I received a call from one of my friends as her neighbour, a young lady of around 35 years approached her asking for urgent help. Her husband was physically abusing her and she could not take it anymore. We suggested she go to the police but she insisted on a shelter home. She informed us that she had a mentally challenged child and she needed to move immediately with the child to safeguard themselves. They also required medical help.
What does one do in such a situation?
I looked through the list of one-stop crisis centres and of the two listed for Mumbai, the one for the Suburbs is named “Female Beggars Home”. I could hardly recommend her to go there! The other shelter homes were not accepting new intakes. We tried to check if she could go to a relative or friend’s place but she had none in the city and even if she had, the chances of her being allowed in were very few as most apartment buildings were not allowing visitors and outsiders to enter. We informed the police anyway as she was extremely scared and we were concerned for her safety but when they visited her house, she refused to admit to any trouble and said it was a misunderstanding. Finally with great difficulty, after a few days, she moved to an empty flat of some relative. But not many women have that option.
This story is not an uncommon one. As a non-profit that works on sexual and gender-based violence prevention we have been receiving many calls for help and support, not only in Mumbai but other parts of the country. It is a well-known fact that during the lockdown imposed due to coronavirus, we have seen an increase in cases of domestic violence. Yet, it is hard for women and girls to find the appropriate help at the time they need it the most.
Domestic or intimate partner violence has been around for a while but has been exacerbated during COVID-19. So to help women find the necessary support easily and with least amount of trouble, we filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court seeking to list Domestic Violence services as “essential”. NS Nappinai, Advocate Supreme Court represented us in the hearing and upon hearing her submissions, the Supreme Court passed an order allowing us to approach concerned authorities with appropriate representation bringing to the notice of the authorities some of the cases based on which the appropriate guidelines could be issued by the authorities.
Here are our suggestions:
- Providing for online complaint mechanisms which are easily accessible.
- Alternate complaint mechanisms through telephone and SMS or chat apps.
- Formulating an app for emergencies and also for submitting complaints.
- Formulating guidelines and resources for better handling of domestic violence cases and remedies to victims.
- Providing accommodation for both victims and their children, financial assistance, legal assistance, and non-disruptive options including for continued education of child etc.
- Providing specific Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for emergency situations so that victims are not left adrift.
- Ensuring continued support for victims in the face of emergencies bringing court systems to a halt. Being prepared for such unforeseen situations is much needed considering the sensitivity of the situations that such victims of sexual harassment and gender violence are subjected to.
- Making the husband and other perpetrators to move homes and ensure the protection of the home for the benefit of victims without having to take recourse to court proceedings.
- Providing accommodation and shelter at homes and alternate accommodations that are commensurate with that which victims are accustomed to.
- Providing survivors with ration and medical assistance where the spouse refuses to pay alimony or any other monetary support.
We hope that the various Ministries take our recommendations and implement them on an urgent basis nationally. Our endeavour is to extend a helping hand to address these burning issues and provide assistance to the women and children of our country.
Elsamarie DSilva is the founder of Red Dot Foundation. The views expressed are the author’s own. SheThePeople has not independently verified the information shared here.
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