I feel very strongly about the manner in which women are depicted in films says newly appointed chairperson of Maharashtra's women's commission Susieben Shah

Monday, 6 January 2014 - 8:05am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
After a gap of over three years, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan finally constituted the Maharashtra state women's commission last week. He has handpicked a lawyer, Congress member and activist Susieben Shah, 49, as chairperson of the commission. dna's city editor S Balakrishnan spoke to Shah on Sunday. Excerpts

For over three years the commission was not constituted. Why couldn’t your appointment be made  three years ago? The commission was in a limbo all these years
I would not like to talk about the past. It will not take us anywhere. I would rather look at the road ahead and see in what way the commission can play an effective role.

Yours is a political appointment. You have been appointed because you are a member of the Congress. Why can’t these appointments be done on merit?
I have no problem with political appointments. My party, the Congress, has a strong policy regarding women and as chairperson of the state women’s commission, I will be implementing that policy. What is wrong with that? Apart from that, I think my appoint does not lack merit. I have a strong legal background and earlier I was a member of this commission. So I don’t think anyone should have any problem with that.

Aam Aadmi Party’s Preeti Menon has opposed your appointment. She has even threatened to file a case against it. Please comment
Menon has no right to comment on my appointment. I want to know what is her track record of helping women. Like me, she runs a taxi service. I know it for a fact that several women drivers of her service have sent legal notices to her for non-payment of salaries. I am not afraid of any case against me. I am certain my government will defend me adequately.

Menon has stated that when you were a member of the commission, you did not come to the rescue of a woman working in a multinational who was a victim of sexual harassment. Please comment.
At that time, the chairperson was Rajani Satav and I was certainly a member. The complaint came to us in 2007 and we promptly started an inquiry. But even before we could finalise its report, the complainant and her alleged tormentor approached Bombay high court. Since the matter became sub judice, there was nothing we could do. We have to submit to the superior jurisdiction of the high court. The allegation against me is false and baseless.

It is felt that the commission is a toothless organisation. It has no power to prosecute
It is not true that it is a toothless body. We have powers to issue summons, inquire into complaints and ask the police to take action. Our role is recommendatory. There is already a mechanism to prosecute. There is no point in having a parallel mechanism. We have all powers of a civil court. The reports submitted by us carry tremendous weightage.

What specific plans do you have to make the commission effective? Maharashtra has a dubious record of high incidence of atrocities on women.
The number of complaints is going up because more and more women are coming forward to lodge complaints. We are going to encourage this trend. We are going to have a 24x7 helpline for women. Women in distress can call this number and we will help them so that they do not do anything in desperation. Also, we will help victims of atrocities lodge police complaints and follow up them up. We are planning to have cells in every district collectorate where women can lodge complaints. I would appeal to all activists to join hands with the commission in making Maharashtra a better place for women.

Several films are depicting women in a cheap way. What is the commission going to do about that?
I feel very strongly about this issue. The commission will take up this issue with the Censor Board and ask it to clamp down on films which denigrate women.

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