In Telangana, where the government is digitising everything from land records to the number of cattle, there is neither a website for the State Women’s Commission for the public to file complaints nor a head for the body. Telangana is yet to have a fully functional state commission for women and has not had a head since July last year.
According to reports, this year alone, 46 complaints have been filed with the State Women’s Commission, but there is no senior official on the panel who can take cognisance of the issue. Tripurana Venkataratnam, the commission’s last chairperson demitted office over 10 months ago. The office has been vacant since and cases have been piling up. The situation may persist until the results of the election are out on May 23, but what are the women in the state supposed to do until then?
To press for action, a group of women in Hyderabad have started a petition on change.org, demanding the government set up a fully functional portal for the women’s commission, where complainants can register their plaints without having to approach the police each time. The petition, which was started a year ago, now has close to 6,000 signatories.
Lack of urgency from government
Talking to TNM, Spruthi, a social activist who began the petition says that although bureaucrats are pushing for speedy appointments, there is laxity on the part of the government.
“When Telangana became a separate state, we hoped that there would be a renewed focus on women’s issues. But considering we don’t even have an online portal for the women’s commission, it shows that our community isn’t equally invested in, and women’s issues are still not considered a community issue,” Spruthi says.
Prashanthi, another activist, says that the team has been in continuous dialogue with the state commission to start an online portal, but to no avail.
“It doesn’t take many resources to start an online portal. We put in the effort and even took in quotations to begin one, but every time, we leave the office ridiculed by the officials,” she adds.
This isn’t the first time concerns have been raised about the women’s commission being defunct. The issue has been reported time and again by the media, but the government has maintained a stoic silence. When Malla Reddy was sworn in as the Minister of Women and Child Welfare Department this year, 24 positions in the department needed to be filled.
“Tripurana Venkataratnam, the last chairperson, stepped down in July 2018. The chairperson is directly appointed by the Chief Minister of the state. Every time we raise the issue on social media, we tag KT Rama Rao (TRS party's working president), who speaks eloquently on developing the state and creating safe working spaces for women. But why isn’t there any urgency on the part of any of these ministers to first appoint a chief to the state’s foremost authoritative body on women’s rights?” Spruthi asks.
Lack of transparency
Activists say that although the Commission accepts complaints in person, the lack of an online portal is forcing women to approach the police each time to report a crime.
“It is commendable to see how well the women’s state commissions are functioning in states such as Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. Women can even register instances of cybercrime and need not approach the police to take action. Many women do not even know how to approach the women’s commission in Telangana,” says Prashanthi.
She added that under Section 4(2) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, provision of a website is a legal mandate.
“States such as Karnataka and Kerala have their own fully-functional online portal with detailed information on their activities, volunteering opportunities, annual reports, legal documents and other relevant data. In Telangana, even when the commission had a chairperson, there was no transparency and there has been no clarity on the number of cases that have been solved under the jurisdiction of the commission. While initiatives like the SHE Teams and Bharosa teams are commendable, an online portal is the need of the hour,” she adds.