She enthuses women to be courageous

Advocating fearlessness: National Commission for Women Member Nirmala Venkatesh.

Advocating fearlessness: National Commission for Women Member Nirmala Venkatesh.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: S.Thanthoni

Ramya Kannan

“Only if a woman complains against an atrocity can the society come to her rescue”

Chennai: Storming into the Esplanade police station, she demands to see the policeman who has allegedly been harassing 80- year old Ranganayaki, a biscuit vendor. Catching sight of a constable who hesitates to stand, she snaps, “You have to salute me. I am part of the National Commission for Women – an autonomous, statutory body with quasi-judicial powers.”

The constable stumbles as he hastily rises and prefers a stiff salute.

The atmosphere in the police station changes completely. National Commission for Women member Nirmala Venkatesh is the type to seek instant justice when she thinks women are getting a raw deal. “There is nothing wrong in going to the pubs. It is the 21st century and everyone has his or her freedom. And no one has the right to beat up a woman as it was done in Mangalore. But what worries me is that no woman has even bothered to complain,” Ms.Venkatesh says emphatically.

That is her biggest self-appointed task then– to enthuse our women to come out boldly and complain if they have been abused, violated or plainly discriminated against.

Currently leading a three-member NCW team to Mangalore where women in a pub were beaten up, Ms.Venkatesh, who has been on the Commission since 2005, feels the team’s hands are tied simply because the women will not complain.

“Only if a woman complains against an atrocity can the society come to her rescue. Let her be aware that the Commission, the society and the media are with her,” she says.

The fact that the women do not complain frustrates the process of law and the perpetrators may go scot-free, she explains, acknowledging that a woman would have to be courageous to do that.

Came up the hard way

She must know, for she came up the hard way. Widowed early in her marriage when her husband expired in a road accident, Ms.Venkatesh had to struggle to bring her two girls up.

“My life has been full of hardships and I have had to struggle a lot. That has perhaps taught me how to fight the battles,” she says.

For 20 years, she worked in a bank to keep the fires of the hearth going and to give her daughters a good education.

Her daughters are now in the US, one a doctor and the other, pursuing her MBA.

She soon realised it was time to quit and do what her heart kept telling her to do – work for the welfare of women.

“I think I have always spoken for the rights of women even when I was not in public life. It helped that I had a post graduate degree and a degree in law. I was committed, serious about making a difference and had knowledge of the law. I was ready to enter public life,” she said.

In fact, in her opinion, the NCW must appoint members who have a strong grounding in law as she believes it will enable them to execute their tasks better.

Elected to the Legislative Council in Karnataka on a Congress ticket, she has had a stint in politics, which she hopes to continue again.

In fact, she is contemplating contesting the general elections later this year.

But she adds, “It is my plan, but things are rather premature right now.”

She is hoping that armed with the experience that membership of the NCW has provided her she will be prepared to tackle the problems of the women in her constituency.

Her work at the grassroots will stand her in good stead, she believes.

Ask her mantra for the huge self-appointed task in front of her.

Her answer comes pat: “Courage, hard work and self confidence, not only for me, but all the women of this country.”

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