National Commission for Women: An instrument of social justice or a mere political mouthpiece?

A look at the past one year shows the emergence of a worrying trend where the NCW has turned a blind eye to issues of sexual violence or shown selective outrage in a bid to protect as well as further the political agenda of the current ruling BJP government

National Commission for Women, a statutory authority has, in the recent times, garnered headlines for all the wrong reasons. From having been accused of having become a political tool for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and not taking action on violence against women in BJP run states to allegations of forcing women to give false statements of violence in non-BJP run government states, the statutory authority has lost the faith of the masses.

The mandate of the National Commission for Women Act, 1990 was to establish an autonomous, statutory body which would have a host of powers and duties. It was intended that the aforementioned commission would act as a think tank, support women’s emancipation across the country, and monitor injustices against women. However, it is impossible to overlook the depths to which the commission has descended under the guidance of chairperson Rekha Sharma and the current ruling party, especially when one considers the authority’s generally negative—or absent—role in seeking justice for women in incidences of violence.

NCW is the legally ordained protector of women and their right and its main function is to protect women from abuse, exploitation, threat and force. And yet, in the past one year itself, NCW, had indulged in more issues of politics than sought justice for crimes being committed against women. Has the statutory authority now just donned the robe of a being a political mouthpiece? A brief look at the major incidents of the past one year depicts so. 

The deafening silence: Karnataka

The most recent example of the same is the Prajwal Revanna sexual violence scandal. On April 21, 2024, ahead of the April 26 Hassan parliament poll, electronic devices like pen drives and CDs had emerged in the public domain containing videos depicting the constituency’s current MP Prajwal Revanna allegedly sexually assaulting women. The news had spread like wildfire across the country with the videos also starting to circulate on social media. It is to be noted that as many as 2,900 files with videos and images of the sexual encounters of the MP were found in the pen drives that were leaked. As per multiple media reports, more than 300 women were victims of sexual violence while only three women have come forward to file cases against him. A day after this news had emerged, the sitting MP Revanna had left from India to go all the way to Germany. Even after a month has passed since the incident, Revanna stays absconding. A special court in Bengaluru for MPs and MLAs has issued an arrest warrant against him.

Shockingly, even as details of this sexual violence scandal started coming out, the NCW maintained a deafening silence over this issue. Many alleged that the reason behind this silence was the political alliance between Janata Dal (Secular), of which Revanna is a member of, and the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is pertinent to highlight here that the central authority took no action over the leaked videos of survivors, which had put the survivors/victims of sexual violence at risk. Instead, almost 20 days after the incident came to light, NCW came out with strange statement, declaring that the women are being forced to file false cases against Revanna. The central authority allegedly based their statement on the version provided by one of the women involved in the case.

As per a report in the Livemint, the NCW stated that “One woman complainant came to the commission to register a complaint against three individuals dressed in civil uniform, allegedly introducing themselves as Karnataka Police officials and forcing her to give a false complaint in this case.”

The Commission further claimed that “She (the woman) stated that she is being called by random phone numbers threatening her to complain. It has come to light that this complainant was forced by a group of individuals to file a complaint, under the threat of potential harassment and false implications. The victim has sought protection for her family’s welfare, underscoring the seriousness of the situation.”

This statement was the only statement made by the central women’s commission on the incident that shook India. It is essential to note that the approach taken by this Commission is in stark contradiction to the action it took in the state of West Bengal, wherein within a month of the emergence of sexual violence allegations against a member of the opposition party, the authority had recommended imposition of President’s rule based on their fact-finding team. No such team has, till date, been sent to investigate the allegations being levied on the JD(S) MP Prajwal Revanna. 

Seeing things that do not exist: West Bengal

A political storm stirred the state of West Bengal in the month of February 2024. Since the beginning of the month, Sandeshkhali, a village in the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, had been witnessing protests over allegations of sexual abuse of women by a local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader. These protests had come up after several local women accused the local Trinamool Congress strongman Shajahan Sheikh and his supporters of land-grab and sexually assaulting them under coercion. The issue of alleged sexual violence once again took a political turn as the BJP party politicised the issue and a blame game between the political parties began.

Since the issue of sexual violence concerned an opposition party, the NCW and its team took much interest into it. In addition to Chairperson Rekha Sharma taking up to social media to express her distress over the issue and raising allegation against the TMC leader, the central authority also sent a fact-finding party to the state to investigate the matter. The said fact-finding NCW team, which reached the region on February 12, had visited Sandeshkhali to assess the actions taken by local authorities in response to reports of violence and intimidation against women in the region by local TMC leaders.

On May 5, through the 24-paged fact-finding report submitted to the President Draupadi Murmu by NCW chairperson Ms. Rekha Sharma, it was recommended by the NCW that President’s rule be imposed in West Bengal in view of the allegations that have been raised by women in Sandeshkhali as well as the violence that had ensued.

Meanwhile, the West Bengal state police had maintained that it has received only four complaints from people in Sandeshkhali but none of them mentioned rape or sexual harassment.

In the month of May, a video of a “sting operation” surfaced that showed a person, purportedly a BJP Mandal (booth) president named Gangadhar Koyal, saying that Sandeshkhali women were not sexually assaulted and were projected as ‘rape’ victims at the behest of BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari.

Only four days pursuant to this, a few videos shared by TMC went viral on social media, which showed one of the women complainants in the Sandeshkhali sexual violence case alleging that she was coerced, through threats of violence by NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma and BJP leader Piyali Das, to sign a blank paper without knowing its purpose. With this, the woman also retracted her complaint.

As the complaints suggesting sexual violence started getting retracted, the TMC also filed a complaint with the Election Commission of India against National Commission for Women (NCW) chief Rekha Sharma and BJP leaders including Piyali Das.

In the complaint filed, the TMC had alleged that Sharma and Das “coerced [women in Sandeshkhali] through threats of violence” to sign a blank paper without knowing its purpose. The party alleged the signature on blank paper was used to file “false rape complaints” without women’s consent. The complaint further read that there have been many revelations that point to a deep-rooted conspiracy involving the NCW Chairperson and the BJP leaders.

Responding to the complaint filed by also filed by the NCW with the ECI, seeking a probe into the matter by claiming that women are being “compelled” to withdraw their complaints by TMC workers in view of the ongoing General election of 2024.

There have been no further revelations in the matter till date. While the issue is being investigated upon by the authorities, the allegations that have been made against the NCW chairperson, especially coercing the women to make false allegations against the members of the West Bengal government to serve a political agenda, casts a suspicion on the independence of the statutory authority. One must not forget that the same authority had not once recommended imposition of President’s rule in Manipur, a state that saw the most gruesome examples of violence against women.

Turning a blind eye: Manipur

On May 19, 2023, anger and chaos took over India when a video of three women being paraded naked, sexually assaulted and gang-raped by a mob in Manipur surfaced on social media. The incident, which had actually taken place on May 4, 2023, had shown the ugliest side of violence that had engulfed the state of Manipur since May of 2023. One should not that the state is yet to see any semblance of peace, and that the ethnic clashes between the Meitei and Kuki communities continue to spiral into a civil war.

As courts were taking note of the incident and asking the government to take action, on July 20, it was reported that the NCW had been sent a complaint on the matter on June 12, but the complainants never received a response or an acknowledgement. It was provided two Manipuri women and a Manipur tribal association headquartered abroad had filed two complaints with the commission on the said issue. Reportedly, the complainants had spoken to the survivors and then emailed NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma. As per multiple media reports, the complaint sent to the NCW had alleged that a 15-year-old girl had been kidnapped and a medical examination report “confirmed assault and rape”.

Notably, it was only after the video of the heinous crime had gone viral and invited outrage from across the country that the NCW had tweeted stating that it is taking suo-moto cognizance of the matter and had urged the DGP Manipur to promptly take appropriate action.

When people had questioned the inaction of the NCW in this gruesome incident, Rekha Sharma had defended the same by provided that the Commission had approached the Manipur government thrice after receiving the complaint on June 12.

“There were many complaints and that too from people outside India and outside Manipur,” NCW chief Rekha Sharma said. She had further said: “Firstly, it had to be clarified whether whatever was written is true. Manipur government must clarify and if it is true then they must work on it. So, accordingly, we wrote to them. We reached out to authorities but no response was received from them but then we took suo moto cognizance when the video (of women being paraded naked) went viral.”

Upon the lack of action and the dereliction shown by the Commission, a joint letter had been sent by the National women’s organisation on July 22 to highlight the gross negligence shown by the NCW. The letter, signed by All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), All India Coordination of POW PMS IJM, All India Mahila Sanskritik Sanghatan and All India Agragami Mahila Samitan, had condemned the inaction of the commission and urged them to urgently assess the disproportionate victimization of women through brutal and inhumane acts of sexual violence. 

The emergence of damning patterns over the years

The aforementioned three incidents are just a few examples that underscore the political biases that are now controlling the action that a statutory authority takes when it comes it protecting the women of this democratic country. These three incidents, all of which have a political history, have necessitated for the involvement of Constitutional courts to ensure that the allegations raised are without any ulterior motives and the rights of those involved, especially the survivors/victims, are protected. It is crucial to emphasise upon the enormous powers of investigations that statutory institutions like the NCW and State Women Commissions have under the law, which grants them the powers of a civil court. And yet, the NCW has failed the women of India- by failing to protect them as well as by intertwining political ideologies with maintenance of justice.

In addition to this, Section 10 of the NCW Act provides a rather exhaustive list of functions the Commission shall perform. Section 10(1)(f) of the Act categorically provides the Commission the power to look into complaints, take suo-moto notice of matters relating to deprivation of women’s rights and take up issues arising out of such matters with appropriate authorities. However, these powers and functions yet printed on the textbook, with the statutory authority unwilling to take any action.

Below are some other instances of selective outrage and victim shaming that NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma herself indulged into throughout in this year itself:


In the month of March of 2024, a horrifying incident unfolded when a foreign biker woman was gang-raped by seven men in Jharkhand’s Dumka district. On March 1, a woman tourist from Spain, who was camping with her husband, was allegedly gang raped Jharkhand while travelling to Nepal from West Bengal. As per the details provided by the couple themselves, the incident had occurred as the couple rested in a makeshift tent in a deserted area at Kurmahat village. The eight accused were arrested by the Jharkhand police within a few days of the incident, and were charged with looting the couple, assaulting the husband and raping the woman.

The said incident had a chilling effect on people within and outside of India. Many took to social media to express their anger over the incident as well as the overall unsafe environment that persists in India for women. A journalist, namely David Josef Volodzko, took to ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) to share his take on the issue of women safety and stated that sexual crimes against women are “a real problem in Indian society that warrants more attention”. He had also mentioned an incident of sexual violence that had taken place with a female friend of his in the said post.

The complete post can be viewed here:

Even with the background of such a particularly gruesome incident and to the sexual violence incidents that are anyway reported on a daily basis in India, chairperson Rekha Sharma had taken offense to the above provided post by the journalists and asked him if he had reported the incident mentioned in the post to authorities, “Did you ever report the incident to Police?”

Instead of making any statement on the worsening situation of women safety in India, Sharma had attacked the journalist itself by saying that if the incident had not been reported to the authorities, the journalists is a “totally an irresponsible person.”

Asking the United States based journalist to remove his post, she had alleged that the post unnecessarily vilified a country by stating “Writing only on social media and defaming whole country is not good choice.”

The post can be found here:

With this, the chairperson had found itself indulging in its deplorable habit of blaming women” instead of holding the accused accountable. It is essential to highlight here that in August of 2023, when Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women’s report on ‘Working of NCW and state commissions for women’ was tabled in the Lok Sabha, it was revealed that nearly 75 per cent of complaints received by the NRI (Non-Resident India) Cell of NCW from 2019 to 2022 are yet to be resolved. The NCW’s Statistical Overview of Complaints showed a 30 percent increase in the total number of complaints registered from 23,700 cases in 2021. After 2014, when it received 33,906 complaints, the NCW has received the highest number of complaints in 2022.

Half of these complaints – 16,872 cases, which is 54.5 percent – were from the country’s most populated state Uttar Pradesh (UP), followed by Delhi with 3,004 complaints (10 percent), Maharashtra with 1,381 complaints (5 percent), Bihar with 1,368 complaints (4.4 percent), Haryana with 1,362 complaints (4.4 percent), Madhya Pradesh with 1,141 complaints (3.7 percent), Rajasthan with 1,030 (3.3 percent), Tamil Nadu with 668 (2.2 percent), West Bengal with 621 (2 percent), Karnataka with 554 (1.8 percent) and the remaining states with 2,955 complaints (9.5 percent). 

Selective outrage:

In the month of March 2024, as India was gearing up for its biggest Lok Sabha elections, new political controversies were interrupting on a daily basis. Forming a part of this was the derogatory words that were said by Congress leader Suprita Shrinate while attacking BJP candidate from Mandi, Himachal Pradesh and Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut. After Ranaut’s candidature was announced, Suprita Shrinate shared an objectionable post against the BJP candidate on Instagram which had stated “Can someone tell what is the current rate in Mandi (market)?”. The anti-woman post was removed from the social media within a few hours of its posting and a statement of apology was also issued by Shrinate, who alleged that the said post was put out by a team member of her who handles her social media without her knowledge.

Even then, the wordings and the derogatory sentiment behind the posts led to many condemning the incident. Chairperson Rekha Sharma also took up this opportunity to call out Shrinate by stating that “NCW is appalled by the disgraceful conduct of Ms. Supriya Shrinate and Mr HS Ahir. Such behaviour is intolerable and goes against the dignity of women. (NCW chief) Rekha Sharma has sent a letter to ECI demanding immediate and strict against them. Let’s uphold respect and dignity for all women.”

The NCW had also approached the ECI against the statement and a show cause notice was also issued to Shrinate. While the action taken by the statutory authority was a welcome move, as no public figure should be allowed to use denigrating words against women, the outrage was also selective as the same authority had kept mum when such words had been uttered by Ranaut herself in the past, for instance, when Ranaut had called another Bollywood actress as a soft porn star. Even if one keeps the past instances of inaction on derogatory statements made against women aside, there was no other instance during the present Lok Sabha elections when the NCW took any action on anti-women statements. Only on May 16 did a BJP candidate for Tamluk Lok Sabha constituency, namely Abhijit Gangopadhyay, made a sexist statement against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at a public rally. In his speech, Gangopadhyay said‘Mamata Banerjee, how much are you being sold for? Your rate is 10 lakhs, why? Because you’re getting your make-up done by Keya Seth? Mamata Banerjee, is she even a woman? I keep wondering sometimes.”

No statement condemning the usage of said derogatory words by the BJP candidate against a much revered and sitting CM of a state was issued by the NCW. 

What remains of thee?

The ideology with which the NCW is working had come to the forefront when, in 2018, chairperson Rekha Sharma had, in response to a Thomson Reuters survey that had found India to be most dangerous country in the world for the women followed by Afghanistan and Syria, said about 30 per cent of rape cases examined by the NCW were found to be fake. She has also said that women make such complaints for claiming compensation or settling property disputes.

While one the past one year has been discussed in the current piece, one cannot deny that the NCW’s performance in the previous few years has been lacklustre. The conscious studied silence that the Commission has maintained on major cases of rape and sexual violence of women also illustrates a glaring failure on the part of the NCW in taking prompt action and ensuring justice.  One such example is of the heinous Hathras Rape case (2020), wherein the NCW had maintained a tight lip regarding the role that the Uttar Pradesh police had played in covering up the crime.

On September 14, a Dalit girl was reported to have been gang-raped and physically tortured by four dominant caste men in a village in Hathras district of western Uttar Pradesh. In a few days post the incident, the victim had succumbed to her injuries. The victim was cremated on the night at about 2:30 am on 29 September 2020 by Uttar Pradesh Police without the consent or knowledge of the victim’s family. The incident had caused a massive outrage across the country but it was much after the Uttar Pradesh Police had cremated the body of Hathras gang-rape victim and once all was done and dusted that the NCW had condemned the manner in which the victim was cremated. On October 1, the Commission had written to the DGP of Uttar Pradesh and even sought an explanation from the UP Police.

Even when the Kathua rape case (January 2018) and the Unnao rape case (June 2017) had taken place, the NCW had maintained a silence by stating that since the incidents involved minor girls, the NCW could not concern itself with it. Notably, the Kathua rape case involved the abduction, gang rape, and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim girl, namely Asifa Bano, by seven Hindu males, six men and a juvenile, in January 2018 in the Rasana village near Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, India. On the other hand, the infamous Unnao rape case refers to the brutal gangrape of a 17-year-old girl by Kuldeep Singh Senger, a former BJP leader, and four-time MLA from Bangermau in the Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh. His brother Atul Singh, relative Shashi Singh, 3 policemen and 4 other men including an Awdesh Tiwari and Brajesh Yadav, were also charged for the heinous crime that was committed on June 4, 2017.

In an ideal world, the selection of the chairperson and members would have been through a process that is transparent and democratic, reducing the chances of the ruling political parties from appointing those with ulterior motives.

It seems the current NCW neither has the will nor the capability to fight for women’s causes and is just acting as a political tool of the current ruling government. The growing distrust along with the pervasive unsafe environment for women paints a pitiful picture for women who aim to seek justice for the violence endured by them. The NCW had failed us on several historical occasions, some of which are highlighted above. How long will the statutory authority continue along the same path?



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