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Family is the antidote to social disintegration

To reverse the delieberate atomisation of society by democracy, the concept of’family’ in India must be safeguarded and strengthened through an adequate institutional mechanism

In his maiden speech, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, on August 15, 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted parents to be friends, philosophers and guides of their children so as to prevent them from going wayward and to raise them into responsible citizens. This is a representative example of his commitment to the preservation and strengthening of the family system which is a vehicle for transmission of civilisational values across generations.

The concept of family extends beyond the typical nuclear unit encompassing the wider multigenerational family circle. Our civilization has placed the highest responsibility upon grihastha,

for, it alone sustains society and nation. However, it is unfortunate that despite being an age-old vital social institution, family does not figure in the architecture of our governance.

Modern liberal democracies are designed as contracts and transactions between individuals and the State. This blinds them to the fact that society is more than the sum of individuals. As a result, the individual rights get primacy to the detriment of duties. A typical Cartesian approach of considering the whole as the sum of its parts. An easily relatable analogy of which is modern medicine which often forgets the body for its parts. As a result, our Constitution, laws and the Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence that we follow consider the society and nation as a mere collection of individuals in the given geography rather than an organic entity of organic entities.

The least talked about deleterious consequence of modern liberal democracy is de-legitimisation of non-State institutions. Democratic exceptionalism abhors any intermediary between the State and citizen. To explain, the State in a modern democratic polity is considered a representative of all citizens. Implicitly, it is expected that the citizens' primary and predominant loyalty should be to the State alone. This makes all non-State institutions illegitimate unless expressly sanctioned by the State. That is to say, all institutions exist upon the sufferance of the State. Thus the Constitutional and jurisprudential neglect of family which is the fundamental building block of society is rather deliberate. For, the democratic State perceives family as a barrier in its direct equation with, nay control of citizens. It is, therefore, no wonder that across all modern liberal democracies the institution of the family became the first casualty. The disintegrating European society is a living example of the destruction wrought by the democratic statism.

A distinguishing feature of modern liberal democracy is over legislation. In its endeavour to delegitimise non-State institutions, democratic State makes a plethora of laws governing every aspect of an individual's life including his intra-family conduct. It actively seeks to substitute family by progressively assuming responsibility for the old, children, orphans, destitute and infirm. It enslaves society to the highly flawed and tyrannical Statist institutions by making the citizens believe that their first and last recourse is the State. As a result, the control of State in the affairs of citizens become so pervasive, entirely through the so-called 'lawful' means, as to make the most powerful despot envious. Curiously, people remain under an illusion of grandeur that they 'control' the democratic State because of periodical elections, little realising that irrespective of their voting preference, they only endorse the modern liberal democracy with no option to negate it.

A peculiarity of lawmaking in India is that it is often either at the behest of bureaucrats and police officers who are prone to the expansion of their empire. Sometimes it is also orchestrated by foreign-funded/inspired NGOs. Additionally, the nature of Indian State has made legislation as a panacea for every real or imagined social ailment. The occasional judicial rulings on religious and social issues have not helped the situation either. There is hardly any detailed study and consultations with stakeholders before a law is enacted. Instead of providing an enabling mechanism to the community and families to handle social issues which they alone can do with sensitivity and understanding, the Indian State ends up making laws often criminalising the civil, social and family issues. Consequently, the treatment becomes worse than the disease, nay the operation is successful but the patient dead.

Para-2 of the Statement of Objects and Reasons to the Government Bill introduced in Lok Sabha on 6-12-2019 to amend the Maintenance and Welfare of the Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 says, "… with the gradual breakdown of joint family system in the society, number of cases of neglect, crime, exploitation and abandonment of parents and senior citizens are in the rise." It would have been apt had the Bill mentioned the reasons for the breakdown of the family system and proposed measures to address the issue.

Just as erosion of soil denudes it of the glue atomising the sand grains which are only physically together with no mutual bonding, the disintegration of families makes society a mere collection of individuals whose connect with each other is superficial. As discussed, modern liberal democracy with its penchant for over legislation and Statist interference in social and family matters is atomising the society. Just as eroded soil becomes infertile, the atomised society loses its humaneness rendering existence purposeless. Bereft of higher purpose the atomised individuals are prone to mindless self-aggrandisement and vagaries of disorder. With the fast disintegration of the family system, modern Indian society presents a worrisome paradox: In the midst of growing material prosperity, there is increasing greed, loneliness, destitution, crime, emotional vulnerability and physical insecurity with negligible fall back options for individuals. Unfortunately, by blindly importing the failed social policies of the imploding Western liberal democracies, India is traversing the same self-destructive path.

Nonetheless, all is not lost yet, provided we are alive to the dangers and make a course correction. With regard to the increasing destitution and crime in general, and against women in particular, the social disintegration and the resultant absence of family and community oversight gives a sense of anonymity to the potential perpetrators and increases the vulnerability of potential victims. Therefore, in line with the exhortation of Prime Minister, an institutional mechanism is needed to study and formulate measures for strengthening the family system. Given the centrality of women to the institution of family, it would help immensely if the National Commission for Women were given an enhanced role by renaming it as the National Commission for Women and Family. For ready reference and consideration of those concerned, I hereby propose a Draft Bill (attached box) along with the Statement of Objects and Reasons to amend the National Commission for Women Act, 1990.

Statement of Objects and Reasons

The National Commission for Women Act, 1990 was enacted to constitute a National Commission for Women for achieving the objectives as stated in the statement of objects and reasons attached thereto.

It has always been recognised the world over in all civilisations that women are the mainstay of the family, a key sociological unit which provides social, emotional, economic and physical necessities to the children, elders and other dependents, and also through which generational transmission of civilisational values takes place. However, there is no institutional mechanism to look into issues affecting the institution of family and recommend suitable remedial measures. Given the centrality of women to the institution of family, the National Commission for Women is an eminently suitable body to look into issues affecting family. Hence, it is proposed to amend the National Commission for Women Act, 1990 to entrust the responsibility of looking into issues of preservation and strengthening of the institution of family by renaming it as the National Commission for Women and Family to reflect its enhanced role and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto.

The Bill seeks to achieve the above objectives.

DRAFT: The National Commission for Women (Amendment) Bill, 2020

An Act to amend the National Commission for Women Act, 1990.

BE it enacted by Parliament in the seventy-first Year of the Republic of India as follows: —

1. Short title and commencement:

This Act may be called the National Commission for Women (Amendment) Act, 2020.

It shall come in to force with immediate effect.

2. Substitution of preamble: In the National Commission for Women Act, 1990 (Act 20 of 1990) (hereinafter referred to as the principal Act) for the preamble, "An Act to constitute a National Commission for Women and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto." the following shall be inserted, namely:

"Whereas it is necessary to constitute a National Commission for Women for achieving the objectives as stated in the statement of objects and reasons attached to the National Commission for Women Bill, 1990 which was enacted as Act 20 of 1990 by Parliament;

And whereas it is necessary to preserve and strengthen the institution of family, a key sociological unit which provides social, emotional, cultural, economic and physical necessities to the children, elders and other dependents, and also through which generational transmission of civilisational values takes place.

And whereas understanding and acknowledging its crucial role our civilisation extols and places the highest importance to grihastha ashrama and the institution of family which alone sustains all other ashramas and thereby the whole society.

And whereas it is necessary to preserve and strengthen the institution of the family for the greater wellbeing of our people and nation"

3. General amendment: In the principal Act for the words 'National Commission for Women' wherever they occur including the long and short titles the words 'National Commission for Women and Family' shall be substituted.

4. Amendment to section 2:

(1) In clause (a) of section 2 of the principal Act after the word 'women' the words 'and family' shall be inserted.

(2) In section 2 of the principal Act after clause (a) the following clause shall be inserted, namely:

"(aa) 'Family' means an intimate domestic group of people related to one another by bonds of blood, marriage or legal ties, and includes husband, wife and their grandparents, parents, children and their spouses, and grandchildren.

5. Amendment to section 3: For clauses (a) and (b) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the principal Act, the following shall be substituted, namely:

(a) a Chairperson and a Vice-Chairperson who are committed to the cause of women or to preserve and strengthen the institution of family, to be appointed by the Central Government; and

(b) five Members who are committed to the cause of women or to preserve and strengthen the institution of family, to be appointed by the Central Government.

Provided that at least one Member each shall be from amongst persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes respectively;

6. Substitution of sections 10: For section 10 of the principal Act, the following shall be substituted, namely:

"10 Functions of the Commission: (1) The Commission shall perform all or any of the following functions, namely:

review, from time to time, the existing provisions of the Constitution, other laws and public policies affecting women and preservation and strengthening of the institution of family, and recommend suitable remedial legislative and policy measures to address any lacunae, inadequacies or shortcomings therein;

investigate and examine all matters relating to the safeguards provided for women and for preservation and strengthening of the institution of family under the Constitution, other laws and in public policies;

take up the cases of violation of the provisions of the Constitution, other laws and public policies relating to women and for preservation and strengthening of the institution of family with the appropriate authorities;

look into complaints and take suo moto notice of matters relating to

(i) deprivation of women's rights;

(ii) non-implementation of laws enacted to provide protection to women and also to achieve the objective of equality and development;

(iii) non-compliance of policy decisions, guidelines or instructions aimed at mitigating hardship, ensuring welfare and providing relief to women;

(iv) neglect or deprivation of the old, crippled or dependent members of a family by its other members;

and take up the issues arising out of such matters with appropriate authorities in such a manner so as not to adversely affect the wellbeing of the woman or the interest of the family;

(e) call for special studies or investigations into problems or situations leading to discrimination and atrocities against women and damage to the institution of family and identify the constraints so as to recommend strategies for their removal;

(f) undertake promotional and educational research so as to suggest ways of ensuring due representation of women in all spheres and preservation and strengthening of the institution of family;

(g) participate and advise on the legislative, policy formulation and planning process for all-round development of women and for preservation and strengthening of the institution of family;

(h) evaluate the progress of the development of women and for preservation

and strengthening of the institution of family under the Union and any State and present reports thereof to the respective Governments;

(i) inspect or cause to be inspected a jail, remand home, women's institution or other places of custody where women are kept as prisoners or otherwise, and take up with the authorities concerned for remedial action if found necessary;

(j) fund litigation involving issues affecting a large body of women or the institution of family in general;

(k) make reports annually and at such shorter periodicity as the Commission may deem fit, to the Central Government on matters pertaining to women and the institution of family in general; and

(l) any other function or matter which may be entrusted or referred to it by the Central Government.

(2) The Central Government shall cause all the reports referred to in clauses (h) and (k) of sub-section (1) to be laid before each House of Parliament along with a memorandum explaining the action taken or proposed to be taken on the recommendations relating to the Union and the reasons for the non-acceptance of any of such recommendations.

(3) Where any such report or any part thereof relates to any matter with which any State Government is concerned, the Commission shall forward a copy of such report or part to such State Government who shall cause it to be laid before the Legislature of the State along with a memorandum explaining the action taken or proposed to be taken on the recommendations relating to the State and the reasons for the non-acceptance, if any, of any of such recommendations.

(4) The Commission shall, while investigating any matter referred to in sub-section (1), have all the powers of a civil court trying a suit and, in particular, in respect of the following matters, namely:

(a) summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person from any part of India and examining him on oath;

(b) requiring the discovery and production of any document;

(c) receiving evidence on affidavits;

(d) requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office;

(e) issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses and documents; and

(f) any other matter which may be prescribed."

7. Amendment to section 16: In section 16 of the principal Act after the word 'women' the words 'and the institution of family' shall be inserted.

The author is a serving senior IPS officer

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