate women to take control and claim ownership of their lives.
Self-Help Groups are an effective tool to ensure the active participation of women in economic activities. By laying focus on group ownership, management and collective decision making, women become better equipped to participate in the local governance structures. India has made some remarkable strides in this direction and must continue to provide impetus to financial cooperation at the micro level.
Education plays a vital role in shaping a society. We must lay emphasis on the education of the girl child. Sanitation must form an integral part of every household as it helps people, especially women, maintain health, privacy and dignity.
The United Nations define women's empowerment as her sense of self-worth; her right to live and to determine choices; her right to have access to opportunities and resources; her right to have the power to control. To realize these worthy objectives, we need more change icons like Late Justice Bhandare".
Justice H. L. Dattu, Chief Justice of India, was the Chief Guest. He said that the legacy of an extraordinary person and a fine judge continues to be hugely relevant and influential in contemporary India.
Justice Dattu called upon all concerned to ensure that our laws and regulations are rid of instances of direct and indirect gender discrimination. Our real challenge lies in identifying and taking measures to address the structural biases in our laws, regulations, employment conditions and personal laws. It is our solemn duty to carry forward the legacy of late Justice Bhandare, he said.
Justice G. Rohini, Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, presided over the function, which was attended by judges, lawyers, professors, activists and students, among others
The Foundation organized a legal awareness programme on "Women Empowerment" on April 25, 2015 at Jaiswar Rajput Bhawan, Pandit Chowk, Palam Colony, New Delhi. Mr. M.C. Bhandare, Managing Trustee of the Foundation, Shri K.S. Bhatti, Advocate, Supreme Court, Dr. Ubaidul Aleem, Social Activist, Mrs. M. Morin, President, Palam Mohila Samitee, Ms. Iqra Quraishi, Social Activist and Mr. H.N. Gandhi, Administrative Officer of the Foundation spoke on the occasion.
Addressing the participants, Mr. Bhandare said that the society we live in is largely patriarchal, where there is discrimination against women in every walk of life. Most families prefer a son to a daughter, a preference that explains the prevailing sex ratio in our country. A working woman works at her workplace and performs household chores, the latter being hardly recognized, he said.
He pointed out that sex identification is a crime but it is carried on in our clinics and nursing homes. In a family, a woman eats last and the least, after serving every other member. So far as education is concerned, priority is given to boys. However, in a world governed by brain power, girls are equal or even superior to boys. He expressed shock over violence and intimidation women face both at home and in public places.
Mr. Bhandare recounted how his wife late Justice Sunanda Bhandare was a pioneer of women's empowerment. "As a judge, she took quick decisions. She inspired confidence in junior members of the Bar who used to call her bench "Mother Bench". She always worked for the empowerment of women and marginalized sections of the society".
In his address, Shri Bhatti said that society expects women to conduct themselves the way it prescribes. Any deviation is harshly criticized and ruthlessly punished. In some parts of north India, khap panchayats order honor killing for those who refuse to follow their diktats, he said.
Laws have been enacted to deal with acts of violence against women. But mere enactment is not enough, enforcement is necessary. It is also necessary to bring reforms in every sphere of administration; but what is most essential is effecting a change of our mindset, he pointed out.
In his speech, Dr. Ubaidul Aleem said that India has a vast youth population. Our young women and men can take our country to greater heights.
Ms. Iqra Quraishi said that as women constitute half of the humanity, there is need for greater interaction, counseling and more brain storming on the issue of women empowerment. Mrs. M. Morin spoke about the difficulties women face in lodging their complaints in police stations.
On September 12, 2015, a legal awareness programme on "Plight of Deserted Women" was conducted in collaboration with Sur Nirman and Cultural Society at Balmiki Vikas Kendra, Patparganj, Shastri Mohalla, Delhi. Mr. Dalip Singh, Advocate, Mr. H.N. Gandhi, Administrative Officer of the Foundation, Mr. Takreem Ahmed, Social Activist, Ms. Sajida Khan, President of Sur Nirman and Ms. Cynthia Kumar of Balmiki Basti participated in the programme.
Issues concerning widows, divorced women and poor women deserted by their children were discussed. Women were advised to keep themselves informed of the income of their husbands, their bank accounts and movable and immovable assets. Indian law provides maintenance allowance to a divorced wife for the period their case is sub-judice. Muslim women are particularly disadvantaged because of the provision of triple talaq. Problems faced by deserted wives of NRIs and old and abandoned mothers were also discussed.
The audience was informed that every woman has a right to get free legal aid. In a police station, she has a right to be heard and in case of rape, Delhi High Court says, she can even take a lawyer with her. She has the right to privacy. As per Section 164 Cr.PC, she can get her statement recorded before a Magistrate.
Alternatively, she can get it recorded with a police officer and a woman constable at a convenient place, which is not crowded and where there is no scope of being overheard.
It was pointed out that a Hindu woman is entitled to live separately without losing her right of maintenance if her husband deserts, abandons or willfully neglects her; treats her with cruelty and she apprehends that living with him would be harmful or injurious; if the husband is suffering from virulent leprosy; if any other wife is living with him, if he ceases to be Hindu or if she gives justifiable causes of living separately.
Mr. Dalip Singh also touched the issue of family pension. He clarified that an unmarried, divorced or widowed daughter is also entitled to get family pension in the event of death of both her parents.
On September 26, 2015, a legal awareness workshop on "Rights of the Girl Child and her Protection against Exploitation" was held at Shaheed Bhawan, Aruna Asaf Ali Marg, Kutab Institutional Area, New Delhi in collaboration with the Guild for Service and War Widows' Association. The Foundation was represented by Mr. Dalip Singh, Mr. H.N. Gandhi and Mr. Takreem Ahmed. Dr. Mohini Giri and Ms Kalpana represented the Guild for Service and Ms. Vasantha Raman represented the War Widows' Association.
Mr. Dalip Singh spoke on the legal provisions and safeguards against the abuse of girl child. He said that police must bring every such case to the knowledge of Child Welfare Committee within 24 hours; the statements of the victim must be made in a place chosen by the minor in the presence of a person she trusts; the policeman must be in plain clothes; MLC examination must be done by a female doctor in the presence of a person on whom she trusts; there will be in-camera proceedings in special courts; accused would not be exposed to the child in court and identity of the minor would not be exposed during investigation or trial; the case would be disposed of within a year from the date of occurrence and questions would be routed through the Judge and not through the advocate on the opposite side; special translator, special educator or expert would be provided to assist the child in court.
Dr. Mohini Giri said that collective efforts of all concerned -- NGOs, Government agencies and Judiciary and the public ? are necessary to combat this type of heinous crime
The Foundation has instituted the Annual Justice Sunanda Bhandare Award to be bestowed on a woman showing outstanding courage and dedication. The award, which carries a citation and a cash prize, is given away every year to an individual or organization showing extraordinary courage and dedication in furthering the Foundation's goal of gender justice.
In 2014, this award was given to Ms. Ratnarashi Pandey of Annupur in Madhya Pradesh, who married at the age 14 and was divorced after 13 years. This mother of two children wanted to stand on her feet and applied for M.P. Civil Services Examination but was found ineligible as she had married before she attained the age of 18.
She fought for her right and the rights of such other women in the High Court and Supreme Court. The Supreme Court gave a direction to the Government to permit her to appear at the main examination. This decision would provide relief to hundreds of such candidates who suffer for none of their faults.
Justice Sundanda Bhandare Foundation has always been looking after the rights of differently abled persons. The foundation filed a public interest litigation (Writ Petition No. 116/1998) in the Supreme Court of India for implementation of all the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995. The Foundation pursued the writ petition with perseverance for 16 years and finally in 2014, the Supreme Court passed an order that Central Government, State Governments and Union Territories have to implement the PWD Act, 1995 'in letter and spirit'. To ensure the compliance and to know the status of implementation, the Foundation filed an interim application in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has directed Central Government, State Governments and Union Territories to file status report of implementation of the Act within 6 weeks. Till now 20 States and Union territories have filed compliance reports stating the ways in which they are implementing the provisions of PWD Act, 1995 for the betterment and benefit of differently abled persons.
Police Commissioner, Delhi convened a meeting to interact with representatives of Women Help Groups/ NGOs to discuss the issues relating to women safety and security in Delhi on October 10, 2015 at Awane-e-Ghalib Auditorium, New Delhi which was attended by more than 160 organizations. The Foundation was represented by Ms. Shreya Singhal, Mr. H.N. Gandhi and Mr. Takreem Ahmed. The Police Commissioner highlighted Delhi Police's Shishtachar Programme which has been implemented in cooperation with senior persons of the locality, representatives of welfare associations and police personnel.
The Lieutenant Governor, Delhi convened a meeting with NGOs at Raj Niwas on August 11, 2015 to discuss the issues relating to women's safety in Delhi. The Foundation suggested to make provision for more street lights, alarm buttons in public transport and at crowded market areas; dedicated and independent campus security; adequate display of helpline number for women; greater monitoring by CCTV camera; faster response to complaints; mandatory health and safety courses in colleges and schools on sex education, laws relating to assault, drug and alcohol abuse and sensitization of police.
The Foundation's Counseling and Legal Aid Centre in Delhi, assisted by a panel of professional counselors, lawyers and volunteers rendered speedy and effective justice to women in distress during the year. The harassed victims, approaching police stations in distress, referred to us in the Gender Awareness Programmes, were provided free legal aid by our legal experts.
The Public Interest Litigation filed by the Foundation in the Supreme Court of India for the implementation of the statutory provisions for Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 is making good progress and is at the final stage
The Foundation, in association with Sur Nirman organized a Legal Awareness Programme on Saturday, 15th June, 2013 at Pandav Nagar, Delhi. Our legal experts enlightened the participants about gender sensitization, rights of Muslim women and various safeguards available to them. In questions and answers free legal advice was also given to the four ladies who were facing difficulty in their marital life.