//Caste shadow over women

Caste shadow over women

Lucknow, February 16: ‘‘I went to the State Women’s Commission for help as my daughter’s in-laws are harassing her for dowry. The receptionist there asked me to meet a certain member of my own caste. I didn’t know the Commission works on caste-basis.’’

— Radheyshyam Pandey, from Hardoi, who met his caste member, Ashok Pandey, after 20 visits to the Commission’s seventh-floor office at Indira Bhawan here. ‘My case was heard only after I came here for 15 days — I am trying to fight atrocities of the upper-caste members in my village, but none here were ready to believe me.’’

— Hariram, a backward caste member, who finally took his case to an NGO.

‘‘After three days, they asked me to look for the member of my caste instead of the one designated for my region. ‘Woh aapka masla behtar samajh legi,’ I was told.’’

— Shivram Yadav, whose daughter was sent back by her in-laws for dowry.

SUCH allegations of caste bias are aplenty at the Uttar Pradesh Women’s Commission, formed to address grievances of women across the State — caste, religion no bar, at least officially.

Though its papers say the 7,000-odd cases the Commission has got since its formation on August 19, 2004, were handled well, some of the members are quite vocal about what the alleged ‘‘casteism’’.

‘‘It’s an open secret that Brahmins like Ashok Pandey and Alpana Bajpai (the Commission’s new, and first, law officer) are getting preference over other members,’’ said Geeta Singh, one of the members.

Singh alleged that for the last few months only Pandey has been allowed to tour the districts. ‘‘I went to Meerut during ‘Operation Majnu’ recently and filed a detailed report, but my tour was declared illegal. However, Pandey’s tours are always approved. Isn’t this Brahminism?’’ she said.

Besides the chairperson, Ranjana Bajpai, the Commission comprises six members — Shaheen Fatima, Mala Dwivedi, Zarina Usmani, Geeta Singh, Ashok Pandey and Vidhyvati Rajbhar — who are assigned four or five districts each. The members, appointed by the State Government, are required to visit these districts on fact-finding missions.

Requesting anonymity, two other members said, ‘‘It’s humiliating when people ask us to visit their districts, or inquire about their cases, because we cannot commit anything. But Pandey is sent on tours thrice, sometimes even four times a month. Besides, we can’t understand why Alpana Bajpai conducts hearings despite being a non-member.’’

Chairperson Ranjana Bajpai was accused of favouritism and casteism a few months ago when she reportedly started favouring Deepa Bhatt, a non-member who was associated with Shakti Vahini, a team, several Commission members alleged, she chose to keep track of the cases. Members said Bhatt soon started attending to the cases, a responsibility restricted only to members.

Bajpai, however, rubbished all allegations of casteism and called it internal politicking. She countered that the members are barely bothered about the Commission’s role and were interested only in personal tours to the districts.

When contacted, Alpana Bajpai, too denied the charges. ‘‘They should be asking the chairperson about anything, whether written or oral. I have been appointed as the law officer since I am a legal expert and a registered lawyer. I am not a part of the politics,’’ she said, blaming infighting and politics between the members instead. Ashok Pandey could not be contacted as she was out of town.