Annual Report 2016-2017
Every year, since its inception, the Foundation invites an eminent person to deliver a lecture on the subject of women, children and human rights. Last year, noted intellectual and educationist, Shri M. Hamid Ansari, Hon’ble Vice President of India, delivered the twenty-second Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture on “Dismantling Patriarchy?” on November 30, 2016 at the India International Centre, New Delhi. Shri Ansari paid glowing tributes to late Justice Sunanda Bhandare, whom he described as a “pioneering figure in the long and hitherto unfinished quest for gender equality.”
In his lecture, Shri Ansari observed the sorry state of affairs of women’s empowerment in India. Although the Constitution of India and its provisions for gender equality have been operative since 1950 and have been supplemented by national legislations and international covenants, the dismal state of affairs was reflected in the Gender Inequality Index of the UNDP that gave India a ranking of 127 out of 188 in 2014.
Shri Ansari cited Austria-born American historian and scholar Gerda Lerner’s definition of patriarchy as the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women and children in the family and the extension of male dominance over women in society in general.
In India, patriarchy has been a living reality since the earliest times for which written texts are available. In certain legal matters, woman’s status is equated to that of slaves or bonded labour in Kautaliya’s Arthashastra. A lower status was also given to women in later codifications like the Manusmriti. Probably Manu succumbed to the dominant trends of the contemporary society.
A fairly recent assessment of the women’s status shows that patriarchal societies in most parts of India have translated their prejudice into a compulsive preference for boys and discrimination against the girl child. They have also spawned practices such as female infanticide, dowry, bride-burning and sati. These have led to the neglect of nutrition, health care, education, and employment for girls. Women's work is also socially devalued with limited autonomy in decision-making, Shri Ansari observed.
India is a male dominated society in which economic, political, religious, social and cultural institutions are largely controlled by men. This control extends over almost all aspects of women’s lives through various discriminatory social practices and institutions. A combination of family, caste, community and religion reinforces and legitimizes these patriarchal values. Stereotyping of women and their roles continues in public and private institutions and is perpetuated by the media, he added.
Shri Ansari noted that the government has recognized these paradoxes and has attempted to address them in framing policies and legislations and in implementing programmes. These have produced mixed results. Legislative changes have faced resistance in their implementation due to social, cultural and religious mores.
In 2015, India has one of the worst gender gaps in the world when it comes to labour force participation. Only 25 percent of women are working and less than half a percent are seeking work. An IMF study has estimated that if the number of women workers were to increase to the same level as the number of men, India’s GDP would expand by 27 percent.
In recent studies, the changes advocated are quantitative rather than qualitative in nature and do not touch meaningfully upon the societal backdrop and practices that sustain patriarchal prejudices. Shri Ansari mentioned how the issue was discussed in the Rajya Sabha. He also touched upon the draft of the National Policy for Women: Articulating a Vision for Empowerment which was put in the website. The emphasis on empowerment is indicative of the incremental approach, of equity rather than equality. Shri Ansari said that the process of dismantling patriarchy may have been initiated but is yet to deliver a finished product.
Justice Indira Banerjee, Judge, Delhi High Court, presided over the meeting. She observed that women are grossly underrepresented in the judiciary. She also said that late Justice Sunanda Bhandare might have been the first woman Chief Justice of India had she been alive.
Earlier, Ms Shreya Singhal welcomed the guests, and at the end of the meeting, a vote of thanks was proposed by Ms Manali Singhal.
1. A legal awareness programme on Digital transfer of money was conducted at Patparganj on February 18, 2017 in collaboration with Sur Nirman Educational and Cultural Society. Addressing the participants, Shri Murlidhar C. Bhandare, Managing Trustee of the JSB Foundation, said that when women are empowered, the entire family is benefited and the society is empowered. He laid emphasis on the financial empowerment of women. Shri H. N Gandhi, Administrative Officer of the Foundation, explained the concept of digital payment and Paytm as an alternate mode of payment. Paytm is a mobile wallet which can be used with the help of a smartphone. Ms. Sajida Khan of Sur Nirman also addressed the participants. Among others, Ms. Sarika Chaudhary, Member Delhi Commission for Women, Dr A.K. Mohanty and Shri Takreem Ahmed were present in the programme.
2. A programme on New Horizons of Women’s Progress was conducted for women living in slums at the Sarva Dharma Dharamsala, Sadh Nagar, Palam on February 25, 2017. Addressing the delegates and participants, Shri Bhandare said that he was born and raised in Mumbai which contains a number of slums including Dharavi, one of the largest slums of the world. In his student days, one of his closest friends Premji Maoji Pandya lived in a slum. Those days, he had joined others in cleanliness drives in slums. He recounted how in 1954 he had fought a legal battle to extend the facility of electricity supply to unauthorized colonies. He also said that slums are spreading on almost all sides of the national capital Delhi. People living in slums do possess the potential to become good citizens. People, especially women, should be aware of their rights and their duties to the society they live in. Among others, Shri K S Bhatti, Shri Sudhakar Bharti, Shri H N Gandhi and Shri Takreem Ahmed attended the programme.
3. A programme on gender justice was held at Chandni Mahal, Daryaganj on September 9, 2017 in collaboration with Sur Nirman Educational and Cultural Society. The speakers laid emphasis on the removal of inequality between boys and girls and on educating the girl child for shaping a healthy society. Among others, Shri Javed Farid and Ms Sajida Khan participated in the proceedings. The meeting was attended by working women and school and college students.
4. On the occasion of International White Cane Safety Day on October 15, 2017, Justice Sunanda Bhandare Foundation in collaboration with Bhartiya Netraheen Kalyan Parishad organized a one day legal awareness programme for visually impaired undergraduate students at Abhinav Public School, Sector 3, Rohini, New Delhi. Shri Pankaj, Shri Ashu Kumar and Shri Santosh Sachin, all advocates, and Dr. Meenakshi Sahay, Deputy Registrar and CPIO, University of Delhi, discussed issues such as Right to Persons with Disability Act 2016, the Provision of RTI Act 2005, System of Courts/Tribunals and their Jurisdiction in India, Laws relating to criminal jurisdiction and property and inheritance. Shri M. C .Bhandare and Shri Ramesh Prasad blessed the participants. White canes were distributed among them by the guests.
The Foundation’s Centre for Counseling and Legal Aid, assisted by a panel of professional counselors, lawyers and volunteers, rendered speedy and effective justice to women in distress. Cases of harassment were referred to the Foundation in workshops, consultations and by volunteers working in the field. The legal experts offered them advice free of cost. They helped them in filing cases and seeking legal remedy to their suffering.
The Foundation pursued the case for differently-abled persons who were not getting their entitlements granted by the Constitution. Hon’ble Supreme Court had delivered judgment for the implementation of the statutory provisions for Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. The Foundation further filed an application for modification of judgment only to the extent that the Central Government, State Governments and Union Territories be directed to file a quarterly/ half yearly status report to the Hon’ble Court.
This year, Hon’ble Supreme Court vide its Order dated 25.04.2017 observed that the 2016 Act was noticeably a sea change in the perception and required a march forward look with regard to the persons with disability and the role of the States, local authorities, educational institutions and companies in extending benefits to them. The statute operates in a broad spectrum and the stress is laid to protect the rights and provide punishment for their violation. The Court has directed all States/ Union Territories to file the compliance report within a period of twelve weeks to enable the Court to appreciate the progress made.
The Foundation has instituted Annual Justice Sunanda Bhandare Award to be bestowed on a woman or an organization showing outstanding courage and dedication to the cause of empowerment of women. The award, which carries a citation and a cash prize, is given away every year to an individual or organization that displays extraordinary courage and dedication in furthering the Foundation’s goal of gender justice.
In 2013, the first annual Justice Sunanda Bhandare Award was given away to Ms Laxmi, a remarkable young woman who braved all personal odds as the victim of a heinous acid attack for rebuffing the undue advances of a man and displayed extraordinary courage by seeking relief for her as well as other victims through a public interest litigation against such terrible attacks in the Supreme Court that resulted in enhanced punishments under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. It was because of her indomitable spirit, the wholehearted efforts of her dedicated lawyer and the unstinted support of the press and public, acid attacks are considered a grave crime punishable by a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum fine of Rs 10 lakhs. Moreover, restrictions have been imposed on the sale of acid.
In 2014, this award was given to Ms. Ratnarashi Pandey, who lives in a small town of Madhya Pradesh. Married at the age of 14 and divorced after 13 years, this mother of two children wanted to stand on her feet and applied for M.P. civil service 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 and succeeded in her efforts.
This year, the award will be given away jointly to the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, a rights-based mass organization based in Mumbai and the Bebaak Collective, a campaign group focusing on women’s issues, especially the issues confronting Muslim women. These organizations carried sustained campaign for the rights of Muslim women in India in order to give them their rightful place in the family and society. The Foundation recognizes their consistent endeavour to secure dignity and justice for women and their relentless effort to abolish the abhorrent and discriminatory practice of instant divorce which resulted in a landmark judgment delivered by the Supreme Court of India declaring talaq-e-biddat unconstitutional.