Opinion Op Ed 05 Jul 2016 Q&A: ‘Salman’s r ...

Q&A: ‘Salman’s rape remark is condemnable, callous’

Published Jul 5, 2016, 12:49 am IST
Updated Jul 5, 2016, 12:59 am IST
The remark is not against an individual; this is against innumerable Indian women.
Lalitha Kumaramangalam, National Commission for Women chairperson
 Lalitha Kumaramangalam, National Commission for Women chairperson

Lalitha Kumaramangalam, chairperson of the National Commission for Women, spoke exclusively with Teena Thacker, clearing the air on the NCW's notice to Salman Khan for his rape remark and the action the NCW is taking on the members of the Rajasthan State Commission for Women who were caught taking a selfie with a rape victim.

What do you think about the controversy surrounding Salman Khan’s rape remark? Should it have been tackled differently?


No, I don’t think there was any different way to handle it. Unless we would have let it go without bothering to take any action. The irony is that if the NCW had not done anything then the press and the public would have jumped at us saying we are useless, we are just a toothless body etc, as has already been suggested by several top journalists. The NCW has not made it a big issue; it was not done voluntarily from the side of the commission, we did our job when we took suo-moto cognisance. But the issue was made much bigger by the press.

Do you think the case has been dragged too far by the NCW because Salman Khan is involved?


Obviously, if it was some ordinary man it wouldn’t have been a big deal. The remark is not against an individual; this is against innumerable Indian women. Salman Khan is a 51-year-old man with a huge experience of public life. I think he understands very well that he has made a mistake. I don’t know the man at all personally. I don’t know what prevents him from saying a simple sorry for a mistake he has made. His father apologised, but his father didn’t make that statement.

What was the reply to the NCW notice?

That the NCW doesn’t have the right to take suo-moto cognisance.


After making the statement Salman immediately retracted. Shouldn’t that be considered as an apology?

Did you listen to the whole recording where he said, “Oops I should not have said this”. I don’t think it sounds like an apology. This was a press conference called specially before the release of his new movie. Salman Khan is an actor who is considered to have the maximum fan following… somebody like Rajinikanth. If in Tamil Nadu, Rajinikanth says something similar, then think about what the average Tamilian woman would feel. She will be hurt as it comes from a person whom she considers her hero.


This was a very obnoxious comparison. Salman was talking about the physical pain he underwent. Actors are paid very high salaries for the work they do; they don’t do it unwillingly. They are not forced to do it and given the current context of rising violence against women in India, this is an obnoxious comparison which is condemnable and callous.

While I agree that he is also a human being who can make mistakes, but when you make a mistake don’t you apologise? I see a lot of misery on a daily basis... every day I get two-three calls from people who want to come and meet me. In a month we get 2,000-3,000 complaints of those pertaining to some form of violence against women. Society in India is almost indoctrinated to overlook, to accept, to bypass violence against women.


What do you have to say about the Rajasthan incident?

It was disgusting. We have sent them a very strong letter. We have summoned them. One of them has resigned, saying that she doesn’t want her “non-mistake” to affect the reputation of the government and the commission. We will take action if the other woman doesn’t appear. What they did was illegal. You are not permitted to take pictures with any victim of violence. Being members of the commission they should know the rules. I am ashamed about it.

This is not how members and chairpersons of commission for women should behave. The fact that they are refusing to accept the responsibility is serious. This is not a mistake; this is much more than a mere mistake… both of them kept saying that they have not done any mistake as it was the person who uploaded the selfie on the Net.


Why did they do it and what action can you take against them?

They said that they were normalising the rape victim. However, it was very clear that they were taking selfies. I don’t know what powers we have… but they have actually done something illegal. There is a Supreme Court ruling on this. Even the victim herself can take action, but I think she is just too shattered and doesn’t know what to do.

The NCW is often considered a toothless body. There were discussions about giving more teeth to the commission, maybe taking it to the level of the National Human Rights Commission. What happened to that?


The NCW is set up by an Act of Parliament so ONE needs to go to Parliament in order to be able to make changes. As you know, Parliament is still in a logjam. I think once that logjam is cleared this will also be sorted. Yes, we need more teeth, we need more independence. We are often treated as just a the department of the ministry and that does often compromise our activities. This is not merely a question of reporting to the secretary or the minister.

Secretary, ministry of women and child development, and the minister have the right because they are questioned at various levels by Parliament, by the Prime Minister’s Office, but I am informed traditionally because the NCW is set up as a watchdog so there have been always an attempt to subjugate, dominate it, etc. We had asked for similar powers like NHRC, but don’t know if we will be given such powers.


Why do you think you need more power? Is there a lot of political pressure?

No, so far no political pressure has been exerted on me to drop a particular case.
The pressure that is put on me is to ensure that complainants get justice as quickly as possible. For some time there has been a shortage of staff at NCW, and due to several governmental procedural delays we are still hoping to get at least a few more staff. We actually had asked for 140, and we have about 80-odd people working. So there is a severe shortage of staff.

It’s been almost two years now since you joined. Are you satisfied with your performance?


I am never satisfied with my performance. I am possibly my worst critic. I always feel that I could have and should have done better, but I am trying to do my best.