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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 52 December 23 & 30, 2023

End of an Era - A Public Activist in the Realm of Child and Women’s Rights Mohini Giri Passes Away | Gautam Sen

Saturday 23 December 2023


Dr. Mohini Giri, former chairperson of the National Commission for Women and presently the chairperson of an NGO, Guild for Service which she had set up in 1979, died on 19th December of this month at the age of 85 years only a few days she would have attained the age of 86 years on 15th January 2024. She was ailing for some time, but she continued to guide the Guild and many activities close to her heart and domain of expertise, till her demise. Dr Giri or Mohiniji as she is fondly known to many, was a multifaceted person. Apart from being the daughter-in-law of the former president of India and earlier to the of governor of UP, Dr. V. V. Giri, Mohiniji was a public-spirited persona, from her college days at Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow. Her political and familial backdrop only helped her to understand incisively the constraints of our society, the constraints imposed on our women and children, and the need for substantive changes in the public milieu and state institutions to protect them and facilitate their status in society. Her efforts in these respects reached consummation when she was the chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW) during the years 1995 to 1998. Though the comparison may be odious, it may not be inappropriate to say that, India has not had a more activist chairperson of NCW after Mohiniji.

Under the leadership of Dr. Mohini Giri, the NCW acquired the required heft to thoroughly investigate on discrimination towards women, institutionally pursue many of the cases of mistreatment of women at the family level as well as the state level, rape and denial of rights statutorily bestowed on the women particularly, those from the lower rungs of society. Mitigation of deprivation and injustice towards children, particularly of the destitute, was also the focus of the NCW. Towards this end, she was adequately supported by sister institutions like the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Mohiniji brought about a synergy in the functioning of the NCW, NCPCR, and NHRC. Eminent jurists like former Supreme Court Judge, Jagdish Swarup Verma and Judge Sunanda Bhandare, and members of the National Legal Services Authority, also suitably networked with Mohiniji.

While Mohiniji as Chairperson of NCW, had adequate support from the union government in her activities towards women and children, she continued to work tirelessly on similar activities as chairperson of the Guild for Service, even when she was not in the government. The Rahat Ghar in Jammu & Kahmir which particularly looked after nearly ninety militancy-affected girl children in the Baramulla district, was a shining example of Mohiniji and the Guild’s contribution to Kashmiri society. The children housed in Rahat Ghar were not only taken care of in regard to boarding and lodging needs but also imparted vocational training in life-sustaining courses. The Rahat Ghar however, could not sustain its activities post the mid-1990s owing to a lack of financial and administrative support from the local and state government authorities.

Another shining example of the Guild`s activities was the continuance of financial and administrative support to Ma-Dham, a home in Chhatigarah on the outskirts of Mathura. This was a place where a home had been set up for widows – particularly from West Bengal, UP, and Bihar, who had left their own homes because of a lack of moral, social, and financial support at the family level. These widows were taken to Ma-Dham for their complete welfare and sustenance and monitoring by the Guild. Mohiniji was really the Maa of the widows at Ma-Dhamm, in all respects.

Mohiniji gave a voice to the widows and destitute children. She was fully secular and non-discriminatory in her approach, even on adverse occasions. She led another organization – the War Widows Association, which she set up after the Indo-Pak conflict of 1971. Needless to emphasise, Mohiniji was endowed with the spirit of humanity, irrespective of caste or creed. We have lost a noble and spirited soul the like of which may not be seen for quite some time to come.

(Author: Gautam Sen is a retired Civil Service officer, who was associated with Dr. Mohini Giri since 1997)

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