National Policy for Women in India 1996—A Critique
There has been insistent and consistent pressure on the Government of India to formulate a National Policy for Women since the late '70s which went unheeded for two decades. Finally, this year, in 1996, the government has been sufficiently motivated to take action, though, it seems, only under pressure from international fora, and to keep its image untarnished therein, as has been its regular practice, and a final draft of the National Policy for Women has been released. International pressure was the reason for the government establishing a committee to examine the status of women in India in preparation for the International Women's Conference in Mexico in 1975. The report submitted by the committee—Towards Equality—in 1974 (Government of India, 1974) highlighted for the first time the shocking state of affairs vis a vis the position of women at all levels and in all spheres in,the country. The Government of India's formulation of the National Perspective Plan for Women 1988-2000 A.D. (Government of India, 1988a) containing an unwieldy bushel of over 150 recommendations which have remained mostly pious hopes on- paper, and the Shramshakti Report (Government of India, 1988b), were a response to the working out at the Nairobi International Conference for Women of Forward Looking Strategies in 1985. The cobbling together of the National Policy for Women apparently seems to be the outcome of the International Women's Conference at Beijing in 1995. The Government of India has never been sensitive, sufficiently concerned, or far-sighted enough to take unprodded initiatives on its own, independently, to devise its self-inspired policies and plans of action where 'the women question', as it came to be known in the nineteenth century, in 'the country is concerned.
The first thing that strikes one immediately on perusing the final draft of the National Policy for Women is its very title "National Policy for the Empowerment of Women 1996" (emphasis mine). The concept of empowerment does not only find place in the title of the policy's final draft but is one which is freely bandied about in the entire text as it is in most official parlance and documents concerning women, and in most Third World feminist discourse.
Research Scholar in Sociology at JNU, New Delhi.
Social Scientist, Vol. 25, Nos. 3-4, March-April 199'