Instead of focusing on wide-ranging reforms, Gandhi—in fact, the entire political class—is busy formulating fancy schemes.
If the reality resembles a farce, what better parable there could be than a joke? So, consider this joke: Once, there was a global police meet. The American cops, boasting about their technological prowess, claimed, “We crack any case within two days.” Not good enough, said the representatives from Scotland Yard, “We do that in two hours.” Not to be left behind, our desi policemen said, “You guys are primitive. You can’t match our skills. We know two days in advance the when, where, how, and who of any crime!” Women & Child Minister Maneka Gandhi’s statement in the wake of the Muzaffarpur and Deoria revelations reminded me of this joke.
Gandhi went on to reveal that in many states CWCs haven’t even been constituted; and wherever these have been indeed constituted, these have been filled up with the family members of MPs.
“It’s not only frightening, it makes me sad. I know there will be many more [cases of child abuse] because, for years and years, we have paid no attention, apart from giving them [shelter homes] money,” Maneka Gandhi told ANI. It would be easy to haul her over the coals for knowing about—or at least suspecting—such horrifying activities and doing nothing. That, however, will not be very just; for, while as Women & Child Minister she has to share some culpability, a lot many people failed to behave responsibly.
“I have been writing to MPs, urging them to go to institutions for women and children. At least, go there and have a look. Those who went there and complained to me, we responded within 24 hours,” Gandhi said, adding, “We did an audit, sent NGOs to various places in the last two years. Nobody said that anything was amiss. Which only implies that their scrutiny was superficial.”
While NGOs’ role was reprehensible, not much better can be said about that of the local Parliamentarians, Gandhi said. “Not one of them visited [shelter homes] to find out what was happening in their constituencies. Nobody even bothered to find, which we wanted to know, whether a child welfare committee or CWC has been set up in their constituencies. And if it is there, what is it doing? Had our MPs just sat in one of CWC meetings, they would have known that CWCs have not even been formed.”
Gandhi went on to reveal that in many states CWCs haven’t even been constituted; and wherever these have been indeed constituted, these have been filled up with the family members of MPs. “If now we do that, there is a possibility that such things [like Muzaffarpur and Deoria] may be checked.”
You can’t have a proper administration with ancient systems in place and without any meaningful reform for decades.
The Minister’s interview with the news agency raises several questions. First, why should she and her Ministry expect Parliamentarians to oversee the functioning of the shelter homes for women and children? Lawmakers are expected to provide legislative oversight, not an executive oversight.
To be fair to Gandhi, she is not the first to breach lines between the legislature and the executive; it was done in the 1990s when lawmakers were given funds to spend for local welfare. Further, she can’t be accused of the laxity if few of her legislative colleagues are willing to help her.
Second, whatever happened to the myriad of monitoring mechanisms in Muzaffarpur and Deoria? There are the social welfare departments, the Central and state commissions for women and children, the district administration, the local police, local intelligence units, local media, local NGOs, et al. And yet there was Brajesh Thakur whipping, raping, and pimping young girls, some in preteens.
Third, what do we make out of the excessive concern our politicians for the girl child? Remember, they don’t use the term ‘girl children’; they say ‘hamaari betiyaan.’
Finally, and most importantly, would it be possible to strengthen the bone and sinew of the welfare state without making the old-fashioned state functional? The answer is a big ‘no’: it is not possible to carry out any welfarist programme unless the institutions of the state are working properly. You can’t have a proper administration with ancient systems in place and without any meaningful reform for decades. You can’t secure the life and liberty of people—and certainly not orphaned and abandoned girls—when there are scams in police recruitment when police stations are sold to the highest bidders. You can’t have oversight by the citizenry when the local media and NGOs are compromised.
Instead of focusing on wide-ranging reforms, Gandhi—in fact, the entire political class—is busy formulating fancy schemes. “A long-term solution is to make large homes for 1000 women, 1000 children, with all-women staff rather than small centres. I’ll sanction money,” the Union Minister for Women and Child Development said. As if big is better than small and Brajesh Thakur can’t worm his way into the bigger shelter homes.
Get real, Ma’am. Shed your innocence and open your eyes to the reality of governance in India.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.